Learning about the EU from the inside: Interviews with EU trainees #1

Barbara Zak

With the aim of getting more knowledge about the functioning of the European Union (EU), I have conducted several interviews with EU interns who agreed to share their experience about their traineeship in different EU institutions. This article is the first one of a series. I would like to thank all EU trainees for their participation and their time.

Here you can find more information about the traineeships offered by the EU: traineeships for students + traineeships for graduates.

Here you can find part 2.

Dorota – from Poland – European Parliament (EP) – trainee from the European Parliament Liaison Office in Warsaw

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© Dorota Kowalska

1/ Please tell us about your academic background and your work experience.

I have a Bachelor’s degree and a Master’s degree in European Studies from the Catholic University of Lublin in Poland. I spent an Erasmus exchange in Nicosia in Cyprus. As of my work experience, I did a 1-month internship in the Embassy of the Republic of Poland in London and a 1-month internship in the office of Jarosław Kalinowski (Polish MEP) in Brussels.

 2/ How did you apply for the internship? What are the steps to follow? Do you have any advice to give regarding the procedure?

I applied online: you have to fill in an application that is available on the website of the European Parliament. The traineeship is called “Schuman traineeship” (5 months). When you fill in the application, it is important to do it only once. You can’t save it and come back to it. You have to devote 1 hour to do it. Make sure that the internet is well-working.

  • You have to fill in personal data, academic background, work experience, languages among others;
  • There is no need to provide any evidence of language but don’t lie because they may call you in order to check it;
  • You have to write a short text showing your motivation (they pay the biggest attention to the motivation: why you chose the EP, how the EP will benefit from your traineeship);
  • Your CV is not required;
  • No health certificate saying that you are fit to work is necessary;
  • You have to provide a certificate of non-criminal record when you have been accepted (make sure to have it before applying because it may be difficult for you to get it, especially if you are abroad during your application!).

3/ What were your tasks, your missions during your traineeship?

© Dorota Kowalska

© Dorota Kowalska

I believe that I experienced a specific EU internship in the European Parliament Liaison Office in Warsaw (Poland) as it was in Warsaw, in a rather small office with 7-8 people and 4 trainees (all Polish citizens because Polish language knowledge is required). I shared the office with a worker involved in the program entitled “European Parliament Ambassadors’ School”. This program was devoted to pupils of secondary schools. I was involved in managing this program: sharing knowledge about the EU to pupils, organising contests on EU knowledge, distributing materials to schools and students.

As I worked in the information office, we had a lot of press conferences and meetings with Polish MEPs to organise in Warsaw. I was involved in working with the Regional Discussion Forum: we were preparing events in Szczecin and in Płock in Poland. For this type of events, we created workshops for students from secondary schools about the EU institutions and held meetings with MEPs that came from this specific region.

It was challenging because I had to prepare an event in a different location, invite people, journalists to participate in a meeting with MEPs, for instance with the MEP Roża Thun.

4/ Do you have any special memory from this experience to share with us?

I liked doing this internship because it gives the opportunity to act and put your effort in the name of the EP, to not only learn about the institutions but being part of it. You work in a European/international environment; you are meeting people from other countries. I went to Strasbourg for the plenary session of the EP in December 2017 as an observer. We were around 20 trainees from the information offices from all the Member States.

My advice is: don’t be afraid to apply! It really takes a long time to get an answer but this experience can change your life, you will meet a lot wonderful people and it can shape your future career.

 ***

Barbara – from Poland –  European Commission – trainee from the DG SCIC (DG for Interpretation) in Brussels

1/ Please tell us about your academic background and your work experience.

I have a Master’s Degree in political science with journalism at the Jagiellonian University in Krakow and finished Master’s studies in knowledge of culture, specialising in audiovisual culture and film analysis, at the University of Warsaw. My main professional experience though is in photography – I do fashion, event and product photography professionally since 2011. I am also experienced in graphics and journalism, and my main academic background is communication.

After graduating, I started working for Polish media, then I worked as a photographer and for the Press Office member in Congress of Women (Kongres Kobiet).  My next step was few years in the UK, where I mostly worked as a photographer and retoucher, then back in Warsaw as a journalist in the PTWP group.

