Saturday, February 26, 2011

A letter to future WomenNC fellowship recepients

Dear future fellowship recipients,

I’m sitting on the plane on the way back from NYC. The airline attendant is passing around pretzels, asking what I want to drink (they still do this for free, on Delta). "Coffee, please." I feel like I'm in an alternate reality from the space in which I lived the past 6 days. Words are spilling out of me; I can’t type quickly enough and my mind won’t stop. Maybe I should have ordered wine. It is underprocessed and overwhelmed that I write to you, now. I’m sure you’ll have a similar experience when it’s your turn and you’re on the way home, gazing out the window, watching U.S. city lights dance from high above. You’ll be realizing how small you are, but also how much you can and will do. It’s incredible, truly. Spending a week with some of the most inspirational women on the planet is indescribable. Sure you’ll teach, but you’ll learn so much more. You'll love it, I promise. I’m taking a break from some of my personal processing/free-writing to write you this letter. Don’t worry, I’m not going to get all emotional or in-depth about the complete awesomeness of this week, well, not yet anyway—that’s for a personal conversation or another post. Instead, I’m going to share with you some advice.

The following is a list of two things 1) What I wish I knew one week ago and 2) What I knew and was very glad I knew. This post is going to be a list of very concrete (I usually don't do concrete) logistical (or logistical blog posts) suggestions to you, as future UN presenters, fellowship recipients, and world changers. All of this is Annie’s life advice, so take it for what you will. Most of this is conference advice, some of this is UN advice, and little of it is UNCSW specific. Again, take what you want and leave the rest, disagree or agree. I will neither mind nor know. These are merely my “best practices,” my experiences, and I’m sharing them with you. I’m sure we’ll go deeper as we get to know one another, but for now, while lessons are fresh on my mind, here's my “to do list” for young women:

· Before you go to a session, if you have a list of dignitaries, CEOs, etc. attending, do a quick Google search, and look at pictures. This is for 2 reasons: If someone introduces himself or herself to you and you have a deer-in-the-really-important-headlights look; it’s not good. It’s embarrassing and you’ve also put yourself in a harder place to make a connection. Do your homework. Secondly, if you see a President or CEO on the street or in a hallway with whom you would like to speak, you will know who that person is and thus will have an advantage over the clueless passersby. This is not to say to run up to “famous” people just because you feel like it; that’s sort of pointless and this is not Hollywood. ..but, if there is a question you have or a connection you want to make, do it. Just go for it.

· When you do greet a President , MP,Director, CEO, etc., have a little speech prepared: I’m ____, from _____. I care about ____. What do you think about _____? Thank you for _____. I wonder why____. Can we follow up with _____ ? get the idea. You know yourself, so there’s no excuse to be star-struck or unintelligible. People are people.

· With that said, network with everyone, not just the all-stars. The old woman grassroots organizer in Ethiopia might be a better contact, and might teach you a lot more than someone with a fancy entourage. She’ll also have more time.

· Bring more business cards than you think you’ll need, and be *somewhat* judicious in passing them out, more so if you have only a limited supply.

· Set goals for yourself before you leave…then make them happen.

· Don’t try to go into the UN building with coffee, water or other liquids; it’s like the airport and they will confiscate stuff from you. Also, at certain times, the security line is really long. You’ll have a security pass, so you won’t wait with tourists, but it’s still going to take time, so plan for that. That being said, if you can find someone “important” and hook up with them, you can usually bypass lines and security all together.

· The food places in the UN do not take credit cards, cash only; bring cash.

· Big title does not equal good speaker, or sometimes even knowledgeable person. If you’re at a session, not learning, and don’t have a desire to connect with anyone in the room and something else is going on, leave. Go to something else. Time is priceless (always, not just here).

· Be aware of anti-choice groups masquerading as pro-choice. There are plenty of really right wing, fundamentalist, religious, crazy conservatives. This happens…I think Kimmie will blog more in depth about this, so I will direct you to her post. I just caution you that on NGO day, that some groups try to do this; they are good and sneaky, so watch out.

· There are seriously 500 things going on all the time. The UN is crazy busy. So 1) Take care of you. If you’re tired or feeling sick, go take care of you. Rest. Eat. You will not be effective, make a good presentation, or even make good impressions if you’re feeling lousy. With that said, after you are OK to work, realize that 2) this is an experience of a lifetime. Do NOT waste any time. Go to as many sessions as you can, talk to as many people as you can, learn as much as you can. Don’t chill out in the hotel room, take long lunch breaks, wander around Times Square for hours, or do homework all the time (I promise, it can wait; school is a major part of life, yet “life” will and should supersede formalized worksheets from econ class or English papers. Trust me.). Work hard, have fun.

· Challenge/push yourself. This week can make you better if you want it to.

· Bring a big bag, not a small purse. You will end up with more material than you think; it will be heavier than you think, and harder to carry than you think.

· Hook up your fellowship sisters who are with you…if you get an awesome opportunity to bring others, do it! Talk to those with you on the trip; share your experiences. Also, coordinate your sessions with each other in order to maximize the learning/connections. Unless you all really want to go to a particular meeting, there is no reason for four of you to be in the same session. Go to different ones and trade info.

· The second floor of the United Nations Church Center has a ton of resources, extra handbooks, etc. On Thursday or Friday, there will be an international market; go check it out.

· The postcard stamps you purchase in the UN building can only be used in the UN building.

· Age is just a number. Many people will think it’s awesome that such young people are there at the UN, and some will pass over you because of your age. Don’t let age stop you from doing your thing. You’re smart, otherwise you wouldn’t be here. Be confident.

· Don’t underestimate lunch, and things like lunch (refer to my previous posting to fully understand this comment, I’m not going to type it all out here again).

· Take notes. Lots of notes. Bring paper. And a pen. And another pen for when that one dies.

· Arrive early to sessions if possible. 10 minutes or so should be fine. Seats are valuable; even our presentation was standing room only…and then it was hard for people to find spaces to stand. Some sessions are more crowded than others, so if there is one you really want to go to, RSVP early and go early. Also, sometimes you can talk your way in places/getting passes/etc. Just work it.

· If you’re in a session and you have a legit question, ASK IT! I cannot emphasize this enough. Do not be afraid, ASK. This gives you a chance to 1) get your question answered, 2) bring up an issue you care about, and 3) introduce yourself/your passion/your organization to everyone in the room.

· With that said, know when to listen and when to talk.

· When you receive a business card, within the next hour, write on the back of the card how/where you met this person, the general interest, if you’re meant to send/expect an email, etc. You don’t want to get back to NC and three weeks later, have a stack of 100s of cards, and not know any of them.

· Beth will love you if you bring up CEDAW.

· Have a schedule and a rough plan, but be flexible. Plans will change, often serendipitously.

· If you’re not sure if you’re meant to be in a room, briefing, etc. and no one says otherwise, stay and act like you are supposed to be there and you know what’s going on if you indeed want to stay.

· Follow-up the connections you want to keep and build upon with an email, text, etc. This is as much about networking as it is about learning hard facts in sessions. Connections are so vitally importante.

· Don’t try to speak at the Asian Caucus if you’re not Asian.

· Finally, go exploring around the UN building, just saying….

I’m sure I have many more suggestions which I have left out, but I’m also sure I will have conversations with each of you, dear future recipients. Much love, I know you will rock it out next year.

All my best, to each and every one of you,

Annie C.

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