Leaving the bar-cum-nightclub we were celebrating at and walking down the winding streets of a favela in Rio de Janeiro, I realised Brazil after midnight probably wasn’t our brightest idea.
Like most things that sound stupid or dangerous though, it was a brilliant experience. The locals were fun-loving and welcoming, playing pranks on the white kids who dared to enter their poverty stricken but tight-knit community.
It was far removed from a few hours earlier when, suited up and mixing with some of the world’s most powerful people, our group was intensely tracking negotiations at a United Nations conference.
In June, I was blessed with the chance to attend the Rio+20 summit held in what Brazilians call the ‘marvellous city’.
The conference saw more than 130 world leaders and thousands of delegates from around the globe converge on the Riocentro Convention Centre to discuss global sustainability and environmental protection.
But like most good things, the opportunity was unexpected. It’s not every day you receive a phone call notifying you of your selection for an all-expenses-paid trip to a city easily mistaken for paradise.
A week before this phone call arrived, I’d checked my email inbox and sifted through the riveting unread messages.
Into the deleted items folder went mail from Careers Guide, the Advanced Works Notices and the plethora of invitations to seminars on topics like “Cognitive neuroscience for ethnic minorities”.
However, I stumbled upon one email about a trip to a UN summit with a non-government organisation called Global Voices. For once, I met the criteria and decided to apply. As someone who had never won anything in my life, I was well aware of the old adage about ‘being in it to win it’. It was proven true.
At the conference, we spent 12-hour days working at the convention centre, meticulously following the progress of negotiations aimed at building a greener and more sustainable global economy.
In reality, rather than tracking progress, we were tracking a lack of it; the inefficiency of the United Nations being the first and most obvious learning curve we discovered.
Meeting with Prime Minister Gillard and delivering my recommendations of what she should include in her address to heads of state was a proud first.
Other luminaries whose presence I shared include the former Kiwi PM Helen Clark, and Nobel Prize laureate Rajendra Pachauri.
The product of my four-month experience as a delegate is a lengthy research paper published under my name on renewable energy in Latin America.
I attended an open discussion forum with thousands of people from across the world, and I probably learnt more from their diverse viewpoints than I ever could at uni.Not that the trip was all work and no play, though.
When the talks finished, the resplendent beaches of Rio were a just reward. Sitting along the promenade of Ipanema beach watching some of the world’s most beautiful people pass by is a particularly delicious way to relax.
Looking back to that first phone call, I was actually taking refuge from pouring rain at a suburban train station when I received it. The rain was a false omen; there would be nothing but sun where I was going.
I’m not quite sure exactly who decided that Rio de Janeiro would be the best place to host a UN summit, but I’d sure like to thank them.
Fancy a trip overseas mixing it with world leaders? globalvoices.org.au/ is a good place to start, and keep a close eye on your uni email for upcoming offers.