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About Me!

I’m a 21-year-old university student from San Francisco, California and I stumbled upon WWF’s Youth Volunteer Program in April 2009, rather by accident! I had been taking the year away from school to pursue other interests – namely I had been living and volunteering in India for five months, working with a small public health NGO in the Himalayas.
After returning home and working for some time, I ended up negotiating a placement with the volunteer program at the WWF Secretariat, just outside Geneva, Switzerland. My interest in international relations and climate change were deemed a good fit for the preparation work WWF was doing in anticipation of the UN COP15 conference in Copenhagen. Currently, I’m pursuing a degree in French and Geography at Middlebury College, in Vermont.
© WWF / Kyle Hunter
With Susan in the Hot House
© WWF / Kyle Hunter
I had little idea of what to expect!
Getting off the plane in Geneva, a mere month after I had started the whole process of applying to work for WWF, was intimidating. I had little idea of what to expect, other than that I was going to throw myself at whatever was given to me at the headquarters of one of the world’s largest and most respected environmental organizations. I was accustomed to navigating bazaars in developing countries but not the intricacies of an international workplace.
There were two factors that had made this (rather unique) placement appealing to me: first was the exposure to the political world of international NGOs and second, was the urgency with which WWF worked to convince governments it was (and still is!) in their best interest to aggressively fight climate change. I didn’t know it when I stepped off the train in Gland, Switzerland but I was in for an eye-opening three months.

Working at WWF is a lot like joining an enormous, international family of NGOs and committed people working towards one critical goal: save the planet’s natural environment. After one week, I had memorized more acronyms than I had even known could exist. Three weeks in and I was speaking fluent “climate politics” and felt myself becoming a part of the fabric of the Global and Regional Policy unit, in which I was stationed. My work was fast-paced and extremely “current”. We coordinated with WWF offices around the globe to make sure we were getting the right intelligence at the right time.

The on-the-ground reality of the political world isn’t always easy to digest, or particularly heartening, but if I learned one thing over the time I spent in Geneva, it was: adapt. Adapt to new developments and anticipate ones down the road. I learned a mind-boggling amount about how governments think about and make policy decisions concerning climate change. I learned about the economic realities of negotiating an international deal worth billions of dollars and about the potential for millions of so-called climate refugees as land becomes unusable (or submerged). I learned how a lobbying campaign is run and why the abstract becomes tangible for people all over the world when economic, security and environmental policy is written.

It was difficult to leave Geneva after just three short months of living and breathing climate change and international relations. My colleagues and supervisors at WWF were an outstanding group of people and they were always patient enough to explain their role in the “network” to me. When I departed at the end of August, I left as things in the climate world were about to kick into high gear for the December conference.
© WWF / Kyle Hunter
Working in the Hot House
© WWF / Kyle Hunter
© WWF / Kyle Hunter
With my team, Susan and Tania!
© WWF / Kyle Hunter

And now?

I'm a "joint" French-Geography major... My time in Switzerland reignited my desire to become completely bilingual in French/English, so I'll hopefully be studying abroad in Paris. Geography means that I study things like geopolitics and urban planning.

In January I did a multimedia project in Cuba to go and interview Cubans about urban agriculture in Havana. And music! Making audio recordings. Cuba was actually named by WWF as one of the most sustainable countries in the world.

My Advice...
  1. Be flexible. Whether you’re going to Switzerland or India, being open to new experiences and working styles will always make for a richer experience.
  2. Have confidence in your own skills.
  3. Work hard. It pays off. Always.
  4. Have a sense of humor about your hard work.
  5. Throw yourself into whatever it is that needs to be done. Whether that’s stapling or writing a dossier for your boss’s boss.
  6. Explore wherever it is you’re posted when you’re not working. There are a lot of amazing people in the world – go and meet some of them!