Editor’s Note: Each summer Penn Law students hone their skills through a wide array of private and public sector internships across the country and around the world. Generous financial support and fellowships for international and public interest work enable students to pursue diverse assignments in the U.S. and abroad. This dispatch from Natasha Arnpriester L’16 is one in a series of firsthand accounts by Law School students about how their summer employment opportunities are preparing them for their legal careers.
Hailing from Arizona, my youth was split between Phoenix, Los Angeles and a small farm in Northern California. My professional life has taken many twists and turns, from being formally enrolled in a doctoral clinical psychology program, to now a rising 2L with great aspirations of becoming a human rights lawyer. This summer in Geneva, Switzerland I am experiencing a small taste of that dream through my position at the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights.
I am working in the Field Operations and Technical Cooperation Division, concentrated on the Asia-Pacific Region, which covers countries spanning from the Islamic Republic of Iran to Fiji and the Pacific Islands. With ongoing human rights concerns emerging in the region on an almost daily basis, every day brings a new and interesting experience. The individuals I work with are brilliant, accomplished, hard-working and passionate about the work that they do. I have been very lucky to benefit from their daily direction and guidance, which truly has been immeasurable. They have given me real responsibilities and substantive assignments, including the opportunity to draft reports and communications which have gone to United Nations’ leadership and to foreign governments.
Admittedly, the work was nerve-wracking at first due to the high-level nature of my assignments; however, it is exhilarating to have a hand in impactful global work. Due to the confidentiality of our work, I cannot describe the exact topics or projects, however, I can broadly state that I have found a love for analyzing states’ domestic legislation and actions and looking for contraventions of international law. I was lucky enough to come at a time when the Human Rights Council was in session. Watching world leaders and civil society members come together to discuss the major human rights concerns of their countries was both interesting and enlightening.
With the support of Penn Law’s International Human Rights Summer Fellowship, I am living one of the best experiences of my life. My first year at Penn Law, and my public international law course with Professor William Burke-White in particular, prepared me for my time at the UN. The learning curve in the office is steep, so coming to the table with a solid grasp of treaties and international law and relations, among other topics, has been a tremendous help, which I incorporate into my daily work and conversations.
Over-dramatic as it might sound, the most challenging part of each day is knowing that it is one day closer to the end of this experience. However, I look forward to combining the knowledge and skills I have learned while at the UN into my studies this upcoming year, with hopes of gaining expertise in human rights law. And, as project director of Penn Law’s International Human Rights Advocates, I greatly look forward to continuing real-world work with like-minded students in order to advance social justice globally.
My time at the United Nations has fully cemented my commitment to the practice of human rights law. It is my belief that my time here is an excellent stepping stone – well more like a boulder – for my future endeavors in this field, and I look forward to the journey.