Kiwi UN “Tent Intern” quits

By Maria Kyriacou

David Hyde beside his tent home near Lake Geneva Image: Patrick Gilleron Lopreno
David Hyde beside his tent home near Lake Geneva Image: Patrick Gilleron Lopreno
Debate about internships sparked by student David Hyde who couldn't afford a place to live while interning at UN

New Zealander David Hyde flew 11,000 miles from New Zealand, excited about a prestigious internship with the United Nations. Once he got to Geneva the International Relations student realised the high cost of living there meant he was unable to afford a place to rent. Hyde soon set up camp on the side of Lake Geneva, sleeping on a rolled-up foam mattress.

The images of him dressed in a blue business suit, adjacent to his makeshift home were circulated widely on social media, generating a discussion about the issues surrounding internships.

He described himself as young and idealistic, and said he understood and accepted the UN’s policy of no wage or stipend, no transport help, no food allowance or health assistance.

Despite this, he also added he didn’t believe the system was fair and urged other interns to “push for the recognition of our value and the equal rights that we deserve”.

Some have criticized Hyde for being dishonest during the application process, where he was asked if he could afford to financially support himself during the internship. The student has said he felt he had no choice but to lie, as when he had answered truthfully in the past, he was immediately out of the running.

Speaking with reporters, Hyde said, ““I just want to make it clear that no person forced me to sleep in a tent, but rather my circumstances and the conditions for this internship made it the only real possibility that I could see.”

Writer and comedian Wendy Harmer has spoken up about the issues facing interns, writing on her now defunct-Hoopla website that, “it’s time all Australian parents stood up and said an emphatic ”no” to the growing trend here for US-style internships. Too often it’s a fancy word for working for nothing.”

Many university courses now include internships as part of the workload for students, with many appreciating the experience as a foot in the door or trial run before they decide on their career direction. The debate is sure to continue as internships are unregulated and competition for places remains fierce.

Hyde has since resigned from his internship. Looking tired and crumpled and quoting the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, he said, “Everyone, without discrimination, has the right to equal pay for equal work. I hope to see the UN become a role model for all on the issue of internships in the future.”

Do you think internships are only for those who can afford to work for free? Or do you know someone who had a great internship experience?


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