I’ve been in New York for a week now and as with all firsts, today is pretty tough. It’s my first weekend here and even though I’ve just started to get into a groove at work the weekend has thrown me back a few feet. Two wide open, long days with no company, friends or family.
So let’s rewind to my first day at the UN. I had worked out my route the day before and arranged to meet my boss outside of the building. The United Nations is an impressive place. Flags from all over the world fly out front and beyond the intense security is a wall of glass, surrounded by white concrete. I sat there watching people from all over the world stream in waving their passes and I walked that fine line between excited and terrified.
An an hour later when the human traffic had started to wane I called my boss who told me I’d been waiting in the wrong place. My office wasn’t within the wall of glass, it was in another building further down the street affectionately referred to as the Superman building as it’s where, yes you guessed it, that Superman film was shot.
Within just moments of getting through the doors I was ushered into the weekly updated meeting with the whole of UN Women. I’d been awake since 2am (still on UK time) so did my best to look alert. All around me voices spoke up about the work being done on gender equality. They talked events, conferences, speakers, policies and legalities. They dissected the distressing news from India, as well as countless other initiatives they were working with local governments on. When you read the news it can be easy to think that nothing is being done but that room vibrated with passion, commitment and direction.
UN Women is like any other office. I have a desk, a computer, a phone and there are notices up in the kitchen reminding you to wash cups and throw old food away. But there’s also a shared belief in gender equality and women’s rights that is at the core of every tweet, video, image or piece of copy put up on the website or out to press.
It takes a few days to set up my computer and email so I spend a lot of time shadowing the web editor and reviewing the content. Amidst this I’m grappling with being in a new country, in an uncomfortable room struggling to sleep and dealing with the emotional impact of being without my family, which spills down my face in tears on my very first day and each day after that.
The UN Women communications team is a group of highly educated and intelligent women. They each speak several languages fluently, can write code to build websites, are social media experts or professional videographers. It’s more than a little intimidating and I find myself shrinking inside my skin, playing down my accomplishments and skills and quietly murmuring something about understanding very basic French when asked about my language skills.
The UN Women web page is in three core language, English, French and Spanish. The editor is fluent in all three (and four other languages, y’know just for fun) and translates and edits across the entire site. She tells me I’ll be editing in French and German, as well as learning how to read and write HTML code. I have my doubts at this stage but sure enough, by Friday I’ve posted content in all three languages and edited code.
The mental capacity of working in this way is exhausting, added to the long days, walk in, heat, lack of sleep and daily heartache of missing my family and by the time I get back to my room I’m wiped.
By Thursday I’ve started chatting to a couple of colleagues and gathered the courage to ask one out for a drink. Her name is Greta, she’s a social media intern and a similar age to me. She lives in New York with her husband. We start off at a rooftop bar and upon the lift opening we’re told there’s a waiting list to stand on the patio. I’m about to say thank you and turn away when Greta hands me a cocktail menu. At $15 each they’re a little out of my price range but before I can say anything there’s a drink in my hand and the tab has been paid. We do end up with a spot on the patio after sneaking past the hosts and I think this is my first view of New York that I really like.
We leave shortly after for an Irish pub, where the barman is free with his measures of rum and finish off with dinner at a cheap Vietnamise place. Home by 9:30pm I go to bed for the first time since I got here with a smile on my face.
The weekend is fast approaching and with it I know two long days on my own. I’ve tried to make plans but Saturday arrives and without the distraction of work my homesickness and loneliness claim my morning. I do manage a walk to Times Square, Grand Central and the library in the afternoon but slowly the heat and my heavy heart chase me back to the room I have to call home for the next six weeks.
I’m so glad that I’m getting the opportunity to work at UN Women. It’s an inspiring team to be a part of and I’m determined to do well and discover a professional path that I never could’ve dreamt was feasible for me. However it remains very hard to be here on my own. New York and I aren’t exactly on friendly terms, to be frank she’s kicking my ass. Maybe we’re not meant to get on, we just don’t suit each other. But I hope, sooner rather than later, she’ll ease up on me a bit and I may even start to like her.