How did you find studying in the UK as an international student? What advice would you give to other international students studying in the UK?
I always say to people that studying in the UK was a radically life-changing experience for me. I arrived in the UK as a 21-year-old, confused and sometimes ignorant, living in my small personal world. Coming from a politically, let’s say, quiet country (although I was having some personal troubles which can trace back to my adolescent years), I was never too concerned about the world and society; more importantly, I never relate the troubles I was going through to what was happening in the society and the world. One of the most precious gifts the UK has given me is that it called out my feminist soul and equipped me with academic knowledge and professional skills that I can actually analyse the world with, understand where and what the problems are, and even advocate changes that can transform society for people’s collective welfare. If I were to give advice to international students in the UK, I would definitely say this: do not stay in your comfort zone. Instead, make good use of this chance, talk to British people and others of diverse origins, get to know how different yet common we are to each other, try to see the world from another perspective, make efforts to understand each other’s position in the global society. No matter what degree you are doing, from international politics to business management, from psychology to engineering, it always benefits your academic life, future career and life in general if you try to learn about other cultures and people.
Students who study Sociological degrees can go on to pursue a variety of careers - what made you want to pursue an internship within a global gender organisation?
As I mentioned in the last question – I am a firm feminist. It has been my dream and my mission to pursue a career that directly or indirectly advocates for social justice and calls for social attention for people who are less privileged. Although I don’t believe that globalisation is always a good thing, we are living in a globally-connected world and international collaboration is really vital for development, especially in the fight against sexism, racism and other social injustice. This is in the sense that knowledge gets exchanged, situations get compared, and resources get mobilised on a much larger scale. On another note, I have always enjoyed working in an international atmosphere – I worked for the International Office of Lancaster University for two years, I enjoyed and benefited from that experience so much. Again, I love the moments I realised how common human beings are, no matter how distinctive our backgrounds: we all have emotions, ambitions, personalities, and we all love. I feel energised and empowered working in an office that promotes unity instead of differences and treats its employees with respect instead of hierarchy, which both the international office and UN Women China office have offered to me.
What made you want to intern at UN Women in particular?
I had closely studied feminism and gender studies for three years at the time I decided I wanted to apply for the internship at UN Women. Most of my work was analytical and academic – at the time of graduating, I wanted to do an internship, like many graduates do, to further enhance my skill sets and to broaden my horizon on how an international organisation worked. I believed that all of these would greatly help my future career; indeed, I am currently only halfway through my internship, but I have already learned a great lot. More importantly, I knew that UN Women had been doing a lot of work around policy advocacy, which is exactly what I want to do for my career. I wanted to learn about how the great work was done, especially the decade-long advocacy and lobbying for the legislation of National Domestic Violence law, as the elimination of violence against women has been what I am passionate about. After I arrived, I learned more about how the experts were concerned with how the law is implemented, as HAVING the law is just the beginning. There is so much work that needs to be done in order to actually achieve what we want. Interesting and meaningful things like these were the reasons I wanted to work for UN Women – in short, I wanted to learn and to contribute.
What is the most invaluable thing you have learnt whilst working for the UN?
There are so many! Almost everything is so valuable. I gained knowledge on the operation of international organisations; I enhanced my skill sets, including event organising, writing and translation, social media management, HR, procurement and office administration; I gained the mental comfort to work as a feminist, combining pragmatism and idealism… But I would say this: the most invaluable thing I learned was how to respect and understand other people’s views and to gain mutual understanding from having friendly discussion. Here at UN Women, I talked to staff members and interns who came from all over the world, they offered me so many different perspectives on one issue. I used to be a university student who is always angry about social injustice, sceptical about big corporates and disliked elites, sometimes. During months of work and conversations, I learned that as a person who works against social injustice, we need to have passion; however, we also need to learn how to cooperate and to respect. We need to do our best to mobilise all forces, we can unite, instead of deciding to become enemies just because we do not agree on some issues. What’s more important is that I learned that people are often hijacked by nationalism and similar loyalist ideologies which blind us to see beyond. If we are stripped of these ideologies, what human beings want are very similar - most of us are kind and want to live a decent life with our basic needs to be met, and every one of us wants to be loved. I want to use the slogan on HeForShe (a global campaign for gender equality started by UN Women) website to conclude this: “What we share is more powerful than what divides us.”
What advice would you give to young women wishing to pursue a career in the women’s charity sector?
I think I would give three pieces of advice: first of all, grasp every chance to develop and enhance your skillsets. Try to think strategically about what you can bring for your future organisation. Is it practical skills like project management? Is it excellent communication skills that are always appealing to any organisation? Or is it the passion for your belief? Brainstorm “What am I good at?” and if you feel that you are lacking in some key areas, try to do something to make it up - volunteer, join your student union or write a blog. There are so many ways to develop your skillsets. Secondly, as a girl we are often told or made to believe that we are not good enough for some jobs. You may find that even in the women’s charity sector, sexism still exists. Being a feminist does not only mean to challenge what is done to women and girls, it is also about being confident as a human being and to shoulder the responsibility as a human being. Do not be discouraged by stereotypes like “women leaders are bossy”, “women workers are emotional” or “women climb their career ladder with sex appeal”. Be brave and stand up for yourself and other women. Last but not least, you may sometimes find that you are disheartened for the fact that you are not paid very well. It is very true that many workers in charities work so hard but do not get what they deserve; sometimes they are even undervalued. My advice is to try to understand that this is reality, so do not have big expectations for financial rewards. Remember that some people may think that you aren’t making money like one of your friends who works in the financial sector, but what you are doing is challenging how the society distributes its money. I will also end this answer with a quote from the book My Life on the Road by Gloria Steinem, which I just finished translating into Chinese for the readers of my country: “…then, as if in answer to a riddle posed years before, you will realize that this growth came from seeds you planted or watered or carried from place to place—and you’ll be rewarded in the way that we as communal beings need most: you’ll know you made a difference.”
Interview by Katie Capstick
With too many amazing quotes to plaster over the homepage, Anne Huang is the perfect person to answer all your questions on working for the UN and leading the fight against gender inequality
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Anne Huang UN Women Intern
B.A. Media and Cultural Studies
M.A. Gender and Women's Studies and Sociology
International Student Ambassador, Lancaster University International Office
UN Women Intern