Alumni Profiles: Elena Kloppmann – from Uni-Freiburg to the United Nations

Author:  | Friday, June 05th, 2020 | 

Schlagwörter »  |  Category: News

Elena Kloppmann, a 2018 graduate of the University College Freiburg, interned at the United Nations Headquarters in New York City this past year. She advises her fellow students and alumni: “Don’t doubt yourself and dare to dream big.”

Get to Know Elena:

Friends of Freiburg: Tell us about your background with Uni-Freiburg, and what you are studying right now:
Elena Kloppmann:
 I studied at the University College Freiburg from 2012-2018, and received a Bachelor of Liberal Arts and Sciences, majoring in history and culture. Now I’m pursuing a Master of Culture, Communication & Globalization specializing in International Relations at Aalborg University, Denmark. I’ll graduate at the end of this year. The third semester of this degree is dedicated to an internship experience which brought me to NYC.

FoF: Do you have a current research focus or project?
EK: I’m currently working pro bono in an international project team with Oracle, building an app/platform to help mitigate, manage, and overcome the current Covid-19 crisis. I will write my final thesis this autumn on a discourse analysis of international political communication on social media in a pandemic.

FoF: Tell us about your time in New York. What did you do?
From August 2019 to January 2020for 6 months – I was a United Nations Secretariat intern in the programme management section for the Director’s Office of the Human Resources Services Division in the Department of Operational Support.

FoF: How did you decide to come to New York?
Deciding on an internship at the United Nations gave me a variety of options in terms of location – Geneva, Nairobi, Vienna, Copenhagen, Bangkok, and so on. However, the heart of the organization, the headquarters in New York, made the most sense to gain a deep insight into the organization. Who doesn’t dream of living in New York, if you’ve never been there before?

FoF: Describe what your work during the internship was like.
EK: As an intern in the Director’s Office of HRSD, I was able to gain valuable insight in the whole range of the division’s activities. My main tasks were to assist in the division’s knowledge management by supporting the research, analysis, coordination and drafting of reports and publications, as well as organizing the internal document platform. Another task of mine was the continual improvement of the team’s work progresses by implementing a new and improved tasking tracker, coming up with a new idea on how to organize documents and kick off a division newsletter. Additionally, I was involved in the outside communication of the division, by responding to ad-hoc requests by the offices of the Assistant Secretary-General of the Office of Support Operations (OSO) and the Under Secretary-General of DOS. These requests entailed providing information about the division in form of data and background notes or briefing notes for meetings and talking points for high-level occasions.

All of my tasks in this internship can be described as administrative, thus working in the background operations for a smooth sailing of HRSD. The briefing notes I had to write for the Under Secretary-General during the GA for his meetings with delegations of member states show most prominently how HRSD communicates with its key partners. The amount of protocol involved in these meetings prove that the UN is not a standard business. I was never directly involved with client entities and thus had nothing to do with customer relationships, but I dealt with a lot of data concerning the clients in reporting on the issues they had and in writing a representative fact sheet of HRSD.

FoF: What lessons will you carry with you from your time at the United Nations?
: Before I worked at the UN as an intern I had – in hindsight – no idea about the complexity of this organization and international relations in general. The inside knowledge I was able to gain during this internship is invaluable to me. I understood the dynamics of international politics from a whole new perspective by immersing myself into the UN mindset and by asking a lot of questions. Although not one of my tasks, one of the experiences that taught me most was the opportunity to volunteer with the media team during the high-level forums week of the General Assembly in September 2019. Experiencing the opening of this GA session first-hand and being in the same room with all these world leaders taught me a great many things: heads of state are also just human beings, and everyone comes with their very own agenda. Additionally, I have met so many different people, gained professional friends, expanded my network, found a wonderful mentor in my supervisor and talked to inspiring leaders during UN events.

FoF: Any advice for students who might be interested in a similar experience?
Apply! In all honesty, this is all you can do. It is hard to get an internship at the UN but this shouldn’t discourage anybody. With enough research, it’s possible to find many different opportunities for internships at the UN. I have met people who applied to over 300 internship positions before they got one. Be persistent and don’t give up – it’s worth it.

Prepare for it: There are so many opportunities to get in tough with the UN before actually working there as an intern. Participate in a Model UN conference or join a local UN Youth association.

