An International Element: from Brussels, with love

In parallel with the ever-expanding internship business in London, the ‘stage’ and ‘stagiaires’ have become an institutional phenomenon in Brussels. The Commission takes on some 600 each semester, the Parliament several hundred more, and the countless lobbyist and consultative companies in the European capital live and breathe the intermittency of rolling internships. I am currently in my second.

Now – possibly, the institutional (parliamentary and Commission) interns have a better deal than they would get in London since the salaries vary between Net €1000 – 1300 a month – taking Brussels property prices into account, this is definitely livable. Outside of the institutions however – things are a little tougher and can come anywhere in between 900 and a big fat nothing.  My first one was in an environment/development type very small organisation, earning me €500 a month. I mostly ate chickpeas, kitchen scraps and became a highly proficient in the art of ‘bag-boozing’ (i.e. put-booze-from-bag-into-pubglass). This was actually a fantastic experience as the organisation was very small and I got every opportunity to be involved in activities, trips (we went to the COP 14 climate change talks in Poznan) and contribute to the organisation policy and strategy. Knowing that the organisation was enormously poor probably made it easier to forgive them for my appalling wage and at times I think I convinced myself that poverty was ‘enriching’ somehow.

Second experience – better paid – good level of responsibility, but constant OUTRAGE at the mentality of the organisation. There are 4 interns and 4 consultants – essentially we are half the working force and completely indispensible… but also apparently entirely neglectable as long as we are replaceable. My current boss has also had the AUDACITY to bind us into a contract where we are ‘not allowed to leave’ – or ‘action would be taken’, which I think intends to imply something ‘lawish’ and ‘courty’, but may just come down to a shouting match and no reference. I intend to leave as soon as I can so I can keep you posted….

On the whole I think the Brussels internship can be a good way of going into something that you are really interested in. Experience within the Commission and Parliament also get you a good foot-in with other institutions in the future. But the big problem is getting out of the internship cycle. Ultimately most ‘real jobs’ want you to have done ‘a real job’ beforehand, which doesn’t really seem very fair as most ‘junior positions’ are consistently occupied by rotating interns. Many people therefore get completely stuck just wondering from one internship to the next – which ends up being hugely demoralising, impoverishing and actually ends up looking awful on your CV as it seems like you can’t get a job!

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