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Let's Talk Human Rights

Abroad in Geneva Series: Part 1

By Claire Pawlecki '23 & Katie Hay '23


In early January, as most University of Dayton students ventured back to campus, we, Claire Pawlecki and Katie Hay, traveled to Geneva, Switzerland, their new home for the Spring semester 2022. With an educational focus on Human Rights Studies, Geneva is an especially exciting place to be for us.

Located at the tip of expansive Lake Geneva and surrounded by the Swiss Alps, it is no wonder why Geneva became one of the world’s most prominent international cities. Today, Geneva is home to over 200 international organizations (IGOs), most notably the European headquarters of the United Nations and other UN agencies. The streets of Geneva are lined with various non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and IGOs, making it one of the world’s largest hubs of multilateral diplomacy. 

Throughout the semester, we will be studying on an international campus along with interning at international organizations. Through this series, we are reflecting on our experience abroad, offering insight into our travels, internships with an NGO and IGO, and exposure to human rights within the classroom and professional settings.  

Katie: Ever since arriving in Switzerland, it has been hard not to smile. The opportunity to study abroad is one that I do not take for granted, especially in the times of Covid-19. My grandmother instilled her love of travel in me by sharing stories of her journeys throughout her twenties, making this experience extra special. I look forward to immersing myself in a new environment, culture, and language (Bonjour!) while advancing my education in human rights in the process. What has the experience been like for you so far, Claire?

Claire: From taking my first plane ride to my first time overseas, arriving in Switzerland has been nothing short of exciting and educational. It has always been a goal of mine to study abroad, and getting to have this experience in the heart of graphic design and human rights work is a dream come true. I am slowly working on my French language skills (thank you Katie for the 3-page laminated French guide), and I am excited to continue learning about the many cultures, communities, and lifestyles that Geneva embodies.

Visiting the United Nations

One of our first travels was to tour the United Nations European headquarters in Geneva, Switzerland. The United Nations Office at Geneva (UNOG) is one of four major offices of the United Nations, located inside the Palais des Nations complex. The grand Palais des Nations was originally constructed for the League of Nations in the 1930s, which transferred powers to the United Nations in 1945. Today, the Palais des Nations is home to the Human Rights Council and holds over 12,000 meetings every year.geneva-un-ceiling.png

Claire: For me, being the Graphic Design major, seeing the art in the UN Palais was one of the most impactful parts of the tour. In the conference room, entitled The Human Rights and Alliance of Civilizations Room, we were able to view the artwork of Spanish artist Miquel Barceló. The ceiling of the conference room encompasses Barcelo’s masterpiece, with vibrant colors, texture, and depth being the focal point of the room. The tour guide explained to us how the ceiling itself is a symbol of the UN’s mission, having a different color, feel, and depth from each angle you look at it. This is a metaphor of the versatility and depth of the UN’s work, symbolizing how the UN is one main organization consisting of many operations and modalities in the fields of human rights, development, peace and humanitarian advocacy, expertise, and knowledge. 

Viewing art in this global context and seeing the human rights practices I have studied the past few years in action was a moment I will not forget. It has inspired me to keep learning ways I can be a human rights advocate in my local and global communities, using art and design as my advocacy tool.

Katie: As a Human Rights Studies student, standing in the conference room of the Human Rights Council was surreal. While visiting, the council was performing a Universal Periodic Review (UPR) of Austria, a process I learned about in my Politics of Human Rights course last semester. Throughout this process, each UN Member State provides a detailed review of the actions taken to improve the human rights situations within their nation. 

After visiting the Human Rights and Alliance of Civilizations Room, our group toured the expansive campus of the UN. I was most surprised to see peacocks peacefully roaming the grounds, donated to UNOG in 1997 by a zoo in Japan and later by the Permanent Mission of India. Alongside the peacocks, the grounds are home to important monuments gifted to the UNOG by the various Member States, private sponsors and artists. We escaped the cold and toured the Library & Archives, home to historical texts and archives of the United Nations. It was special to see scholars performing human rights research right before my eyes! 

Following our tour (and visit to the gift shop!), we seized the opportunity for photos in front of the famous Alley of Flags. Located in front of the Palais des Nations, the rows contain flags of 193 Member States and 2 Observer States. The Alley of Flags represents the diverse workforce of the United Nations that support human rights work around the world. For those in the United States, the United Nations headquarters in New York also offers a photo-op in front of flags!claire-katie-alley-of-flages.png

Visiting the United Nations was a “pinch-me” moment for us. We are grateful for the opportunity to experience moments like these in Geneva and share them through this blog series. More to come from us in the blog from Geneva!

Claire is a junior Graphic Design major with minors in Human Rights and Photography. She is passionate about human rights advocacy and wants to explore an intersection of design and advocacy after she graduates from UD. At the Human Rights Center, Claire is a part of the Marketing and Communications team, assisting with social media content creation and human rights engagement opportunities.

Katie is a junior Human Rights Studies major with minors in Business Administration and French. She is interested in the intersection of human rights and nonprofit business, especially in advancing the rights of children. At the Human Rights Center, Katie is part of the Student Engagement team, helping to advance human rights advocacy on campus and pursuing nonprofit research.

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