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What's it like to work as a trainee at the European Parliament?

We asked three of our recent graduates to share some insight into their jobs.

2017.12.13 | Hannah Spyksma

This fall, six Mundus Journalism students and new graduates were accepted for four-month traineeships with the European Parliament. Considering the highly selective process, with about 7700 applicants and only four per cent of those successfully securing a position, we think this is a pretty outstanding achievement.

This means, however, that these students won’t necessarily be going into journalism careers. But that’s the great thing about Mundus Journalism, you come into the programme with a set of journalistic skills and on graduating, have the global context and theoretical knowledge to pursue a career in any range of communication-driven occupations.

So, what’s it like to work for the EU? Three recent graduates – now in the midst of their traineeships - share their experiences below, including useful background for anyone interested in applying in the future.

Tell us a little bit about the traineeship, how is it going and what are you doing?

Mads Nyborg, Denmark, Swansea Specialisation

I am working in the European Parliament's Press Unit, which is an incredible way of submerging oneself into the concrete work of the Parliament. On the one hand, I am communicating generally about political work to Danish journalists and, on the other, I am communicating with journalists all over Europe who are interested in following the Parliament's Civil Liberties Committee, which deals with issues such as migration, security and fundamental rights. A lot of work is carried out in these buildings that remains out the public's sight, and one of the first things I did was to write a press release on an EU agency of which I had never previously heard about.

The real eye-opener of coming to Brussels has been the city itself...I guarantee that there is more life, sun, beer, culture, diversity and happiness here than anywhere else in Northern Europe.

Although I have never done communications before, I do enjoy the work here and hope I am playing my microscopic part in making the EU more comprehendible. If nothing else, I'm sure my family will end up knowing more about the Parliament than before. However, the real eye-opener of coming to Brussels has been the city itself. I had briefly been here once before and gotten the impression of a grey, dull bastion of bureaucrats. But, in fact, I guarantee that there is more life, sun, beer, culture, diversity and happiness here than anywhere else in Northern Europe.

Anna Ferrari, Italy, Amsterdam specialisation 

I’m in the Cabinet of the President of the European Parliament, Communication Team. I don´t think it is even possible to apply for the Cabinet of the President...I applied for the Schuman Traineeship, Journalism Option. My current manager selected me because, apparently, I had an interesting education and work background, and above all, I had a good command of both Italian and German, besides English. The team particularly needs those languages right now.

The best part of the traineeship is, of course, being able to witness, in person, important talks with high level key actors

I want to be a journalist reporting on politics and especially European politics, so I thought that it would be extremely enriching to have a good understanding of the EU institutions from the inside, so to be able to have a full view and report better on EU issues. My background also led me here: I have a 5-year master degree in Law and my thesis was on EU law, and as a journalist I reported often on EU related issue. Also, I generally have enthusiasm and support for the European project, so I thought I could contribute to it. We listen to so many critics, so if you have a chance to go and do your part, even if small, why not? You might not be able to change big politics, but you might at least become more knowledgeable.

The best part of the traineeship is, of course, being able to witness, in person, important talks with high level key actors both in the Parliament in Brussels and in Strasbourg - and to have such a full immersive experience, getting to see the "behind the scene" of this work.

Florence Schulz, Germany/France, Amsterdam specialisation

I'm a Schuman Trainee at the European Parliament Information Office in Luxembourg where we basically coordinate communicate between the Parliament and the citizens as well as NGOs and any other public entities. So far it has been incredible, I get to meet international and interesting people all the time. In fact, there's Jean-Claude Juncker just one floor underneath me as I'm writing this, he came here for a conference today, so that's a highlight, for example.

So far it has been incredible, I get to meet international and interesting people all the time

On my very first day I saw Antonio Tajani, the EP President, which was a wonderful start of course. The work is more diverse than I thought as we often get out to conferences and meetings, etc. French seems unavoidable however; I'm not quite sure how people who don't speak the language get along. Quite a bit of what I do is social media management, which is surely a good thing to learn.

What are some of the daily challenges of your work, and how has your study background helped?

Mads 

In a way, what I have taken away from the Mundus programme is not so much about the concrete knowledge as it is about a certain international way of thinking - something which I believe is necessary for getting the most out of this sort of experience

My specialism year was in Swansea with War and Conflict, which I absolutely found interesting. But it's safe to say that I don't sit at my desk every day and think "wow, this is exactly what I learnt on my masters". Maybe one needn't even necessarily have a master's degree for this specific traineeship. The thing is, however, that even if I could have gotten into the traineeship after my bachelor's, I probably wouldn't have even thought to apply back then. So, in a way, what I have taken away from the Mundus programme is not so much about the concrete knowledge as it is about a certain international way of thinking - something which I believe is necessary for getting the most out of this sort of experience.

Anna 

The biggest challenge is that I am working a lot at the moment, so learning to stick to my normal working hours is, in turn, a challenge! Being in the communication team of the President means that there are many "emergency" moments where you just have to be there and work as long as it is needed. When something goes wrong, especially, it is most often the communication team that has to solve it.

