On Swiss life

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As we near one year of living in Switzerland and one year on our apartment lease, I’ve been looking for a new (more affordable) apartment in Geneva. The job is tedious and all-consuming. Long French phone calls. Stacks of paperwork. Back-to-back meetings. Fees. Dead ends.

And then I came across this story.

A 22-year-old New Zealand man hired as an unpaid intern by the United Nations in Geneva has been forced to live in a tent because he cannot afford the high cost of accommodation in the city. 

David Hyde has been sleeping on a patch of ground overlooking Lake Geneva not far from the the UN Beach Club, where well-heeled employees sunbathe, paddle in the water and sip aperitifs at the bar.

(Hyde’s plight caught the attention of a local reporter last week when a rainstorm threatened to wash away his “home.” Here he is dressed to go to work…)

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The area where he pitched his tent was soaked and yet the morning after Hyde had to put on his suit, fold up his tent, pack up his gas stove and other meagre belongings and head off to his unpaid job.

“How do the others do it?” he asked of the dozens of interns who take six-month positions at the UN without a salary.

Hyde resigned himself to living in a tent after searching for a room or studio to rent only to find the rents — in a city known to be one of the most expensive in the world — were beyond his means.

“I was perhaps naive in coming here but this policy (of not paying interns) makes me furious.”

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In the few days since the article was published Hyde received an outpouring of community support, but on Tuesday announced his resignation from the UN intern program.

“In no way was my goal to arouse pity and to obtain lodgings,” he told media this week. “I hope simply that my story can contribute to changing things for the situation of interns.”

He said he hoped attention could focus away from him and on the lot of interns in general.

Evoking the Declaration of Human Rights, which calls for all people to be paid for their work, Hyde said he hoped the UN would become a “role model for internships in the future.”

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Unpaid internships are the hallmark of the journalism industry and I’ve worked my fair share. Fortunately, my parents were always able to support me. This is not the case for many.

I’ve been touched by Hyde’s story and have resolved to not complain about my envious situation of choosing between apartments. The article arrived at the right moment–I’ve been humbled. Has that happened to you? Wishing you a complaint-free week…for now, a few links:

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