Interview conducted by Ivana Putri
Katharina Geiselmann (2017-2019, DE) or also known by her classmates as Kat, spent her first and second semesters at Uppsala and Krakow. Kat studied English Studies in her Bachelor’s, with a minor in Languages and Cultures. After her Bachelor studies, she looked for a completely interdisciplinary Master’s programme that allows her to live in more countries and become familiar with more languages, which led her to start her Euroculture adventure. Kat has just finished her internship at the Permanent Representation of the Federal Republic of Germany to the European Union in Brussels, Belgium, which she did for her third semester. Thanks, Kat, for taking the time to share your experience!
1. Why did you decide to do an internship for your third Euroculture semester?
To be honest, I was quite undecided about which option would be better for me, simply because I did not know if I wanted to pursue a PhD after this programme or work. In the end, I chose to do an internship because I was offered one with the German Foreign Ministry, which has been on my wishlist for quite some time. They also only take interns who can prove that it is an obligatory part of their studies, so I might not have had the option of doing the internship at another time. In the end, I think you can have great experiences both with the research track and the professional track, as long as you find a vacancy that makes you curious. I found that it really helped me to talk about my options with friends, because sometimes you only realize why you want to do what only when talking about it.
2. So, what kind of things did you do at the German Permanent Representation?
I had three major areas I worked in. First, I supported the Department for German Personnel in the EU institutions. I was able to accompany my supervisors to bilateral and multilateral meetings, mainly at other countries’ representations. I also analysed reports by the Commission, as they had just published numbers on the geographical balance of employees in the institutions. I also helped organize events for visitor groups and German personnel. Second, I accompanied the German delegate to the Council working groups on human rights. This was an awesome opportunity to experience how the delegates represented their countries and how working papers were presented. Lastly, I covered some topics in the European Parliament, meaning that I either visited the sessions or streamed them online and wrote a report in a specific format, which was then sent to Berlin. I took some time to get used to the specific language and abbreviations that are used for writing these reports but it was super interesting to learn more about a broad range of topics this way. My topics ranged from anti-tax fraud regulations, to Brexit, and to EU-China relations. A big perk of the internship is that you are able to participate in any events you like at any time, meaning that you can take full advantage of what Brussels has to offer, like visiting political foundations, NGOs, and so on.
3. Did you have any expectations for the internship?
Frankly, my expectations weren’t big in a way that I thought would expand my skill set a lot (which in the end, I luckily did anyway). My main wish was to look behind the closed doors in Brussels and in the Foreign Ministry, and to find out if this is a setting I would like to work in. I have to say that I did get so many insights that I would have never been able to get otherwise. Now I know a lot more about which path I would have to take to work in this sort of field. So my main expectations were definitely fulfilled. Moreover, it was super interesting to meet so many people you only know from television, and talk to so many people who have completely different perspectives than yours. As I mentioned, I also gained some more “boring” skills, such as improving my “business communication skills” (is that a thing?) and being more aware of in which language I talk to which people, depending on which nation, representation, or even state I represent at that moment. In the end, I think working in Brussels is such a highlight for someone interested in European affairs. I couldn’t recommend it more.
4. What do you find most challenging about being an intern?
The time! I adhered to the [required] four-months duration of my internship because I knew it might be good to have a couple of weeks to work on my thesis topic before the following semester starts. However, as I expected, it really was difficult handling a full-time internship and the academic work for the portfolio. Especially since – as it ideally should be – you have tasks that are important and need to be done on a certain day, even if that means staying in the office till 10pm and returning the next morning at 7am. I was lucky that my working schedule was very flexible in the way that if I had/wanted to stay longer one day, I could always come later or leave earlier the next day. The thing is, I was mainly really interested in the tasks I was given at the workplace, and was happy to finish them on time and in a good way. Apart from that, writing applications, finding accommodation [for the following semester], and so on at the same time were quite challenging and sometimes frustrating, especially when I wanted to have more time to focus on my research.
5. Any tips for fellow Euroculture students who might want to take on an internship/work placement at the Permanent Representation of Germany to the EU?
Really think about the department/area you want to work in, and which areas are offered at each representation. Of course the representation in Brussels is ideal as a Euroculture student, but depending on which department you are in you will have a different experience to someone else. Feel free to contact me if you need more info!
6. Anything else?
It can be quite challenging to find the internship you want or even decide which track is the better option for you. Don’t forget that you can always consult your coordinator at you first (or even second) university! Everything worked out for me quite fine (luckily), but they are there to support you. Even during the semester you can check in with them! Another thing that would have been nice to know beforehand: the contract you are supposed to sign with Euroculture and your internship provider is a prerequisite for the insurance cover (at least from Uppsala University), so be sure to check if your provider can even sign such a contract (mine, for example, could not). Also: Enjoy the semester!