Now that I finished my ‘stage’ (internship at the Commission, but everyone refers to it by its French name) I seem to come across a sort off existing stereotype among people who haven’t done it, but ask me how it is/was. I could summarize it with the following question I received today: “So tell me. Is it like you just drink coffee all day long and walk in fancy clothes”. Well if it were like this then probably I wouldn’t be thinking of writing an academic article about certain procedural aspects of infringement proceedings that don’t appear in the books.
As with any place where people work, you will come across people who have a higher work input, while others a lower one. This happens at every workplace, be it private, public, academics or firms. I’ve tried them all and it is mostly the same anywhere you go.
Yes we did drink coffee (or juice in my case as I have high-blood pressure) in the coffee breaks or after lunch. But we did not get up from bed in the morning, telling ourselves “Ah! What a great day for dinking coffee”.
How much you work and on what topic will depend on many things. It will depend on your supervisor, the work-load of your unit, and ultimately the stagiaire (intern). I’ve met stagiaires who spent a decent amount of their time on facebook, others who were in the office till 19 pm (yes, from 9 am!) and others like myself who stuck to the 8:30/9:00 am – 17:00/17:30 routine.
I want to make it clear that the stage is not some kind of big yahoo party place where interns don’t do anything, but party and drink. Far from it! I’ve met some extremely intelligent young people, with impressive CVs, speaking dozens of languages, who lived in multiple countries. It feels a bit like an Erasmus gathering of former colleagues, students you knew but can’t really remember their names. Let’s not forget though, that this is an older generation of people with an average age of 24-28, who by this age have begun their careers and can do excellent work. Most of them have worked previously and know that the quality of your work will eventually reflect in the references and reports your superior’s give you at the end.
As for myself, I can say that it ultimately boiled down to me how my stage unfolded work wise. You cannot expect your supervisor or other officials to constantly baby sit you. You are already a full-grown adult who is required to have a certain amount of independence and determination. Over the months my workload increased, as did my level of independence, arriving to a point where I could coordinate an infringement case for 27 countries, because people trusted my abilities. As with every workplace you have periods when work accumulates and periods when work is less. I must say I had my fair share of work and many days when I cut my lunch break short in order to fulfill my duties.
Also, the stage is there to help people choose a path. Not all stagiaires become officials. If I recall the stats, around 20% of them do. A lot of them choose the private sector, NGOs, firms, national governments. But the knowledge these people acquire in 5 months is impressive. Because the EU institutions are not some pages of a scholarly book, but are people who behave like people. And this is where the stage comes as a valuable asset in life. You get to see first hand how things work, and how different they are from what you read. You build up a network of people, ranging from officials, to secretaries, to interns, to interns from other institutions that will ultimately benefit not just you but the future workplace. Because you can simply say, “Hei, wait a second. I know this guy. Maybe he can answer our question.” Also, even though as interns we earned a fraction of what the officials did (but still a decent salary for an intern), from the conversations I had with my fellow stagiares, I must admit all of them were competent to do the tasks they were assigned.
The party side of the stage happens outside working hours (even the end of year party was after the working hours) or occasionally you might pop a bottle of champagne if it is someone’s birthday. But that’s how office life is. Anyone who has an intellectual job has a different type of work, than let’s say a guy laying down railroad tracks.
My personal conviction is that it has been a wonderful experience that has taught me a great deal, that at point challenged my perception, frustrated me and gave me considerable satisfaction, and which has expanded my horizons from the sometimes strict boundaries of the legal world. I met young, intelligent and driven people who will contribute one way or the other to the benefit of Europe.
So no, the stage is not a big coffee drinking place.
P.S. Plus let’s not forget that this is how Kostas Andersson was born 😉
07.03.2012 – Aarhus, Denmark