An UN-Likely Test

Blame Jacob for the title. I'm not usually that punny. 

It has been a long two weeks of intense busy-ness. Now, on a quiet bank-holiday morning as I write this post, Jacob and I are happy to finally claim some rest time, drinking coffee while snuggled up on the couch, next to our Christmas tree, while it rains outside. 

Not only have I started my job in the past two weeks, but I've also done some photo shoots and substitute teaching. On top of that we had two wonderful Thanksgivings with dear friends, attended a work holiday party, and have completely Christmas-ified our apartment, complete with our first Christmas tree. In the meantime Jacob has been working quite a bit, and, to my great excitement, has joined the school I work for as an additional substitute teacher. 

In the midst of all of that however, Jacob and I were also preparing for a very big day: December 4th. 

Several months ago, Jacob and I applied for a program at the United Nations geared towards setting young professionals on a career track with the U.N. The program (called YPP) offers a handful of specializations from Human Rights and Economics to Radio Production. Every year the list of nationalities allowed to apply for the program changes, depending on which countries are deemed "under represented" in the U.N. From those applicants, a maximum of 40 people are selected from each country. Those applicants are then convoked to take an exam, after which, if they pass, will progress to an interview, then to a job roster to fill positions in their field as they become available. 

To say that the program is highly competitive is an understatement. 

Jacob and I both applied for "Photography" track, which if accepted, would put us on the path towards working as a journalistic documentary photographer at U.N. events and missions. About a month ago, much to our amazement, Jacob and I both received a letter of convocation, inviting us to participate in the Photography exam as a representative of the United States. 

While we may never know the number in the applicant pool, it is mind boggling to think that Jacob and I were both chosen to be one of the 40 from the whole of the United States. That in itself is an incredible honor. 

The exam was scheduled to take place on December 4th, at a handful of testing centers around the world. We are fortunate to live 10 minutes away from one of the United Nations world headquarters - the majority of the applicants would need to fly in to be present for the examination.

Preparation for the exam was not the most intuitive process. Information on requirements - paperwork we needed to provide, items we should bring for the test, and a photography portfolio, were scattered across the website and various portals. Finally, roughly a week before the exam was scheduled to take place, did we feel like we had located all the relevant information. The day of the exam, we checked in to the U.N. with passports, convocation letters, and portfolios in hand, along with snacks and water for our 4.5 hour test

We were in for the long haul.  

Heading up to the assigned area, we walked into our exam room and found this:

United Nations

Rather than some fluorescent lit classroom (I had been envisioning the SAT's), our test was being administered in one of the main conference rooms. There were already about 40 other people in the room. We walked up to the stage at the front of the room, registered for the test, and began walking around to find a seat. Each of the seats was labeled with a slip of paper stating a career track - apparently everyone would be taking their tests at the same time. 

I found a seat between an Information Systems applicant and an Economics applicant from China. Jacob was seated 10 feet over to my left,  in perfect eye-line to make the Information Systems guy think I was looking him. Sorry dude. 

The Economics girl from China asked to look at my portfolio and we chatted a bit to kill time before the test began. During registration the administers had witnessed everyone turning off their phones, then sealed them away in envelopes. (That I might add, is why I don't have any of my own pictures. Jacob saw the girl next to him Instagraming before the test began, then stash her phone before the administers could catch her.)

By 2:00 we were ready to begin the test. We were warned that from that time any late applicants would be barred from taking the exam, and anyone present who could not fulfill a commitment to stay in that room for a minimum of 5 hours must leave immediately. No one moved. 

Satisfied that everyone was committed to the test, the administer began reading the guidelines - it was just like the SATs. Our names were written scantron-style, filling in the little bubbles indicating all of our essential details. That process in and of itself took 30 minutes. While I understand the necessity of covering even the most obvious instructions, it is remarkable how dumb they must assume the room of educated international 20-to-35-something-years-olds are. 

As of 2:30 the test was allowed to begin, after having been warned that even standing without permission may result in disqualification. 

This became a problem when, early on in the test, I knocked my eraser off my desk. I raised my hand and smiled innocently at the administer. "I'm sorry," I said as she walked over, "I dropped my eraser." I pointed at the ground two feet away and sensed a slight eye roll aimed towards me.

We had been allotted 4 and a half hours for the test, covering sections from English comprehension and writing to field-specific multiple choice questions and a handful of essays. Honestly had I been taking the Economics, Political Affairs or any of the other tests, that length of time may have been needed. As it was however, I finished my test roughly an hour and a half early. 

Raising my hand to be escorted to the bathroom (meaning they literally walked into the bathroom with you, they didn't just wait outside), I asked the administer if I could read if I was finished with my test. Much to my relief, she said yes. 

Returning to my seat, I took one last long look over my test, and handed it in. Satisfying myself that I had done my absolute best, I have no regrets for turning it in. I was, however the first person in the room to finish the test, which either means that I am an idiot or a genius. Time will tell, I suppose. 

The hours passed as I munched on my crackers and read my book. Jacob appeared to still be busily at work - so was the other photography guy behind me. Jacob also finished quite early though, which made me feel better - apparently Jacob was just faking looking busy. 

Over 5 hours later the tests were all collected, counted, and the test was pronounced as finished. "You can look for your results," the administer said, as the room collectively held it's breath, "in April."

Well ok then. This is going to be a long process. 

Heading home a full 7 hours from the time we had walked into the U.N., we went home for an easy dinner of lasagna (store bought in anticipation of being exhausted) and a special celebratory beer Jacob had chosen. 

Now, we get to forget about the test...until April that is.