BY DAY, 22-year-old David Hyde works for one of the most powerful organisations in the world.
Dressed in a sharp blue suit, he looks every bit the part of a high-flying businessman as he walks through the doors of the United Nations headquarters in Geneva, Switzerland.
By night, the New Zealander sleeps in a tent. The problem: Mr Hyde doesn’t get paid for what he does.
Two weeks ago, the ambitious Kiwi took up a place as an unpaid intern in one of the most expensive cities in the world.
He looked for a place to rent but soon realised regular accommodation was way beyond his budget. With no income, he’s pitched a tent at the beach, purchased a gas stove and made the best of it.
He spends his nights on a grassy area of shore on the Right Bank. From there, according to local media, he can see the UN Beach Club, where his paid UN colleagues gather to wind down.
When it rains, things get tricky.
“I did not choose the most waterproof tent in the store,” he told a reporter from Tribune de Geneve, a local news outlet. And he’s angry.
“I was perhaps naive in coming here but this policy (unpaid internships) makes me furious,” he said.
Mr Hyde’s family in Christchurch only learned about his predicament when he sent them a copy of the article in the Swiss press, the New Zealand Herald reports.
His mother Vicki said he would likely reject local residents’ offers of free accommodation and instead stay on the beach with his pride intact.
“Knowing him he’ll probably make a point of staying in the tent,” she said.
“He’s always been a very principled kid. When he was at primary school, he objected to a teacher picking on a kid as far as he was concerned so he stood on his desk and refused to get down until she apologised.”
Mr Hyde’s internship will last six months. The UN makes it clear that they do not pay interns. A spokesman from the UN told the Tribune that it’s up to each particular internship program to determine whether interns are paid or not.
‘I DISCOVERED THE MICROWAVABLE HAMBURGER’
Australian Nick Calacouras, himself a former UN intern, knows exactly what Mr Hyde is going through.
“I discovered the microwavable hamburger. It just kind of worked after a while,” he told news.com.au.
For six months in 2005, Mr Calacouras attended UN meetings to write reports. His work was unpaid but he was sponsored a nominal amount before leaving. He said he and a small community of unpaid interns did everything they could to survive.
“Our visa wouldn’t allow us to earn any money, so it became a bit of a society. Back then the dollar was killing us but we did everything we could to get by. I found one day there was a local supermarket that had a sale on beer. It was basically a dollar a litre, so we spent all our money on that and it kept us drunk the whole time.”
He slept in the loungeroom of a two-bedroom apartment but says he wouldn’t change a thing.
“I reckon it’s a rite of passage,” he said.
“They try to separate the people who think it’ll be a cool thing to put on their resume from those who are serious. They make people really earn it.”
Andrew Stewart is a Professor of Law at the University of Adelaide. He told news.com.au there’s a contradiction between the values the UN espouses and not paying its staff.
“Their objectives are social justice, equality and development (yet) they don’t pay their interns,” he said.
“I’m surprised it doesn’t happen to more people. A lot of these international associations are notorious for not paying interns. It highlights one of the major problems. How many talented young jobseekers are being priced out of that opportunity?”
Mr Stewart said policy makers in London recently revised their stance on unpaid internships because the cost of living there is so high.
He said Geneva should do the same thing. Housing in Geneva is unaffordable for many and, according to recent reports, so is a cheeky lager. Geneva beer is the world’s most expensive at almost $AU7 a bottle, travel website GoEuro reported, thanks in part to the strength of the Swiss franc.
A Mercer Cost of Living Survey in 2014 ranked Geneva the sixth most expensive city in Europe, just behind Zurich.
Mr Stewart said most people could never afford to go unpaid in one of the world’s most expensive cities.
“It’s fantastic if your parents can afford it, it may be a great prize if you win (an internship) but you’re going to have to pay for it.”
Mr Hyde told the Tribune he was amazed by the response to his story.
“All these messages of support, it’s unbelievable. It was never my intention to solicit the pity and get myself a place to stay,” he said.
“I hoped simply that my story could contribute to changing the situation of interns.”
It appears to have done that.