I am learning a lot from my colleagues because they are prepared professionals and it is an experience at very high level of politics. I am also improving my language skills, because very often I have the chance to talk and listen in Italian, English, German, French and even a bit of Spanish. The Parliament area itself is full of conferences and interesting opportunities...when I have a bit of time to attend, it is really a great environment to be in!

The Mundus Network has been a huge help during the traineeship. For work reasons, I happened to be in need of some political news and overviews of electoral campaigns in Europe. I could very easily text my Mundus colleagues from specific countries, asking them for advice on national sources. Also, the courses in Amsterdam about political campaigns, EU communication, relationships between media and politics, as well as our debates on the use of social media, fake news and framing, turned out to be very useful. I have been able to spot trends in the media and connect them to bigger phenomena. Moreover, it feels great to have Mundusians around in the EU institutions!

Florence

I can actually relate a lot to what I've learned in Amsterdam; especially from a course on "Communicating Europe" that we had. It was all about how the EU reaches people, what people think and what they're interested in concerning EU politics and how journalists mediate between them. During that course, we went on an excursion to the "Europahuis" in Den Haag where they told us how the Commission implements its communication techniques to reach the citizens. And now, a few months later, I'm doing exactly this. So of course, the academic view we gained on this helps me to remain critical of my work instead of sliding into subjectivity.

Behind the scenes as a new grad: juggling study and applying for work opportunities

Mads

In Swansea, we handed in our dissertations at the end of June so I've practically had three months of holiday before starting the traineeship at the beginning of this month. Which, among other things, allowed me to go to another Mundusian's wedding in Kazakhstan. I applied for the traineeship already in the Spring but it was only in July that I was told I had been accepted, and so I moved to Brussels in September.

I applied for the traineeship as part of a wider effort to, basically, find something to do after my master's. However, I was especially interested in going to Brussels; both because I have a girlfriend in Amsterdam and because I would like to get more acquainted with Europe and European politics. I somehow felt that, after the Mundus programme, it would be strange to simply go back to Denmark and continue as if nothing had happened, not least because my ambition throughout the programme increasingly has become work within the field of international journalism.

Anna

In January and April, while I was still a student, I applied for the Schuman Traineeship at the European Commission and at the European Parliament. You have to apply months in advance for the upcoming new semesters, as they go in shift of five months, twice every year. I was accepted for the Parliament traineeship in July and found out just one week before my travel to India. I had planned to be in India for six weeks, but as they asked me to start in September rather than October, I had to change my travel plan and rebook another return flight. This all happened because I was selected, to my great surprise, for work in the Cabinet of the President of the European Parliament, Antonio Tajani. His communication team has different traineeship periods. Who gets accepted also depends on the current needs in a specific moment. So I say keep applying then - even if you don´t get it at the first time! I applied three years ago and did not get it, for example!

What I want to stress is that one can make plans and it is great to go for one´s deep desires and interests, as for me India was, but at the same time, I learned that one has to be open to change plans when great opportunities knock on the door

I went to India anyway, for one month "only" and then, after a three-days pit-stop in Italy to change all my bags, I was immediately shot into the Brussels bubble. That was my transition period from graduating: not really existent. But what I want to stress is that one can make plans and it is great to go for one´s deep desires and interests, as for me India was, but at the same time, I learned that one has to be open to change plans when great opportunities knock on the door.

Florence

This is the first time I’m doing anything related to the EU and I really just applied in a very vague hope of getting accepted. Working for the EU has always been a personal dream for me: I have a background as a translator (in my Bachelor studies) and ending up in the EU with its multitude of nationalities and languages has always seemed like the Olympia to me. I am not sure if this will mean my departure into PR work or if I'll return to more journalism related things afterwards, I'll see. 

Student bios

Mads Nyborg

I’m a Dane, with a BA in Journalism from the Danish School of Media and Journalism. Mundus student 2015-2017, Swansea specialisation. My Linkedin is: https://dk.linkedin.com/in/mads-anneberg and my twitter is: @m_nyborg

Anna Ferrari

Born in Italy. I hold a 5-year Master degree in Law, obtained in Milan and I focused on European Union Law. I graduated in 2017 from the Erasmus Mundus Master in Journalism Media and Globalisation, Media and Politics track. I did some freelance journalism and worked as a journalist for some specific events. I am also a keen traveler - but most Mundusians are, aren´t they? I am curious about what is different from me.

My twitter is: @Ferrar_Anna 

Florence Schulz

A few things about me: I'm German/French, 27 years old and have a Bachelor's in English and French translation. I have mostly worked in radio in my hometown, Hannover, as well as working as a journalist and editor at Beijing Review and Goethe Institute Beijing.  

My Linkedin is: https://www.linkedin.com/in/florence-schulz-525ba7111/

Image credit: Supplied by Anna Ferrari, featuring Mundus Journalism graduates and EP trainees Anja Woelker and Anna Ferrari

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