Interview conducted by Ivana Putri
Mathilde Soubeyran (2017-2019, FR) spent her first and second semesters at Uppsala and Udine. She has a background in Applied Foreign Languages with Law and Economics. Mathilde has been studying, working, and traveling around Europe for three years. She embarked on the Euroculture adventure after her first try at a different European Studies Master’s programme did not go as she expected. She wanted to focus more on the cultural aspect and politics, which led her to an unregrettable decision of giving Euroculture a go.
During her third semester, she did an internship at the Representation of the European Commission in Edinburgh, Scotland. Thanks Mathilde for taking the time to share your experience!
1. Why did you decide to do an internship?
Before starting Euroculture, I was sure I wanted to follow the research track, and go spend a semester outside Europe. After the first year, I had to be honest with myself: I really am not made for research. Not only am I bad at it, but I also found that I do not enjoy it. In a way, this programme made one thing really clear for me: I need action, I need the real world and I need to see results. I understand that research is really important and valuable, but I will leave that in the competent hands of fellow students.
Two years ago (before starting the programme), I traveled in Scotland with my family, and I fell in love with the country, particularly with the city of Edinburgh, despite the 17°C in August. Sitting on top of Salisbury’s Crags, overlooking the city, I remember thinking that I wanted to live there for at least a few months of my life. Therefore, when the time to make a decision regarding my third semester arrived, it was clear: I needed to do something to experience working life, and do this in Scotland.
2. Can you tell us what you were doing in your internship?
Every day, I start with writing the Scottish Press Review alongside my colleague, or alone, depending on how busy the day is. We read seven Scottish newspapers and summarize news about Brexit, EU funds in Scotland and other European news that could be of interest to the European Commission (EC) HQ in Brussels, and send it to them. I also update the Representation’s social media channels daily, of which some took time for me to get used to in the beginning, especially having to learn the codes of communicating with everything being obviously very regulated.
I also help organize events, which were mostly focused on Brexit (considering the current political environment, only exceptionally few of these events deal with non-Brexit topics). It has been really interesting and in a way difficult to actually meet the “target audience”, and to try to help them ease their fears in the best way we could. The first time I attended these events, I was unexpectedly touched by the people who took time to come talk to the Representation in the end, warmly thanking us for the help.
I also attended a number of video conferences with the EC HQ in Brussels and from this I could comprehend the level of organisation behind such a huge institution. The Representation is part of the Directorate General (DG) of Communication. During my time there, I seemed to have seen numerous faces and heard many names from this DG. This really made me realise that it is understandable that the institution is perceived to be distant and mysterious by EU citizens, because even from within, it is difficult to have a complete grasp of the whole institution.
Finally, I helped with a few design works. I designed a few posters for the events, and helped with the drafting of a Farewell Book, as unfortunately, the Representation is set to close after March 29.
3. What were your expectations of working at the EC Representation in Scotland?
The biggest expectation I had about this internship was to know whether I would like to work full-time for a EU institution, and therefore whether it was worth getting into the EPSO tests’ nightmare. I had read about these tests and how difficult they were, and this has been confirmed by my colleagues at the Representation, all of whom had to go through them. I would not be too afraid about these tests if I knew that the position I’d have in the end would be one I would be happy with.
However, after five months with a certain access to this “world”, I can say that it is not for me. The “Brussels bubble” irritates me, and I have to be honest with myself, I did not follow the right path to be positioned high enough to be able to change anything there. Otherwise, and on a more positive note, I do know 100% now that I do not want to follow a research track; and most importantly, that working with communication and the public is more of what I want to do. I like to see results and I like to meet the people I am doing work for. What I liked most during this internship was organising events, attending them, meeting the public, so I think I will follow this path more closely.
4. In your opinion, what are the major differences between your first and second semesters vis-à-vis your internship semester?
Well, of course the internship semester does not leave you much time to study! A few weeks before the thesis portfolio deadline, even one of my thesis supervisors told me that writing a thesis portfolio while doing an internship is difficult and it is something that needs to be taken into account.
Honestly, after coming back home from a 9-to-5 or whatever other schedule, I have zero motivation to study at all, so I usually end up having a drink with some friends, hanging out with my roommate or just chilling alone. Therefore – and because I was lucky enough that my internship placement allowed it – my supervisor agreed that I could spend a couple hours a day on the job to do things related to my studies, i.e. the internship report and my thesis.
5. What do you find most challenging about doing an internship?
I would definitely say that the most challenging thing was not to get too much behind my university obligations! As I said earlier, having 8 hours of office work leaves you with absolutely no will to start writing your thesis portfolio when you finish your day. This was especially true because I also wanted to get involved in activities from the University of Edinburgh, and was interested by many events organised by different associations.
The cultural and academic life is really alive in this city. Many times, I listened to debates (mostly about Brexit) organised by the university but also at the Scottish Parliament itself. These activities were mostly related to the Euroculture programme, but so much more entertaining and stimulating than just going home and writing. Plus, it also made me feel part of the city and its local inhabitants, rather than just being another person living there for just a few weeks in their life.
So yes, to be honest, I procrastinated on Euroculture-related stuff, panicked in the last week before the 1st of December, and submitted something that could have been way better. However, I absolutely do not regret it one bit and if I had to do it again, I would 100% choose enjoying the city over having a better grade. That is also the beauty of our programme: experimenting, and knowing about new places and new cultures not just through our readings only but through direct experience!
6. What is the social and working environment like at the Representation?
The Representation of the European Commission in Scotland is a very small office: only five people are working there full-time. You’ve got the Head of the Representation and its assistant, the Press Officer, the Political Officer, and the Communication Officer. Along with that, I would also see everyday the building caretaker and the janitor.
I was the only trainee there, and my colleagues were pleased to have someone for a longer time, as usually trainees would stay one or two months only. As my colleagues were all “real adults” with families, I would not see them outside of work, but I got along pretty well with them all during the office hours, and developed a kind of friendship with some of them: there were some calmer moments in the office when we would talk about life or simply events happening in our life. I would have loved to have another trainee with me, but in the end, all my social life happened outside of work, and I am pretty happy it did!
7. What was the process of the internship preparation like for you?
I was in a particular case: I specifically wanted to spend my third semester in Scotland, and nowhere else! So of course, I focused my internship search there, therefore heavily reducing my choices. As a backup, I did apply for internships in Brussels or elsewhere, but ultimately, Scotland was my goal. In my case, I only sent spontaneous applications, I never answered to any internship placement advertisements.
In the end, I did not send too many applications as the Representation of the Commission answered to my first email only three days after I sent my application at the beginning of March. Then, we organised a phone interview with the Head of Representation at the beginning of April. The interview was really chill, with the Head of Representation mostly asking me why I wanted to come to Scotland; the whys and hows of living in five different countries in the last 4 years. As far as I remember, he only asked one question about the Representation and what I would be doing there.
Once I knew they had accepted me, the real struggles started: I had to find a flat in Edinburgh (good luck to anyone contemplating the idea, really!), and change my insurance company, as the university one could not be accepted by the European Commission for the contract. Overall, I think it took around three months to get all the paperwork right and to sign the contract, but I did it. As for the flat, I had to wait to be there to find one, 10 days after my arrival.
In the end, I have already planned to stay the shortest time possible in Uppsala for the fourth semester. I will come back to Edinburgh in May, and hopefully will find my first job there in the summer, starting after the 1st June thesis deadline. Hopefully, it will be something related to events, and this won’t be too hard to find in Edinburgh. It is less likely I will find something related to the EU (thank you, Brexit).