Hannah Palmateer at the UN in Geneva, Switzerland, last semester.
ALBANY, N.Y. (Jan. 25, 2018) – It was not your typical field placement.
Last semester, Hannah Palmateer of Saratoga Springs, N.Y., completed a Master of Social Work field placement with the United Nations in Geneva, Switzerland.
Palmateer worked for the UN’s Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA). This field placement was the final piece in finishing her MSW degree.
“For six months, from May to November 2017, I had the honor and privilege of waking up in beautiful Geneva, donning a UN badge and contributing to the global community,” Palmateer said. Geneva is the European headquarters for many UN agencies.
Wanting to combine her undergraduate degree in international affairs with social work, she discovered the internship on unjobs.org and applied on a whim. Once offered the position, she worked with School of Social Welfare Assistant Dean and Director of Field Education Estella Williamson to go through the process of getting it approved for school credit.
In Geneva, Palmateer provided the geographic desk officers with daily operations and supported her supervisor, who is the OCHA point person for the UN Standing Committee on Nutrition.
“As a macro-level MSW student with a bachelor’s degree in and passion for international affairs, this internship was the perfect opportunity for me,” said Palmateer. “Not only was I deeply interested in OCHA’s mandate, but also thanks to my MSW education, I had acquired many skills that directly contributed to my performance and success in this position.”
Macro-level social work means intervention on a large-scale basis, affecting large numbers of people.
In addition to learning new skills in her chosen field, Palmateer got to experience the “incredible” city of Geneva. “It’s a really picturesque city – from my bedroom window I could see the tallest mountain (Mont Blanc) and the largest lake (Lac Leman) in Europe. It’s a relatively small city and it’s very quaint and clean.”
Since Geneva is a diplomatic and international finance hub, almost 40 percent of its population is international.
Palmateer had already traveled extensively. During a gap year between high school and college, she spent time in Rwanda and India. In college she studied in Paris and traveled around Europe, but this was her first trip to Geneva. The city comes alive in summer and everything centered around the lake, she said. “There are all kinds of city-sponsored events – live music, festivals, outdoor movie theaters, parades, picnics, parties – it’s a blast.”
Palmateer said the lessons she learned from the internship were “monumental. I have become achingly aware that funding and access largely dictate the distribution and availability of aid. I have learned how to effectively communicate in a culturally diverse workplace and about the spectrum of human capabilities, ranging from endless generosity to extreme desperation.”
Looking back at the experience, she said the best parts of working at the UN paralleled her favorite part of the MSW program. “I had the privilege of routinely being surrounded by, working with and learning from colleagues from all walks of life who all shared the common interest of bettering today’s world for the benefit of humanity. And with that realization came another lesson: community is paramount.”
Palmateer found the only downside to be the cost of living in an expensive city as an unpaid intern. “The School of Social Welfare’s international field placement scholarship/stipend definitely helped! I was also able to earn some extra money by teaching yoga classes before work,” she said.
This was her second MSW field placement. Her first was as a school social worker intern at School 18 in the Enlarged City School District of Troy.
Palmateer said she looks forward to receiving her diploma in the mail “any day now!” and is applying for jobs in humanitarian affairs all over the world, from Iraq and Indonesia to Somalia and Switzerland.
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