Oxy at the United Nations (U.N.) is adding a new component for students accepted to the program for Fall 2017: a week-long trip to Costa Rica, where students will be able to witness U.N. field work firsthand. In the past, the program only included a short visit to Washington D.C. in conjunction with the internship in New York City. The addition was designed by Douglas Gardner, director of The William and Elizabeth Kahane United Nations Program, named after the Kahane family, who gifted endowments to Oxy at the U.N. in 2010 and 2014. Part of the 2014 endowment included a discretionary fund for Gardner. The idea of adding a field work component had previously been discussed within the Oxy at the U.N. program and the International Programs Office (IPO), according to Gardner. With the additional fund from the most recent endowment, he was finally able to realize his goal.
Students’ existing financial aid will be transferable to the additional program cost this fall of an estimated additional $2,200 fee for the Costa Rica trip, according to Gardner. Scholarships for U.N. participants are available from the Kahane endowment.
This November, 18 students will fly to San Jose to meet with the Costa Rica Permanent Mission to the U.N. and officials from the Costa Rican government. Then they will travel by bus to a variety of project sites where the U.N. implements its work and programming. Gardner said he has spent the past five weeks in Costa Rica visiting project sites and creating a valuable, full week for the students.
During the trip, students will explore issues such as Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), gender equality, children’s rights and governance issues. The trip will provide opportunities for students to critically engage with how the global goals created in the UN headquarters to solve these kinds of issues are picked up at the national level in Costa Rica, and then implemented at the community level, according to Gardner.
Professor Sherry Simpson-Dean, an adjunct professor in the Diplomacy and World Affairs (DWA) Department, thinks that adding a field work component to a program that historically has emphasized policy and office work will result in a more holistic experience and real understanding of the work that the U.N. does — not just at their headquarters in New York, but in communities around the world.
“In the times we’re in, there are questions about the legitimacy of the U.N.,” Simpson-Dean said. “Is it really doing its job? For students who want to see how the work is actually carried out, I think this is a critical new component.”
Choosing a country with a focus on SDGs was a major factor in creating a field work component and deciding on Costa Rica as the destination. According to Simpson-Dean, Costa Rica faces issues such as deforestation, land erosion, air quality and problems with sanitation. Costa Rica is also a nation that is a longstanding and active member of the U.N. and a strong proponent of human rights, according to Gardner.
DWA major and participant in the Fall 2017 Oxy at the U.N. program Naomi Newman (junior) is looking forward to the trip, although the information she said she has received so far has been fairly vague.
“I think it’s a really interesting idea, and it’s really valuable,” Newman said. “I think one trap of the major in general is that you’re so focused on creating policies that you don’t really think [about how they will] affect local communities.”