While walking by the Joseph F. Smith Building his sophomore year, Chris Johns noticed a poster for an internship program in New York. He contacted Ken Stiles, professor of political science and the international relations coordinator who mentors the program, and learned that there were many small missions at the UN that needed help from American college students. Johns applied to five countries and was offered an internship with the Permanent Mission of the Republic of Maldives to the United Nations.
The Maldives mission consists of only five people, so it was difficult for the small group to attend the daily morning and afternoon UN meetings. One of Johns’ responsibilities was to cover the meetings, take notes, and prepare briefs for the ambassador and diplomats. He also had the opportunity to assist with the Maldives’ successful reelection campaign as head of the Human Rights Council.
Working at the UN was demanding for Johns, and the internship posed several challenges. The UN vocabulary was like a foreign language at first, and Johns often used Google and Wikipedia to help him understand what was going on. And because the internship was unpaid, he lived off $0.99 pound cakes and pizzas. Plus it was hot. “Those are the things that added to my experience,” he said.
Attending UN meetings gave Johns a new perspective on diplomacy. “One thing that surprised me at the UN was the unified approach they have,” he said. “I saw countries I thought of as conflicting meet together. Their ambassadors and diplomats are close friends with similar views.” One time Johns called the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea. He had a great conversation with one of the diplomats and set up a meeting for the Maldives ambassador. Afterward he realized that the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea was not South Korea as he had thought, but North Korea.
Another time Johns had a chance to chat with the director general of maritime affairs from Malaysia. “As we talked during a long meeting, he became interested in my background. He didn’t know anything about BYU,” Johns explained. “Afterward he handed me his business card and said, ‘If you’re ever in Malaysia, you can come stay at my house.’”
It was not all work for Johns though. He lived on the Upper West Side of New York with other members of the Church. “We played softball and basketball and went out to eat,” he recalled. “Sometimes after work I took my roommate’s bike to ride around Central Park. The orchestra in New York also had free concerts in the park, and all of us went.”
Johns will soon be leaving for another internship, this time as a financial analyst with Johnson and Johnson in Los Angeles. “It is more pertinent to my major,” he said, “but in every interview this year, they talked about my experience with the UN, and I like talking about the Maldives.”
Speaking to students, Johns said: “It is tough to stand out from others. If you know a different language or have lived abroad, adding an internship is another way to stand out from the rest.”