The Student News Site of Taipei American School




My Secret Life: Dr Coburn-Palo’s life at the UN

Dr. Coburn Palo giving a speech during a meeting at the UN
Dr. Coburn Palo giving a speech during a meeting at the UN
Dr. Coburn Palo giving a speech during a meeting at the UN

“I thought I was going to vomit all over myself in nervousness!” says Dr Coburn-Palo. “I coached debate for over 20 years and I even won the national championship in the US, but that was the most nerve-wracking thing I had ever done.” Even with so much experience under his belt, Dr Coburn-Palo still gets nervous when speaking in public.

Before Dr Coburn-Palo taught political science and social studies at TAS, he was a diplomat trainer in the UN. For one of his first tasks he worked with the African Union delegates, but things didn’t start off well. His recalls his boss telling him there was a very big problem.

“My boss told me he thought the diplomats would walk out during my speech! They weren’t happy that a white man from an Ivy League school was going to tell them how to negotiate and they were very insulted,” says Dr Coburn-Palo. He was then left with the command to stop them if they started walking out. In the end, however, “they didn’t walk out. Instead, I got a standing ovation. I remember the head of the UN agency giving me a double thumbs up at the end of it.” says Dr Coburn-Palo.

Dr Coburn-Palo feels that taking the job at the UN was a no-brainer. “It was a chance of a lifetime, really,” he says. “I was honored to do it and it was a very easy decision to take the job.” It was also a chance to make a big difference. Dr Coburn-Palo says, “I come from a family where no one had graduated from college before. When I told my mom what I was doing, she cried and that moved my heart a lot.”

Throughout his time at the UN, Dr Coburn-Palo learned one important piece of advice. There’s a famous saying in the UN: “When you’re in the elevator, be nice to the people on the way up, because you will see them again on the way down.”This advice helped him in his career and relationships. “I find that to be a very wise saying because you never know who can help you and it pays to be nice to everyone.”

Dr Coburn-Palo sums up his experience in a few sentences: “When I worked at the UN I talked to people who were accomplished and famous in their own country. They knew more than I did really, but they still thought I could help them. That’s a very wonderful thing, but a very scary thing all at the same time.”

Leave a Comment
More to Discover

Comments (0)

All THE BLUE & GOLD Picks Reader Picks Sort: Newest

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *