Kyu Tae Kim, Resource Mobilization Associate 


Why did you apply for this traineeship?

If you’ve watched the movie “The Grand Budapest Hotel”, there is a scene when Monsieur Gustave asks Zero, who just joined as a trainee, “why do you want to be a lobby boy?” Zero thinks about it for few seconds and answers “Well, who wouldn’t? At the Grand Budapest? It’s an institution.” It’s one of my favourite films, and every time I watch this scene, I see myself somewhat similar to Zero, someone who’s started building his career at an organization he’s always admired. I’d like to also say, I applied because, honestly, who wouldn’t want to work at the ICRC? It’s the greatest institution in the humanitarian sector.

What were your first impressions?

The first time I came across the ICRC was when I was deployed to Akobo in South Sudan back in 2019. I was a UN peacekeeper in the Korean Army at the time and as a military interpreter I had the privilege of travelling to multiple locations in Jonglei State.

During a two-weeks stay in a small town near the South Sudan – Ethiopia border, I saw white airplanes displaying the red cross emblem taking off and landing near the compound where we were staying. ICRC workers were rushing in and out carrying stretchers, transporting wounded people to the nearest health facilities. I remember thinking, “Wow, that’s something”. This was at a time when there were increased numbers of clashes between government and rebel forces, and many civilians were wounded or injured.

Back then, I had no idea that I would have the chance to join the ICRC just a year after leaving South Sudan. I come from a part of the world where the concept of building a career in the humanitarian sector is unusual for many people and it was difficult to imagine myself taking this path. Naturally, when I was offered the position as a trainee at the ICRC’s headquarters in Geneva, it was also a moment I became convinced that this is a journey that I can continue. When I saw the email saying that I’d been selected, I was super delighted.

What does your traineeship involve? What are your responsibilities?

Broadly speaking, my job as a trainee at the Resource Mobilization Division is to support the managers in their day-to-day relations with government donors. The ICRC is mainly funded by governments around the world, so it’s very important to build and maintain effective and transparent relationships with them.  This means that the ICRC can continue to carry out its operations and help people affected by armed conflict and other violence all over the world.

One thing I really like about the traineeship is that it’s not like an ordinary internship. I am given more responsibility, and often my input is taken into account when big decisions are being made. This means that I have had to be diligent and professional in every step I take, which is helping my development overall.

Can you tell us anything new you’ve learned about the ICRC?

I’ve discovered that the ICRC does a lot of work in Asian countries. About one-fifth of our activities are focused on helping people in the region, especially in Myanmar, Bangladesh and the Philippines. We carry out a range of activities beyond visiting prisons and reuniting families separated by armed conflict. For example, we also provide essential health care for civilians, promote access to education for children, and offer physical rehabilitation services for people with disabilities. It is really satisfying to think about how my work here in Geneva, in various ways, contributes to the community I come from.

What was it like working for the ICRC in the middle of a global pandemic?

It was amazing to see how quickly everyone adapted to respond to the pandemic and continue to help the people we serve. However, the sad truth is that for people who have lost their homes and are separated from their families, such as refugees and displaced people, COVID-19 was just another worry on top of other, more pressing issues.

How has this experience shaped your vision of the future? 

I think I have become much more positive. There are so many great people here who are genuinely passionate about their job and really care about the world we are living in. People influence each other and I’ve found my colleagues’ vision for the future of the world has inspired me.

After this year-long traineeship, what’s next for you?

I will continue working here for a few more months and then I will let fate decide where I go next – “Inshallah”, as they say. I am quite interested in applying to be an ICRC delegate. There is a part of me that would like to go back to South Sudan, to the place where I started out.

You came from a top university in Hong Kong to a global humanitarian organization in Geneva. Was it hard to make the move?

The transition certainly wasn’t easy, but it’s in my nature to push myself out of my comfort zone. The trainee position gave me the chance to take my first steps in the humanitarian sector and see what I’m capable of. Most importantly, it has given me the confidence I needed to continue on this path. I feel more empowered than ever after this experience. If I can successfully learn how to do a new job and integrate into a completely new environment in one year, I think I can achieve much more in the next five or ten years.

Do you have any tips or recommendations for potential Korean trainees?

Field experience is always valued by the ICRC. Working or volunteering with a non-governmental organization or your local Red Cross branch is also good. You should learn about the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement and keep abreast of developments in the humanitarian sphere.

Finally, be proactive. All it takes is the courage to take the first step!