Update: Tent-living UN intern 'comes clean,' planned stunt to publicize intern conditions

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Marco Werman: Landing an internship at the United Stations is a big deal. It could mark the start of a young person's career in diplomacy. So when 22 year old David Hyde from New Zealand was offered an internship at UN offices in Geneva in Switzerland, he was delighted. An unpaid internship, but still, he’d figure out the details, like where to live in the sixth most expensive city in the world, later. Well, he ended up pitching his tent on some prime Geneva lakefront real estate. Literally pitched his tent. My BBC colleague Imogen Foulkes has been covering this story. She joins me now from Geneva. So, I've been to Geneva a couple of times, Imogen, and seeing some guy crawl out of a backpacking tent along the shores of the lake, it would just stick out like a sore thumb. So, David Hyde really had no other options?

 

Imogen Foulkes: I think it's clear he perhaps underestimated the cost of Geneva. It is a very, very expensive city. So, as you said, he thought he could figure it out, but I met him a couple of days ago. He'd been camping for just over a week, and he was starting to realize that he hadn't really thought it all through.

 

Werman: So, Imogen, how high are rents in Geneva?

 

Foulkes: You would be looking at, for a modest apartment, 2,000 Swiss francs a month. That is 2,000 dollars a month, near enough. That's a lot of money.

 

Werman: What's been reaction at the UN now that the world knows that this young intern, probably middle class, working for free though, has literally been left outside in the open air?

 

Foulkes: Embarrassment, shock, anger. I think one of the things, certainly all of the UN officials I have talked to in Geneva, have said, actually, he's right. The interns are right. We should be paying them.

 

Werman: What did David tell you about some of the other UN interns in Geneva this summer? What are they doing for accommodation?

 

Foulkes: I don't think that he's actually had a chance to get to know very many of them, because as soon as he went public with this issue, he was flooded with offers for rooms, but he's actually decided not to take any. He's decided to resign. I think the whole media has been a bit too much for him. I talked to quite a lot of other interns, and was told that, yes, it's very difficult. The chair of the UN Geneva Interns Association, a young woman, intern herself, said that she's forever getting emails saying "have you got a couch I can sleep on? Have you get an air mattress, just a corner in your room, somewhere to stay?" She also made a very interesting point. She is from Botswana, but she's one of only two interns from Africa of the UN in Geneva. There's 162 interns. That shows you, again, this is now, because it is unpaid, a chance that is open, really, only to people with money behind them.

 

Werman: So David resigned from his internship? Is he still in Geneva, still in a tent by Lake Geneva?

 

Foulkes: I don't know. I honestly don't know. We are all trying to contact him. He just came across to me, I have to be honest, as somebody a bit overwhelmed by all of this. Perhaps thought it was a good idea to draw attention to the situation, but it always takes one example, and it's quite tough being in the media spotlight. I think that's a more peripheral point to the one which he has made very well with his publicity: that young people working for nothing, particularly for prestigious organizations like the United Stations, is not something a society can be very proud of.

 

Werman: My BBC colleague Imogen Foulkes has been covering the story of the unpaid UN intern in a tent on the shores of Lake Geneva. Thank you, Imogen, for telling us about this.

 

Foulkes: Thank you.

 

Werman: News headlines are next. You're listening to The World.