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At the International Table

A unique internship opportunity gave this student firsthand experience in diplomacy — and insight into the Holy See Mission at the United Nations.
By Amanda Loudin

Juggling a full load of classes while holding down a nine-to-five job is never easy, but when that job is being an intern at the United Nations, it can be particularly challenging. Maria Smutelovicova ’23 managed the juggling act like a pro.

“Maria has a very strong work ethic and skill set,” says Father Mark Knestout, attaché of the Holy See Mission at the United Nations and director of its internship program. “She’s bright and capable and was tasked with a good deal of responsibility.”

Smutelovicova’s résumé shows why she was a good fit for the internship: A double major in diplomacy and international relations as well as modern languages, she minored in Catholic studies. But she still had to pass through a rigorous application process.

According to Father Knestout, the Holy See considers about 25 applications each semester from Seton Hall and other universities internationally. Just getting to that step requires letters of recommendation from a professor and a clergy member, along with a letter explaining why the applicant wants the position. “We then send the applicants a report on an issue from the U.N., and ask them to write a summary of it,” Father Knestout explains. “Then we interview the applicants and whittle the list down to 12.”

The interview process generally involves a diplomat, a negotiator, a lawyer and Father Knestout, and dives into the applicants’ school life, faith life, and knowledge of the U.N. At the end of the interviews, the Holy See selects eight students for the internships.

Writing briefs on intense global affairs
As an intern for the Holy See, Smutelovicova was immersed in the daily operations of the U.N. Security Council. “We began every day with prayer and a staff meeting at the mission,” she says, “where we decided who would be covering what.”

Her focus was covering Security Council meetings, which often involved talks of wars and peace building. “It could be very intense,” she says, “and there was always a lot happening around the world.”

The meetings moved at a rapid pace, says Smutelovicova, and she had to listen carefully and understand what the council was discussing. She then had to write a brief on what occurred. “This wasn’t just a set of notes, but a summary and analysis. My work would go to the Holy See staff, and then on to the Vatican.”

“I was very aware of the fact that the pope is informed from my reports,” she says. “But I really enjoyed the fact that I could sit in on a meeting at the U.N., listen to them, and be in the middle of the decision-making that has a global impact.”

To dedicate so much time and attention to her U.N. tasks, Smutelovicova depended on a set of understanding professors and staff at the Holy See so that she could work during the week and take her classes online over the weekends. “It was only through good communication with everyone that I was able to pull it off,” she says.
“It was extremely challenging around exams.”

Smutelovicova’s internship was during the fall semester of 2022, but she left such an impression that the Holy See asked her to return part time in the spring to cover for the mission’s human-rights and development team. “We ended up down an intern that semester and Maria was so good that we knew she could fill in,” says Father Knestout. “She was a great help to us.”

Following graduation in May, Smutelovicova took a well-deserved break by visiting family and friends in Slovakia. She returned to the United States in August, and is considering either working in international relations or pursuing a master’s degree.

Smutelovicova will treasure one internship memory in particular: “Every year all the world’s leaders gather at the U.N. for a special session, the general assembly’s ‘High-Level Week,’” she says. “I got to sit in that room and listen to what they had to say about how we could change the world for the better.”

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