It was in November of 2010 when I was accepted to work as an intern for BPW International in New York. I was genuinely happy. Just a few months before I received this offer, I promised myself that to go abroad once in my college life to have an overseas internship experience. I did not want to waste my time by merely studying and not be able to have a practical experience abroad to combine with my Bachelor’s degree in International Affairs. I quickly sent an e-mail to the professor and told her I was interesting to interview, and then it happened: first New York and then Helsinki.
On January 24th of 2011, Penny, my close friend, and I arrived at JFK International Airport in New York City. Then, BPW International President, Liz Benham, was at the exit waiting for us with a sign that read ‘BPW International’ on it. I was surprised that it was not a driver nor a secretary picking us up, but the President herself. But after few days, everything made sense.
It was my first experienced in New York City, in such cold weather and with so much snow. I found it surreal that snow surrounded me. I am from tropical area, and had never seen the snow before that moment I was simply happy. Snow covered the ground; the cars and people could barely walk or drive. Therefore, the first mission in the President’s Office was to shovel the snow.
My biggest surprises came after my real first mission. Stepping into the office, it was quite different from how I had imagined. As a very big INGO with 96 Member States, the office should be located in a big building with lots of employees, and when you looked out through the windows should be a great sky high view. In reality, it was a small office with two employees, Patricia and Michelle, one President and two interns – a total of five people in the small office. In the following days, I learned why, and realized what it was like to work in an INGO.
Liz held a brief meeting with all of us, delegated the jobs, and everyone got back to work. I was doing website updating regarding 2011 Helsinki Congress, checking which parts were not clear, which should be updated, and sent the edits to the web engineer. After that, we worked on meeting materials for international coordinators, then registration materials for the Annual Leader Summit and the following Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) conferences. Starting with the International Coordinator’s meeting, each coordinator had to write up the things they wanted to report in the meeting – and it was not just one to two papers but as much as twenty to forty papers. Penny and I printed all of the papers, arranged them clearly, and printed many copies. When all the steps were finished, we combined them into the portfolio to send to each of the coordinators. We performed that same tasks before the annual leader summit, and it was not just few copies like before. This time we were facing sixty copies with only one big Xerox machine and three printers in the office. All of the machines were exhausted and not working properly, so we had to ask the copy stores to help, which cost a lot.
After all the logistics were sorted in the office, we became the Public Relations officers in the conference rooms. Not only did we receive the people, but acted as the photographers.
Though we had lot of work to do, we still had fun with all of people we met. We went to restaurants with Liz’s husband Kenny and Freda’s husband Andrew, also Sujey and her husband Kevin. We met with other members from all the regions too. It was an unforgettable moment.
A few months later, just before few weeks of Helsinki Congress, we received the letters from Michelle that Liz was inviting both Penny and I back to work for at the President’s Office in Helsinki. Penny and I were screaming on the phone to each other — we were so happy to go back to work for BPW, especially in Europe.
When we arrived to the hotel in Helsinki, I was happy to meet people whom we worked with in New York again and, as usual, time was of up-most importance; we all got back to work.
Before the congress, we had a lot to prepare. We had to check that all the registration badges were correct and corresponded with what each attendee registered for. We also checked if all of the certificates for speakers were ready.
Even though we had a lot to get prepare before the congress, I still had great time during my 22nd birthday with BPW husbands Kenny and Andrew, and also the others whom worked with us those days.
It was the 27th Helsinki Congress. Penny and I were assigned as receptionists but we had to run to different places to assist, sometimes to the back office to help print the handouts to participants while delivering things into conference rooms to volunteers or speakers. In addition, we represented BPW International sales for the products with the BPW logo. We slept late and woke up early, and we barely had time to rest. Finally, the successful congress came to a close.
Between New York and Helsinki last year, my friends said I was like a flight attendant – but I enjoyed it. I really appreciated that BPW gave me this chance to broaden my mind by working in an international environment. It helped me not only gain my experience, but also make friends. What’s more, it was my dream to do this kind of work, and it made my dreams come true.
Written by Yaya Yashun Chang, BPW International Intern and Young BPW Taiwan member