2/ How did you apply for the internship? What are the steps to follow? Do you have any advice to give regarding the procedure?

It took me quite a few sessions to apply, as I always missed the deadline. Last August I was back in Poland from the UK for 3 months, unemployed, tired and desperate to improve my career path and move abroad again, then I realised that I can apply. And honestly, I didn’t believe I could be accepted, as my background was mostly related to photography and I struggled with finding any job. I filled the online application, which is very complex, you obviously need to show your academic and professional background, skills and mostly motivation. It also requires applicants to show their areas of interests, what will be later on prioritising the DG’s choices of candidates (but not always).

The next step is the document verification – whatever information was given in the application form, it needs to be confirmed with documents like diplomas, recommendation letters from workplaces or language certificates. It all has to be uploaded in electronical version.

Later on candidates are put into the Blue Book, to be reviewed by DGs. That’s when the choices are being made – if a DG is interested, an advisor calls the candidate. In my case Lieke was my advisor and I remember having a great talk during the phone call and I did very well on impression. I already knew that although it was not confirmed yet, I am high on the list in my DG. The official decision came by the end of January.

Like I mentioned, I was rather sceptical about my chances and I made it. I was very precise with filling my application and during the interview I was myself, showing my engagement and interest in getting the traineeship. I would advise to be natural, be yourself – in my case I ended up in a great Unit, which fitted my skills and interests allowing me to develop, so I guess there is a place for anyone in the Commission after all.

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© Barbara Pawlik

3/ What were your tasks, your missions during your traineeship?

I was assigned into the DG SCIC (DG for Interpretation), Unit C1 – Corporate Conference Organisers.

My main duties were complex: 1. Graphic design, 2. Photography on the events, 3. Working during the events, helping on organising and managing conferences, 4. Additional help on surveys, conference correspondents network, research.

During my traineeship I created some visual materials for my Unit, presentations on Green Events and how to prepare the event. I also created a graphic material on Sli.do tool and how to use it which was spread throughout the Commission and other DGs. I attended many conferences while taking photos and organising events.

I was also very active in projects related to trainees activities (outside of my work as a trainee). I was an official photographer of the Trainees Committee and I photographed events for trainees such as meetings with M. Barnier, M. Vestager, D. Tusk, E. Bienkowska. I was also photographing a Job Fair for trainees and Euroball, the biggest party of the traineeship and activities of subcommittees: strategic simulation in EPSC, visit in Google Digital Atelier, conference on diversity with EP members, football tournament between EP and EC trainees. I helped prepare, set up and document the Farewell Conference, during which I was also an official photographer. I was a judge and creator of a photo contest for trainees and member of a Yearbook team, creating, designing and making the biggest memory of the traineeship – printed Yearbook.  As a coordinator of the Film Subcommittee, I provided and organised weekly screenings of European movies for trainees.

I also started my photography project “Project Europeans” by taking portrait photos to show the diversity and beauty of European people.

4/ Do you have a special memory from this experience to share with us?

First of all, I was called a Unicorn in the Commission, as I am a creative artist.

My traineeship was 5 months of special memories, the best time in my life full of the most wonderful people, moments and a huge chance to discover who I am, how to continue my career path. It was a time when I developed and grew as a person and professionally, it boosted my self-esteem, confidence – it’s been amazing, especially in terms of people I’ve met.

My first and biggest great moment was shaking hands with president Macron on a conference while I was hunting for a good picture. I also met president Tusk and commissioners Vestager, Bienkowska, Navracics, Katainen, Oettinger. My traineeship highlights were: countless lunches with different trainees, fries and long talks in the park with my friend Vladiana, meeting trainees from 10 different countries on coffee and realising we all speak different languages but we love our company, watching World Cup internationally, Euroball talk with few trainees saying they all have some Polish roots, the best night to morning walk home after Euroball ending with having Portuguese tea at 7AM, spending days and nights with my best friends Vera and Dainius, watching all trainees playing one team in football game with pure joy. And most of all, meeting people, making new friends, seeing joy in their eyes to see me and missing those who left. Feeling accepted, feeling European, feeling moved on the Farewell Conference and knowing that whenever I go in Europe, I will meet friendly faces.

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