International experiences prepare alumna for role at United Nations

Ann Lee Joe
Ann Lee Joe (BA, ‘96, anthropology) works for the United Nations Framework on Climate Change in Germany.

Born in Guam and having lived in Korea, Kuwait, and the U.S., Ann Lee Joe (BA, ’96, anthropology) has had a lifelong interest in international experiences.

“With the opportunities that (Illinois) offered, I studied abroad to explore other cultures and languages,” she said. “I studied abroad in Korea and Costa Rica. I speak English, German and Korean fluently and have working knowledge of Spanish and French. Although I took Japanese, I am not very fluent.” 

For the past 22 years, she has lived in Germany where she now works for the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change in the Intergovernmental Support and Collective Progress division supporting the governing and subsidiary bodies of the Convention, the Kyoto Protocol and the Paris Agreement to facilitate progress in the climate process.

Job title: Staff member at United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change

Hometown: Urbana, Ill.

What’s a typical workday for you? 
Influenced by the global climate and the political leadership during a given year, there are no two days alike. Significantly different are working days outside of the negotiating session and during a climate conference during which ‘working hours’ go out of the window.

How has COVID-19 affected your work?
With missions postponed, I am not traveling. 

Also, with most of us working from home, all meetings are done virtually. It took a bit of getting used to, but I quickly found the “new normal” very efficient. One challenge is to identify a meeting time which accommodates meeting participants from Polynesia, Asia, Africa, Europe, and the Americas. The major impact COVID-19 has had for us is the postponement of the 2020 climate summit. 

What about college and your major prepared you for your career? 
As an anthropology major, by utilizing the resources and opportunities that Illinois offered, I gained experiences that prepared me well as an international civil servant.

These include, inter alia, studying abroad at Yonsei University in Korea and performing field research in a neotropical rainforest in Costa Rica. The experience of being immersed in a different culture and having to communicate in different languages adds value to my everyday life in an international setting.

What was your career path from college to this position?
The level of performance expected at University of Illinois prepared me well for the various endeavors post-graduation. I continued studies at Seoul National University and at the Rheinische Friedrich-Wilhelms-Universität Bonn (University of Bonn). I also worked for the Zweites Deutsches Fernsehen, a German public-service television broadcaster, and travelled to Korea for the FIFA World Cup in 2002. Often having studied or worked in a diverse and international environment, the United Nations was a good fit for me.

What’s your proudest achievement?
One of my posts at the UNFCCC was Focal Point for the Ad Hoc Working Group on the Durban Platform for Enhanced Action (ADP). The ADP was a subsidiary body with a mandate to develop a legal instrument with legal force under the Convention applicable to all Parties to the UNFCCC. 

After years of negotiation, in 2015, this subsidiary body delivered the Paris Agreement. It was a very emotional and almost surreal experience to have been in the room when the Paris Agreement was adopted and to witness the world come together as one for a joint cause; to save the planet. I was proud to have been a part of the community making history. 

What do you like to do when you’re not working?
My family and I enjoy experiencing culinary specialties in different countries.

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Kayleigh Rahn