So the great big mystery… why did I randomly go home for a week in July when I originally wasn’t supposed to leave Europe until September 1st?

The answer has to do with this picture:

If you just nodded your head and said to yourself “That is a picture of UN headquarters in New York City,” congratulations!

About two months ago, I submitted an application to the UN to take the English Language Translators Examination. Imagine my surprise when I got an email in my inbox confirming that my application had been accepted! Without hesitating, I confirmed that I would take the exam and had to cancel my planned trip to Budapest.

Now in case you are unfamiliar with the UN, it is important to know there are six official languages: English, French, Spanish, Russian, Chinese, and Arabic. For the English Translation Exam, you need to be able to translate from two of the five other languages into English. In my case, it meant I translated from French and Spanish into English.

Now I won’t sugarcoat it: the exam is hard. The texts chosen for the translations are very abstract and dense, using words you didn’t even know existed and sentence structures that will fry your brain. The topics covered in the texts focus heavily on theory and will make you feel like you want to pull your hair out of your scalp. The exam is designed this way to “weed out” potential applicants, because let’s face it–the UN only hires the best of the best. If you want a better idea of what the exam format is like and the kind of texts that appear on the exam, you can look at a sample exam here (click on the En Trans Sample). If you pass the exam, then you are asked back for an interview. I won’t find out my results until October at the latest.

The first section of the exam is considered to be eliminatory so if you don’t do well on it, the evaluators don’t bother looking at the rest of the exam. I understand there are many applicants who take the exam and therefore lots of translations to read. However, considering the exam took 8 hours from start to finish (not to mention I had to wake up super early to take the train into Manhattan), it feels a little like a slap in the face.

I won’t lie–the exam was very tough and lasted all day, from 9 to 5 (with breaks included). The one perk is that I took the exam in this room:

This is the UN General Assembly Hall (1800 seating capacity) where the UN delegates all meet. The names of the different member countries are emblazoned on all the plaques. I ended up sitting in the Bahamas’ delegate’s seat. Probably a subconscious decision on my part since I most likely wanted to be on a tropical beach at the time instead of trapped inside this room.

Yes, this room is very cool. If you look at the sides of the picture, you’ll see black tinted windows on the sides of the walls. I am pretty sure this is where the conference interpreters sit–the ones who interpret simultaneously everything that is being said for delegates who don’t have a good grasp of English (I assume).

However, sitting in this room loses its novelty after the first twenty minutes and since I was stuck in here for 8 hours, it definitely lost its appeal pretty fast.

I’ve never really admitted it before but it has always been my lifelong dream to work for the UN. Even if I don’t make the cut this time around, I will just apply again whenever they have the exam again (which is usually every couple of years). We’ll see in a few months time–I’m crossing my fingers.

If you are interested in learning about careers at the UN, here is the link to the UN Career Portal: If you scroll down, you’ll see that the application for the Spanish translation/Spanish verbatim reporter exam deadline is in a few days (I didn’t apply to this because my Spanish is not good enough to translate from English/French into Spanish).

Also, totally random but doesn’t the former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan look like Morgan Freeman?