Student Reflections

Before I met the United Nations…

Sharan Sekhon
July 8, 2022

Geneva: the modern center of global diplomacy, a place that I heard about for the first time in the fourth grade when I learned about the United Nations. I never thought I would actually go there; in fact, I never thought I would pursue a life that required international travel. After having never spent any significant amount of time or distance away from home, the summer after my freshmen year at Northeastern, I threw myself into an uncomfortable situation: a nine-hour direct flight to Serbia for my very first dialogue of civilizations.

I grew up in upstate New York; accepting a place at Northeastern was the furthest I imagined I would go from home. Now, nearly a year later, I have traveled to Serbia, for a second time, for a co-op and have arrived at dialogue in Switzerland as I plan for another international experience the next summer. Despite my fear, I found that the dialogue experience was uniquely perfect for me. One month to do a deep dive into a specific area of coursework, learn about a new culture and customs, experience a different perspective, and visit a new nation all at once is tailored to aid students in not only traveling to their dream destinations but to help them define their goals in life and the steps necessary in their careers.

My career goals were extremely defined when I came into school and since starting my aspirations have broadened. I am a politics, philosophy, and economics major concentrating in international political economy. There are so many opportunities that align with my interests and a variety of avenues I can pursue. The dialogue in Serbia gave me insight into one area. This program in Geneva, the center of global diplomacy and the foundation of modern International Humanitarian Law, will give me insight into other areas. Particularly, this opportunity will explore my interest in international law and how NGOs interact with each other

Academic and career aspirations aside, now that I have tasted the excitement of travel, I am incredibly excited and motivated to travel as much as possible. I can hardly wait to explore another destination. I am even more excited about the connections and friendships that are created through dialogue. The friends I made on my last dialogue are some of the closest friends I have and I was even rooming with one of them on co-op! While living on campus is certainly an immersive experience, it is incomparable to living, eating, and learning with the same small cohort of students for an entire month. I can think of nothing else that can bond 20-some people together the way dialogue does.

Building friendships begins before the experience though! Orientation meetings begin soon after the application process and you begin to familiarize faces. Then the group chats begin and soon enough you’re on your path to building an adventure of a lifetime with people who were strangers just weeks ago.

However, this time, since I was abroad on co-op I missed the orientation meetings and had to rely on simply showing up and making connections. This was exciting in itself: not really having any idea of group dynamics before I showed up. I was able to arrive in Geneva without expectations from the group which was a super exciting transition.

Another exciting transition was the way I arrived at dialogue. I was on co-op in Serbia but unfortunately had to return home unexpectedly due to visa issues (hilarious and if you’re considering an international co-op I would love to give you more insight! Just email me: [email protected]). However, my parents had already planned to meet me a week before my dialogue began, so they had plane tickets to Switzerland already booked! So, my parents, two brothers, aunt, uncle, and their two children had a weeklong (I was only there for 5ish days!) vacation in Switzerland before my dialogue began. I seriously recommend traveling beyond the city of your dialogue if possible! Before or after! I have done both and I enjoyed the experiences immensely.

This June, I spent a few days in the Lucerne area, luckily right during the Lucerne City Fest! The city was not only beautiful but had amazing food and vibes at the festival in the city center. We used the city as our base to visit Mount Pilatus and Mount Rigi (Rigi Kulm) which were both beautiful! Although, it is important to take note of the weather as you travel the mountains of Switzerland as clouds can shift quickly and cover the view you are traveling to see, as happened to us on Rigi Kulm. However, the trip to Rigi was still very informative and fun as we were able to take Europe’s first cogwheel railway up to the top!

After Lucerne, we traveled to the Wengen area and stayed in a beautiful Airbnb, Chalet Helene. It is perfect for large groups of people like our family. We used the beautiful Wengen area as our base to travel to Grindelwald, Jungfraujoch which has the highest train station in Europe (Top of Europe) and enjoy the beautiful Interlaken area. I highly recommend taking the “mountain carts” down Mount First if you get the chance! They have a few other activities/rides if you’re interested as well. This can get expensive though! There are a few ways to stretch your cash but it is an expensive country to travel.

If you’re planning to travel in Switzerland, I recommend getting a travel pass of some sort in order to use the public transport with ease. We had the Swisspass which has packages for 1-day, 3-day, 6-day, 7-day, and then jumps to 15-days. So, shop around for the right package for you. The Swisspass was best for us because it had major discounts on activities and free access to many museums. There are other passes available for public transport and other travel packages as well so I suggest planning out everything you want to do and adding up expenses to compare them to your options.

That being said! There is no wrong way to explore this beautiful country. I had a wonderful start to my Swiss adventure and look forward to the rest of my program. Reflecting on my journey into getting comfortable with travel has been a unique opportunity to be able to appreciate how far I have come, and I can’t wait to explore the world and my own personal journey more!