Connection with Uni-Freiburg:

FoF: Why did you choose to study in Freiburg?
: Growing up in the Black Forest area, I never wanted to study in Freiburg. It seemed too familiar and I wanted to see the world. However, when I learned about this new interdisciplinary study program, I was intrigued. I decided t give Freiburg a chance for the degree they were offering, and I did not regret it one bit.

FoF: Why particularly were you drawn to the University College Freiburg?  How did you find out about it?
In the last year of high school, I realized I had no clear idea of what path to pursue in the future. I attended every orientation meeting, advice session, university visit and bought every study catalogue. I took all tests that supposedly told me what career I should pursue, but never felt satisfied – if not more confused. After one consultancy session with a job center employee who had once again failed in finding something that suited my wishes, he sent me the flyer of the University College Freiburg. In his letter he wrote that he hadn’t stopped thinking about what I could do in the future and when he read this flyer, he thought of me. Without him going above and beyond his job duties I would have never found out about that degree.

FoF: What was your favorite part about being a student there?
The University College Freiburg is a very inspiring and competitive place to study at. It is filled with idealistic students who are now all on their own path to make a change in the world. I especially enjoyed the diversity in students, subjects and perspectives. It was a common rule that every question could be asked, and every discussion was worth its time. It was much less of a frontal education like in school. It was challenging at times, but it taught me to always be critical and constructive.

Freiburg as a city is — in my humble opinion — the most perfect place on earth. It is big enough to have amazing activities, small enough to escape into nature quickly. It’s a young city with many ideas and initiatives; it’s a green city – both naturally and politically. Every season is wonderful – skiing in the Black Forest in winter, bike tours and wine festivals in spring, long warm nights and visits to the lakes in summer, and cozy coffeeshops and Black Forest hikes in autumn.

FoF: How do your connections with University of Freiburg impact your work and life today? And how did connecting with Friends of Freiburg impact your time in New York?
I’m grateful for all the friends I have made during my time at the University of Freiburg, one of which I met again in the US! I am also still in contact with some of the lecturers who continuously provide guidance and friendship. Connecting with Friends of Freiburg in New York immediately made me feel at home away from home. The alumni and alumnae I met through Friends of Freiburg are similarly international beings as I am, which was a nice connection to share, and meant there was never shortage of interesting thought exchanges.

FoF: Do you have any favorite alumni memories to share?
I honestly have to say all memories I made with Friends of Freiburg belong to the overall category of “favorite memories” of my time in NYC, from the trip on the sailboat around Manhattan at sunset to the New Year’s reception at Consul General Gill’s residence. One particular memory that I am very fond of was the gala dinner at the Princeton club in January where I got to meet wonderful other Freiburg alumni and alumnae. At this event I felt like I could give back to my university by presenting a testimonial of my experience at the University College Freiburg to raise funds for their future programs.

FoF: How do you maintain your connection to the University, and why is it important that alumni stay connected?
First of all, I like to stay connected just out of curiosity about the inspiring paths that people venture on. We can learn so much from the experiences of others. Often it’s about who we know more than it is about what we know.

Second, it is also about giving back. For example, I myself have been contacted by another University College Freiburg alumna who started an internship at the UN towards my end of the internship and I was able to give her a smoother introduction to the organization and some insights that I had to learn on my own.

I hate the term networking because it seems so selfish to me. But in my understanding a network is a two-way street: it’s gives the opportunity to help and to be helped. Staying connected has enriched me in many ways – I have found friends and mentors among University of Freiburg alumni and I have been lucky to get and give valuable advice.

FoF: Finally, on that note, what advice do you have for current Uni-Freiburg students — especially those studying history and culture at UCF?
Don’t doubt yourself and dare to dream big. Especially in an interdisciplinary program like the one taught at the University College Freiburg, it’s easy to feel lost. I felt like I had no idea where I was going and lacked direction so many times. But it was worth to hang in there, to keep going, one step at a time. Of course, it is psychologically easier to study with a clear career in mind, but I want to encourage you that there is so much out there than can be explored that is beyond your imagination right now. Embracing uncertainty, slowly finding my place in this world has been one of the valuable lessons I was able to learn during my studies. And psst – here is a secret: I still don’t know where I am going, but I know I’m on the right path. I know I have my most powerful tool with me wherever life: my education and curiosity.

FoF: Thanks, Elena, for sharing your story and thoughts with us! If you’d like to reach out to her, you can connect with her on LinkedIn.

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