Interview by Laura de Boer
Katherine Arena (2020-2022) has done her Bachelor in European Languages and Cultures at the University of Groningen, where she majored in European Politics and Society. Her first Semester of Euroculture was spent in Groningen and her second in Udine. She is currently doing her internship at the Institute for Minority Rights at Eurac Research in Bolzano. She will return to Groningen for her final semester, back to where it all started.
Euroculturer Magazine (EM): What were your expectations when you started the Euroculture M.A.? Were they met?
Katherine: When I started the M.A. Euroculture, I was mainly expecting two things; the first one was to be part of an international group with people sharing a common interest in European studies and the opportunity to have an engaging exchange with them. The second one revolved around the whole moving and travelling dimension, getting to meet new people, and being confronted with new cultures. The first expectation was fully met; I have met a lot of interesting people, and I have shared and learned about different perspectives. The second one unfortunately was not fully met due to the pandemic; I was still able to do the second semester abroad, but the internship track, in the end, happened online, with me visiting the city and the office only once.
EM: Why did you choose the internship track? Where are you doing your internship and why did you choose to go there?
Katherine: I have been studying since I was very young; I have never had any working experience except for a part-time job at university as a student assistant. I wanted to pause studying for a while and get a better idea of what the professional dimension looks like, also to discover what is out there for me and what I could be good at. Funnily enough, I ended up doing my internship at a research centre, where studying happens differently. I am currently doing my internship at the Institute for Minority Rights at EURAC Research, in Bolzano. I have chosen this internship as it focuses on a field that I am very interested in, i.e., migration management and human rights, with particular regard to the political and societal sphere. Additionally, I am considering doing a PhD after my studies, so it represents the perfect opportunity to not only deepen my knowledge of topics that I am passionate about but also gives me the opportunity to work with researchers coming from a wide range of disciplines and get a better insight of the research field. Not to mention that EURAC Research is one of the main research centres in the EU and is well known for its contribution to research in many fields, both locally and globally, its cooperation with other institutes around Europe and its variety of EU projects.
EM: How did you find your internship? What advice would you give to students looking for a position?
Katherine: I found this internship through networking. I met a former Euroculture student who knew a researcher at the institute and put me in contact with them. To someone looking for an internship I would definitely advise starting early, some deadlines are as early as January, so better not miss out on them. Another thing is to be patient; I had my first contact with the institute in June, then the first of two interviews in July, and the contract with the university was signed by the end of August, whereas the one with the institute at the beginning of September. So, it was not until two weeks before the beginning of the internship that everything was finalised for me. I would also suggest not to be afraid to be the one approaching them if there is something that one really likes and wants to do. There were no application posts on the website of the institute I am working for, yet during my interview, I was told that they accept interns all year long. Therefore, I would definitely suggest giving it a go and not leaving out any possibility.
EM: Can you describe a typical day as an intern? Are you aiming to get a job at the same organization after your internship is over?
Katherine: My internship is online; therefore, I organise my schedule according to the deadlines that are given to me. A typical day for me would mean that I start at 9 am with my tasks, which mainly revolve around research and literature reviews, so a lot of reading and writing, and I continue until 6-7 pm. In between I take breaks; I like to go on walks along the seaside when there is a nice day and I also like to do small workouts at home to keep my body active and take a break from my laptop. As part of the internship, however, I perform different tasks which include writing for the institute’s blog, attending online webinars and seminars, doing transcription of interviews, doing interviews and I also take part in meetings, which are scheduled every few weeks. So, I always have something different to do, which is nice and brings diversity to the job. Overall, I try to stick to my schedule and my breaks not to lose the rhythm and to be able to enjoy the weekends without having anything left to finish for the following week.
Currently, I am considering a possible job at the same organisation. I am really enjoying what I do, I really like working with the team, so I think it would be a great opportunity.
EM: Is there something you wish you would have known before starting the Euroculture programme?
Katherine: I think one thing I would have liked to know is something more about the programme itself, specifically regarding the range of subjects. I have enjoyed each one of them; however, coming from a BA in political sciences some things were a repetition of what I had just studied. I do not think it would have changed my mind about doing this MA (I chose this MA when I was in the first year of the BA, I had it on my agenda for a very long time), but it would have been nice to have a clearer picture of what was going to be done.
EM: Do you think your third-semester choice was a crucial step for your career, does it enhance the probability of getting a job where you wanted?
Katherine: Definitely! I had some ideas before starting the MA and throughout the first and second semester I still felt that I had some ideas, but I had no clear picture of what I would want to do after graduating. This internship has cleared my thoughts and has also helped me gain more confidence in what I do. I am not sure if it enhances the probability of getting a job where I wanted; I would still like to try out different things, so I do not only have one option in mind. However, I am networking and making contacts, so for sure this will be useful in the future, and I am refining my skills as well as learning new ones.
EM: What was the most difficult challenge you encountered after starting the programme?
Katherine: The rhythm for sure. I started in Groningen, which was also the university where I got my Bachelor from. I thought I was used to the rhythm there, but the MA proved to be even more challenging in this regard.
EM: Do you have any advice for current and future Euroculture cohorts?
Katherine: I had a plan before starting the MA; I knew where I would start, I knew where I wanted to go for the second semester, and I knew what I wanted to do in the third semester and how. All my plans were just disrupted by the pandemic, and they changed almost completely. Nonetheless, every change that occurred led to experiences that have shaped not only my academic and my career path, but my personal one too. So, my advice would be to really enjoy every part of it and try to take advantage of each opportunity that comes along.
EM: Thank you very much for taking the time to answer our questions. Your answers are very useful for current and prospective Euroculture students. We wish you all the best on your career path!
Picture credits: Katherine Arena