Tidbits of Arabic News translated into English

Thursday, December 5, 2013

UN YPP exam, 2013, New York

The UN runs a Young Professionals Program, where you take a test and see if you can pass and get a job.

I applied to the YPP program not because I thought there was a chance I might succeed, but because the closest examination center to me was New York City. I figured, for sure that means we will get a backstage pass into the UN, and that is not something to hold your nose at. My initial plan was to get to the UN at 6 am, just when the registration period started. That would give me two hours of unadulterated glory time in the UN, before the exam ever started. Instead, I hadn't slept much in the three nights preceding, so I didn't get to the UN until 7. By 7:15 I was through security, and had to wait in the registration line. My seat assignment was in the General Assembly Hall, and since the registration line snaked right past clear windows overlooking my destination, I was able to check it out. It's a really huge room, but it was filled with ordinary rows of tables, and does not look at all as impressive as when you see it on the news. And the black-green marble block that is the pedestal where the world leaders stand, and which looks so much like a vast throne when you see it on TV, is almost puny.

December sunrise, UN, around 7 am 

 Waiting in line outside the gates while they check our passports

Statue in the UN yard

Walking towards the security checkpoint

Golden sunlight pours into the hallway

The room was already pretty well-filled by this time. The long rows of tables are all labeled with country markers, so you could see which countries are most popular, and which are not. I can report, that as of 7:30 am, no one had wanted to sit at the Holy See, although two Arab-looking girls were occupying the "State of Palestine" right next-door to it. The table with Swaziland, Sweden, Switzerland, and Syria was almost right in the middle room, and this is what made me nervous, because someone had already taken Sweden's spot. Right then I was wishing I had arrived an hour earlier. The only saving grace was that there were two chairs per country, so perhaps, I thought, I could snag the second Sweden chair. But I wasn't sure, because it looked as though most everyone was sitting in every other chair, so I had a few minutes' of anxiety over whether that was a test rule or not. And my registration line was stalled because someone was having a passport/identification issue, while the other lines were zooming by and grabbing all the left-over seats first. In the meantime, no one had yet dared to sit in the chair belonging to the "Republic of Syria".

Then we found out that we can sit side-by-side, as long as the neighbors are not taking the same exam. So this caused me a few minutes' anxiety thinking, what were the odds that the people sitting in Sweden, Swaziland, and Switzerland would also be taking the statistics test? It was after 7:30 by now. When I finally got through the registration, I rushed inside the General Assembly Hall. I made a beeline for the Sweden table. First, I asked the girl at Switzerland about her test; she was taking public information. Then, I asked the girl at Sweden about her test, and she was taking public administration. Whew! So I sat right between them, right beside the Sweden country marker, all my worrying for naught. Turns out the girl who had chosen the Sweden marker first was also Swedish, which surprised me because she is not super-blond; and I explained all about my urgency to sit at the Sweden marker as well, which surprised her, because I am not so blonde myself. We shared cameras, computers, advice, pencils, and crackers, and when the Chinese people sitting on either of our sides (at Swaziland and Switzerland) began speaking Chinese right over our heads, we got back by speaking in Swedish. So there you had it, a  little team for Sweden taking the YPP test in New York City!

And you are probably worried as to what happened to Syria and the Holy See. The Holy See was occupied by a Chinese-looking girl around 8 o'clock. As for Syria, an Arab-looking girl snagged it a little bit after I got the Sweden chair. She had red nail polish and very, very messy long hair pulled up in a messy bun with messy strands hanging down, dyed a honey-brown color except for dark-brown, inch-long roots.

At 8 o'clock sharp, the doors were supposed to close and the exam commence, or so had threatened the instructions, but instead we kept waiting until the long, long registration line past the clear windows finally dwindled thirty minutes later. I think that 700 people took the exam in New York this, and two hours really is hardly enough time to get everyone through. When everyone was seated, they read the instructions. They asked if anyone wanted the instructions read in French. Two people in a corner raised their hands, but the lady at the podium didn't see them, so rushed on ahead in English. Luckily, the French interpreter saw them and ran over to administer the test to those two individually, or something. They passed out the test booklets, and we began at 8:45 am. Every single chair had a gadget on its table space. I think it is mainly a device for a microphone and for accessing interpretations, but it also told you the time, and that came in handy.

The test was over at 1:15 pm. They told us to stop writing, and close the test booklets. But the Chinese girl next to me, sitting at Switzerland, did not. She kept looking beadily at the UN test proctors, a very vengeful look in her eyes, and monitoring when no one was looking her way. When the coast was clear, she would grab her pen and open her booklet and scribble away. But I don't think she got more than two sentences completed, between her beady surveillance and the promptness with which tests were collected. I did see that she was able to put a period at the end of one of her sentences.

End of the exam

It was 1:30 pm by the time we were free to leave, but I was not going to do that, of course. I had high hopes of sneaking around and not leaving until the security guards kicked me out. We left the exam room, and were in a large hallway, with doors marked with "authorized personnel", and mysterious stairways, lots of tapestries and statues, and lots of police. I really thought I must be backstage, at the real works! My clue was that we had all figured out that the "General Assembly Hall" where we took the test was not the real thing, since it looked nothing like what you see on TV, and besides, I took a UN tour in 2006, and I'm pretty sure the General Assembly had curved rows, not straight tables; and I'm pretty sure that each row was hierarchical, that they rise the further back you get. So, I concluded I must be in a special part of the UN where the real gritty work happens, and they just happened to replicate fancy-sounding names for the rooms. I inspected all the tapestries and statues, and made notes on everything; and I found a horse pulling a sun chariot from the Viking Age in Denmark, right next to a Sudanese artifact from the BC era; and I sat quietly in a chair and looked at all the passing people to see if there would be someone that I've seen from the news; and looked longingly at the staircases without daring to creep up them.

Finally, at 3 pm, I had exhausted all my dilly-dallying tactics, and begrudgingly left. Though I didn't really mean to leave. I was just going to leave the test-taking hall, and then enter back in the UN visitor's center where they have the bookstore and all the exhibits. Well. As soon as I left the gates, I realized, too late, that the real UN, with the General Assembly-Security Council-bookstore-etc, are all under renovation. And they have merely moved everything into a large white structure temporarily erected on the grounds. That was where we took our test. I was just too happy that morning about my invitation to the UN to notice everything and put two and two together. Stupid, stupid, stupid, STUPID. So there really wouldn't have been a problem if I had gone upstairs, because it wasn't anything special in the first place! And we weren't really backstage at all, except we kind of were. And I couldn't go through security and get back inside, because apparently, you have to go online and get a ticket. So that was the end of my UN adventure.

 That's us!

Picture of a Swedish man on the wall of former presidents of the General Assembly

My darling angel Sweden on the agenda

And more of the agenda ... 

 This beautiful tapestry is a gift to the UN from Ghana

 The Swedish flag is in this bunch

This quote by a Swedish man is engraved in a park across the street from the UN

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