Monday, June 30, 2014

2004 Graduate Discusses United Nations Career

Interview by Mahala Nelson 
Photo by UN Photo/Paulo Filgueiras 

Q & A with German, International Studies and Economics major Phil Bastian '04

How did you gain interest in an international career?
When I was at Pacific, I studied abroad in Germany, which definitely helped. Then I got a Fulbright scholarship and went back to Germany. After that, I made a bit of an effort to stay, because I really liked living there, but it was very difficult finding a job. I went back to Portland for a while and eventually was hired by the Federal Government, where I worked for the Bureau of Labor Statistics. I didn't mind the work there, but I really wanted something more international, so I applied to Columbia, where I got my Master of International Affairs. 

During the summer, I got an internship with the International Labour Organization, and that was my first experience in the UN system. I enjoyed that experience, so I applied for another internship with the UNESCO office in New York. That was a really fantastic experience, as my pass allowed me to go to all of the major UN meetings. So, for example, at one point I got to watch Bill Clinton brief the Security Council on the situation in Haiti. Ever since then, I've sort of been in and out of the UN system, and it's definitely my hope to stay.
Phil Bastian '04 shaking hands with UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon (UN Photo/Paulo Filgueiras).

What were your biggest struggles after graduation?
Finding a job was definitely not as easy as I thought it would be. I had very good grades, had gotten awards at graduation and spent a year on a Fulbright scholarship. Still, it took over a year of temp work and applications before I was offered a job with the Federal Government.

How did you prepare for your career after graduation?
Once I was employed with the Federal Government, I tried to make the most of their training programs. I went back and took those math classes that I should have taken long before.

What resources best prepared you or helped you start your career?
I know I tried reading What Color Is Your Parachute at one point, but it just didn't click with me. I have always found most of my career information by searching the Internet. In retrospect, I really never had a solid plan or something to keep me organized.

What do you do now? Can you give me an example of a recent project you have been working on?
Right now, I work as an economist at the Office of the High Representative for Least Developed Countries, Landlocked Developing Countries and Small Island Developing States (OHRLLS). I have always thought this office was special, since it's an initialism of initialisms (the last three letters stand for LDCs, LLDCs and SIDS, respectively). Basically we work with those three country groups, which are particularly vulnerable to everything from economic shocks to rising sea levels. Our office is scattered all over the place, doing everything from planning a meeting of government ministers in Benin this summer to writing reports. 

Personally, I have been working on two different Reports of the Secretary-General. That is to say, member states have asked the Secretary-General to prepare a report on a specific topic; we write the report, he puts his name on it. I did a lot of the calculations--we like to say things like "Least developed countries have a per capita income of $802 per year." The data we get is for each country separately, though, so to get to that figure I have to do a weighted average of our 48 countries. There are all sorts of other complications that go into that, as well. As the only native English speaker in my office, I have done a lot of editing as well. It can be very tricky getting just the right words to explain complicated economics concepts, and I take some pride in getting it just right.
What has been the biggest perks of working internationally?
Well, it may sound a bit shallow, but you know that famous UN building that people recognize around the world? Well, I work there, on the 32nd floor. We have a great view of the New York skyline and the river, depending on which way you look. There are always interesting things happening at the UN. You never know who might be visiting to give a speech to the General Assembly or brief the Security Council. There are also a lot of really smart and interesting people around, and it's great to be able to work with them as colleagues. 

Also, while New York City is not international in the sense of being outside of the United States, it is one of the most cosmopolitan places on earth. I remember there was a Korean restaurant that opened in Portland and my friends and I went to see if it was any good. I don't think any of us had ever tried Korean food before. Now that seems unfathomable to me. We have so many choices of food and cultural activities here--it's like nowhere else. I live in a traditionally Polish neighborhood, and I regularly see random people on the streets speaking Polish with each other. A little bit to the south there is a high concentration of Latinos--mostly Puerto Ricans. These enclaves are all over the city. I really loved living in Oregon, but I think it would be very difficult for me to move back, just because I'd miss the diversity here.

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