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Lawyers: Gain International Experience As A UN Volunteer

Being a UN volunteer is a prestigious opportunity and a great way to gain experience working with the United Nations that could potentially lead to a full-time career.

A UN Volunteer is a paid position that works alongside non-volunteers doing the same or similar work, however volunteers make significantly less money. People from around the world apply and compete for approximately 8,000 UN Volunteer positions that are stationed around the world via different UN agencies.

Today’s guest, Kim Trinh, is a UN Volunteer stationed in South Africa working for the UNHCR (Office of the United Nations High Commissioner For Refugees). Kim tells us about the great experience she’s getting by being a UN Volunteer as a young lawyer and explains that the law component in some of these positions makes them exciting alternative careers for lawyers.

Join JD Careers Out There for access to this video plus more day-in-the-life career path interview videos & transcripts.

Today’s Guest

UNHCR Volunteer Kim TrinhRefugee Status Determination Kim Trinh
Title: United Nations Volunteer for UNHCR handling Refugee Status Determination
City: Pretoria, South Africa
Law School: Loyola Law School, Los Angeles, CA
College: University of Washington in Seattle, WA
Previous Career: Before doing the work of an Associate Protection Officer as a UN volunteer for the UNHCR, Kim worked in the policy area on Capitol Hill for congressmen.
Kim’s Videos: Kim’s Career Advice & UN Volunteer

UN Volunteer

As a UN Volunteer with the UNHCR in South Africa, Kim is doing the work of an associate protection officer, which means she meets with refugees to determine whether they qualify for refugee protection. Kim explains in the full interview that while a law degree isn’t required for being a UN volunteer for UNHCR, the work does revolve around refugee law, which is a niche within immigration law. Kim shares advice for you on this path, including how she began her focus on immigration law careers during law school.



This is a preview of the video transcript on being a UN volunteer for UNHCR.

Join JD Careers Out There for access to the full version of this transcript plus the career guidance video library & transcripts.

Luber: Hey everyone – welcome to JD CareersOutThere, where we get you career advice from fellow lawyers and non-practicing lawyers to help you find success and happiness in your career – whether you choose to practice law or you’re leaving the law to pursue alternative careers for lawyers.

I’m Marc Luber – and today we’re exploring careers in immigration law – specifically international refugee law.

We’re talking to Kim Trinh. She’s a United Nations Volunteer who’s been placed with the UNHCR, which is the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. She’s stationed in Pretoria, South Africa, where she does the work of an Associate Protection Officer, meeting with refugees and determining whether they qualify for refugee protection with the UNHCR. She’s gonna tell us all about this exciting path.

Kim, welcome to JDCOT.

Kim Trinh: Thanks for having me.

Luber: Kim, what is the UN Volunteer program?

Kim Trinh: It’s actually a really competitive program. They actually seek – the UN Volunteer Program seeks out people with a master’s degree at least and then people with higher work experience. It’s actually interesting because you actually apply through UNV but then they place you.

And so, when I applied or put my profile on UNV, they contacted me within five days and then I was interviewed for this position and I received it. They select three finalists for a post and then the office here, the field office, decides who they want to choose out of the three.

But it’s not as if I’m not getting paid. I get a stipend and also it actually leads to better positions in UNHCR, if that’s the career path I want to take. UNVs are typically hired on after a few years to be part of the roster to be permanent staff at UNHCR, as well as is looked highly upon in the refugee law, the refugee NGO sectors and people working under refugee status determination as well.

Luber: So immigration law and refugee status work, that’s your passion, that’s what you’ve always focused on?

Kim Trinh: I have. I started out in law school working actually for Department of Homeland Security, Immigration and Customs Enforcement. So I did have – that was my beginning of immigration law. I actually did asylum law for the government and refugee law is exactly like US immigration law, except it’s just a different legal definition.

Every country has the right to determine who can enter their country and based on national laws, that is loosely based on the UN convention definition of a refugee, they determine who can be an asylum seeker in their country.

Actually, South Africa does that here as well. I only do refugee status determination for those that have been denied by the South African government or have not yet been seen as a refugee by the government, so that the UNHCR can move on forward with their application for a possible resettlement at their country.

So yeah, my work has always been in immigration and refugee law.

I didn’t go to law school to make a lot of money. I mean, I still have to pay off my loans, but I think it reminds me of why I went to law school to begin with: is to do the advocacy, to actually provide legal assistance to people who are in need of it and not have to do billable hours and seeing the reward of your assistance to your client: the applicants.

I really love my job. I couldn’t imagine doing this when I was in law school, but I hear a lot of stories of lawyers miserable in their job, working so much, and I don’t feel that way at all. I actually like working. I’ve never been more happy in a position that I have. I might not make a lot of money but the non-profit world, after you stay for a little while, it’s not as low-paying of a salary as people might assume it is.

Luber: Very inspiring! Let’s dive deeper in the full interview! You can all hear Kim tell us about what it’s like to be a UN volunteer and work with the UNHCR. She talks about doing refugee work, what it’s like to live and work overseas, and shares some different directions where you can take this legal background in immigration law.

You’ll want to join the JDCOT membership for access to the full career interviews & transcripts to help find and land a career that fits you. Check out what people are saying about JDCOT by clicking here.

Thanks again for watching everybody. I’m Marc Luber and I’ll see ya soon.

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©2015 Careers Out There

Did Kim leave you inspired? Are you ready to be a UN Volunteer? Share your feedback in the Comments section below.

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Thinking of leaving the law? The best first step you can take is a good look in the mirror. START HERE:

it's free!
You’ll also get periodic updates, reminders & access to career guidance programs sent to your inbox. We respect your privacy. You can unsubscribe via a click at any time.