Reporting to Headquarters

By Kelsey Sherbondy | Paris, France

A stone wall in “Tolerance Square” at UNESCO Headquarters, featuring the preamble of the organization’s constitution in 10 languages: “Since wars begin in the minds of men, it is in the minds of men that the defenses of peace must be constructed.” (Credit: Minh Huynh)

Anyone familiar with France will already know that, to say the least, August is a slow month in Paris. While most Parisians have headed south for their three- to four-week-long congés annuels, I’ve been busy preparing for the IIEP Summer School training, taking advantage of UNESCO-wide events, and soaking in cultural experiences unique to my host country.

As mentioned, my focus at IIEP is the Summer School for Female Planners. I’m happy to announce that after much preparation, the program is underway, and I look forward to providing all the details on its success in a future blog post. In the meantime, I’d like to share updates from experiences outside of IIEP, as being a fellow in Paris has meant that I’ve had access to the wide variety of education-sector events that have taken place at UNESCO Headquarters.

IIEP staff tours the Japanese garden

Recently, my supervisor at IIEP arranged a tour of Headquarters and its incredible collection of art for those of us involved in the Summer School. IIEP’s Head of Documentation led us through the expansive building, known as “the three-pointed star” for its unique construction, and recounted its architectural history, explained the symbolism behind the outdoor sculpture and Japanese gardens on the campus, and pointed out some of the gems among the many works of art donated to the organization by Member States. In fact, within UNESCO Headquarters are pieces by Joan Miró, Le Corbusier, and even a commissioned Pablo Picasso painting that stretches from floor to ceiling, though the piece remains unsigned for reasons that seem to be a bit of legend! The remainder of the collection can be browsed online.

In addition to touring the impressive space, I was able to attend a half-day workshop at Headquarters on the “Prevention of Violent Extremism through Educational Media” as an opportunity for further professional development. Over the course of the morning, panelists and participants reviewed how and why educational media can contribute to the prevention of violent extremism (PVE), the challenges to doing so that policymakers might face, and how to overcome these challenges. It was an enriching and encouraging discussion, and I felt prepared to contribute following my coursework at GSEHD on identity, pluralism, and schooling in conflict-affected societies (thank you, Dr. Green!). The event was just one of the ways UNESCO has addressed and continues to address this salient issue in addition to conferences, publications, and guides for textbook authors and teachers. Learn about even more related programming from my classmate based in New Delhi this summer.

Director-General Bokova’s opening remarks

Perhaps the most memorable experience at Headquarters thus far was one related to my IIEP Summer School assignment: a full-day, High-level Conference on “UNESCO’s Soft Power Today: Fostering Women’s Empowerment and Leadership.” It was exciting to be in the presence of such a distinguished list of speakers, which included female leaders in education, government, and business from around the world, and to hear directly from the current UNESCO Director-General, Irina Bokova, who coincidentally is the first woman to serve in the role. I also appreciated the opportunity to attend in a specific capacity for IIEP, collaborating with the communications staff to author an article for the website that served to summarize key lessons from the conference and contextualize the Summer School in UNESCO’s larger agendanamely, Priority Gender Equality and Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 5—ahead of the program.

My placement city itself is host to many exciting summertime events, despite the emptying of locals toward the end of the season. I’ve enjoyed being able to take advantage of some the festivities around events like Bastille Day, or la fête nationale, the conclusion of the Tour de France race, and of course, Paris Plages, the city’s summer tradition of transforming areas along the river Seine into metropolitan beaches complete with sand, lounge chairs, and swimming.

Strasbourg’s Grande-Île became a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1988

Certainly there’s no shortage of things to do in Paris, but I was also personally motivated to spend a weekend in the eastern city of Strasbourg, as my family has ties to Alsace. While sightseeing and learning about the region’s particular culture and history, I happened upon a display showcasing the city center’s designation as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. I thought it was a fantastic coincidence given my UNESCO-centered summer. It also served as a reminder of how extensive and important the organization’s reach truly is. Although my fellowship at IIEP falls within the education sector, UNESCO’s work in culture, natural sciences, social sciences, and communication and information are all, in some way, complementary to the institute’s mission, and I feel so fortunate that, for the time being, it’s all taking place just several Métro stops away!


Some UNESCO events like those I attended this summer are regularly advertised and open to the public. Search the calendar of upcoming opportunities in Paris and around the world online.


bioKelsey is a candidate for a master’s degree in international education, focusing on international higher education capacity building and cooperation. Connect with Kelsey on LinkedIn or Twitter to continue the conversation about her fellowship.


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