International Exposure: An Interview with a Lifelong U.N. Employee
Wandering Educators has always been a supporter of traveling for kids and teens. However, whether traveling is truly beneficial in the long term is debated. I have interviewed Neeru Singh, an avid traveller and United Nations employee. Throughout her travels for the United Nations and her husband’s (the current ambassador of India to Indonesia) postings she has acquired a love for traveling.
How many countries have you lived in?
That’s a tough one! Let me start at the very beginning. I was born in Damascus, Syria. Then I lived in Belgium, in Brussels. Then Belgium, Kuwait, I was in India, I was in Bhutan, and then I was in Kenya, Zimbabwe, Sri Lanka, Japan, Kenya again, Ethiopia, Italy, USA, and now Indonesia.
Which country do you think has had the most impact and why?
Well, I can’t really say that one country has had the most impact on me. But I suppose, to a very large extent the United States, because I grew up and went to high school there, I studied in the International School system, which is basically American. So I would say America, then India, because I am Indian, and that was my upbringing. I’d also add Japan. I lived there for seven years over two postings.
How do you think your International Experiences have shaped who you are as a person?
I think one of the main things that being so exposed to the world has done is make me far more open minded and accepting of peoples differences. In fact I appreciate peoples differences much more and I feel that it is because everybody in the world is different. The uniqueness of every different culture and all the different societies is what makes the world such a cool place.
Does traveling affect life in the work place?
I definitely think so. see, I actually worked for the last 15 years with the United Nations. And the United Nations was a perfect fit for me, Because in the United Nations there are people with hundreds of different nationalities. At any given time I had friends from maybe 15 to 20 different countries, coming from totally different backgrounds. There were people from Korea, China, Japan, France, Italy, Germany, India, Indonesia, Fiji, Australia, Canada, and the UK. You had people from such a vast number of countries.
And I think that’s why it was a perfect fit for me. Surrounded [by these people] you begin to think beyond your own countries. You start to think of the world, you become more of a global citizen. I no longer think of myself as an Indian, I consider myself a global citizen. As a global citizen, it was great to be able to contribute to the development of people in different parts of the world. Not just in my own country. Most people when they're growing up focus on their own country, and there’s nothing wrong with that, but if you want to expand yourself and expand your sense of belonging to the world, then international experience allows you to broaden your perspective to realize that if you do good, for example if I work on a project in Indonesia today I can work on it with as much enthusiasm and focus as I would in India or Ethiopia or Kenya. Because ultimately everyone in the world is fundamentally the same.
What was your job at the UN?
I did various things over a period of time. In the last few years I was implementing an IT based global project for the UN to make everything more systematic in its program management. Before that I worked with women's empowerment programs and implemented them in different parts of the world. Also I’ve worked with implementing projects relating to water and sanitation in Africa. I’ve worked with HIV/AIDS projects in Africa. So A very very large variety of things. That’s another reason I loved the UN, because it gave me such a large sweep. Because every time you do a new job you have to learn.
Do you think that people should keep traveling, or is a few times enough?
When you get to my age you start to crave stability, you don’t want to move every three years. Having said that, I’ve spent my life doing exactly that. It’s not a matter of traveling once, say from the US to France, that may give you some international exposure. But it’s about continually connecting with different cultures, different societies, that makes, to me at least life so enriching. For example, I’m now in Indonesia, it’s a totally different culture than I have been exposed to before. And so for me it’s the voyage of discovery which I love. It makes life more interesting, more exciting. If you live in one place, one building, maybe a little bit of boredom creeps in to your life. But when you go out you meet more people, there are so many more things to discover. It makes life exciting, it’s challenging, it’s fun.
Do you think that kids should all have international experiences?
I think if possible, every human being should have the ability to travel a few times in their life. [Ideally they should be able to travel to] a totally different culture, a totally different environment. I would be a great advocate of that if it were possible. But certainly for young people growing up, especially in the developed world, where people have so many more opportunities, I would definitely be an advocate for everybody having at least a few experiences with traveling.
Do you think having International Experience is an advantage, and why?
I certainly think so, because I feel that people who didn’t really get that kind of international experience are more judgmental of other people, less accepting of differences. They are more scared of exposing themselves and their children to other cultures, because they don’t understand other cultures. In my experience, I just feel very comfortable. I know that wherever I go, we are all human beings, so on a very spiritual, humanitarian level, I connect with everybody. And I think that at the external level we’re all different, because we have different colors skins, we speak different languages, and wear different kinds of clothes, but inherently I think human beings are connected spiritually.
Anne Driscoll is a member of the Youth Travel Blogging Mentorship Program.
Photo courtesy and copyright Neeru Singh