Cassie Yao

MA 2019

Senior Executive Support at UN Refugee Agency

Cassie Yao

You recently graduated, what have you been up to since then?

I completed my Masters in Human Services studying on a part-time basis, it took a long time but I was excited to finally graduate in 2019. After my thesis was submitted I moved back to Geneva with my family (I was in Geneva between 2013-2016 for temporary internships and work), and in June 2019 I started to work for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). I was recently appointed as the Senior Executive Support Assistant in the Regional Bureau for Europe. 

You are still very early on in your career. Long term, what would you like to achieve?

My career goals have shifted a lot over the years for various reasons. When I was a University student, I wanted to make a difference in the world, to help people in need, especially children with disabilities. I went to Africa as a community support volunteer and lived there for 6 months to teach and interact with local children, this had a major impact on my values and beliefs. I learnt more than what I could see on TV or read in a book, it is what prompted me to apply for my first internship with the United Nations (UN) in 2013.

It can be difficult to find a job within International Organisations such as the UN because you are competing with young people from around the world. The balance between career and family life is probably the most difficult part of this, I had the chance to go to Somalia with UN Development Programme, but as it is a non-family duty station, I was unable to go with my young daughter. I had to change my career focus to a more stable job which wouldn’t involve relocating between duty stations.

I am very grateful for my new administrative role in UNHCR as it provides me with the chance to see the inside workings of the Regional Bureau. I love that we can help refugees coming into Europe and enjoy seeing how the Bureau engages with external organisations like Government. I am not a front-line worker as I wanted to be initially, but I support those front-line workers and assist the senior decision-makers to provide better/ smoother processes to help refugees.

You are the volunteer Alumni Ambassador for Geneva, can you tell us a bit about why you signed up for that?

I signed up for the Alumni Ambassador role because I saw a gap in engagement within Switzerland and the surrounding areas. I am interested to know how many of our alumni have moved from New Zealand to Switzerland, and I’m keen to get to know them.

What’s your favourite memory of your time at UC?

The memory that stands out the most was during my Honours year at UC. I was in-between searching for a career path and exploring the world, and my honours research provided me with the opportunity to explore my area of interest while also being curious about the world. My supervisors were extremely supportive and helpful!    

You live in Switzerland, is there anything ‘kiwi’ you wish you could get there? 

When I read this question, I think first and foremost about food! I miss savoury muffins, filo’s and all the good old café and dairy pies from New Zealand. I went to an Irish pub in Geneva a few times for fish ‘n’ chips, but it’s so different from what I bought at the local Fish ’n’ Chip shop in Christchurch, I also miss those burgers! I used to complain to my parents that coffee in Europe is mostly “buttoned” coffee and the flat white does not exist, but compared to the food, coffee isn’t so much of a bother for me anymore…lol.