(Banner photo: Ben Donahue with Fiji's Ambassador to the United Nations Berenado Vunibobo at the Fiji Mission to the U.N. Mission in New York City.)

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Ben Doahue and Ambassador Vunibobo

Ben Donahue

International Studies and Spanish Major Ben Donahue Interns For Small Nation's Delegation

By Holly Bowen, Daily News staff writer
Reprinted with persmission by the Moscow-Pullman Daily News
Originally written Fall 2009

The United Nations isn't at the top of most students' wish lists when it comes to summer vacation destinations, but the organization provided a taste of a tropical island's culture and politics for one University of Idaho undergraduate this summer. Ben Donahue, a 21-year-old international studies and Spanish major, lived in New York City this summer while he interned for the Fiji Mission to the United Nations from the first week of June through the middle of August.

Donahue's Fiji journey actually began about two years ago when he was a sophomore taking the Model U.N. class at the UI. During that time, he traveled with a group of UI and Washington State University students to New York, where they spent a week at the National Model U.N. conference.

Donahue and his classmates were assigned to represent Fiji and Uganda at that event.

He remained in touch with Mason Smith, who was Fiji's interim ambassador at the time, and began sending out e-mails last fall to try to land a summer internship at the United Nations.

With the help of that contact and of his UI adviser, Bill Smith, Donahue became the only UI student to intern at the U.N. this summer, he said.

Donahue spent each day sitting in on U.N. committee meetings, and he said he usually prepared a weekly report of his findings for Fiji's ambassador, Berenado Vunibobo.

"There are a lot more committees than they have staff for," he said.

For example, when he attended discussions about reforming the U.N. Security Council, he recorded all the countries' positions and then reported back to the ambassador. He spent another week at a conference about a proposed arms trade treaty.

"I was there all week basically as (the Fiji delegation's) eyes and ears," he said.  Despite ongoing political unrest in Fiji, Donahue said he had "no problems at all" interacting with his supervisors and co-workers in the mission.  He said people realized the importance of setting aside the country's problems for the sake of positively representing Fiji to the United Nations.

"I never really felt like it would be a good thing to ask about, and everyone knows it," he said.

He did get to experience some political controversy when the ousted president of Honduras, Manuel Zelaya, spoke to the U.N. General Assembly.

"I didn't know that he was going to be there," Donahue said, adding that there was suddenly security everywhere. "I was just stuck in the middle of it." 

Donahue said the internship was beneficial because he learned hands-on about the inner workings of the United Nations and the different ways countries approach each other. He said criticisms he's heard about the United Nations being inefficient are not entirely fair because it's a challenge to keep so many different types of people organized.

"To some degree it's justified, but at the same time, the most important thing to realize is there are 192 countries," he said.  Donahue attended numerous formal receptions and parties, which he said also were a learning experience.

"I got a little lesson in etiquette from all that stuff," he said.  However, he said he learned the most from the members of the Fiji community with whom he constantly interacted.

"They're some of the most open and kind people I've ever met," he said.  He said there aren't many people living in the United States who are from Fiji, so "for that reason, they all know each other."

"There pretty much wasn't one night of the week when I wasn't invited to somebody's house for a barbecue or something," he said. 

Donahue is considering entering law school after he finishes his senior year at the UI, but he said he'd like to someday visit the South Pacific island nation he now knows so well. "Who doesn't want to go to Fiji?" he said.

Holly Bowen can be reached at (208) 882-5561, ext. 239, or by e-mail at hbowen@dnews.com.