In this interview, Elena Sánchez will tell you more about her internship at the German Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development, located in Bonn.
Could you give us a short introduction about yourself?
“My name is Elena Sánchez and I studied International Relations in Groningen. I am half German and half Spanish, and I grew up in Germany. I did a minor in Development Studies and right now I am doing an internship at a German ministry.”
What internship did you do?
“I am an intern at the Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development. In Germany, some of the ministries are split in two locations, there is Bonn, the former capital, and there is Berlin. I am doing it in Bonn, which is also my home town. I am working in the division Sahel/West Africa, so it is basically about the G5 countries (Mauritania, Chad, Niger, Mali, Burkina Faso), and also Senegal. The internship has to do with development cooperation within these countries. I have been interested in development since my childhood. I always had it on my radar as something that I wanted to know more about but that I was also critical about. Because of this interest, I really wanted to work in this field, so I applied for this internship to get more work experience.”
What tasks did you have during your internship?
“Of course as an intern you support your colleagues. For me this means that I do get individual tasks and little projects, but usually I help my colleagues with what they are doing. Sometimes I create draft documents for them to continue processing (e.g. financial requests), or I prepare materials for a meeting. What is interesting is that now there are a lot of government consultations and negotiations going on with the countries in our region. After Covid-19 we have the opportunity to actually visit the countries again, and to negotiate in person. There have been three trips since I have been in this division and there will be a fourth soon. This is keeping me quite busy. Sometimes, I am in touch with the implementing agencies, I do research about certain topics, I help draft the content, and I help with the compilation of the materials. When it comes to the trip itself, we prepare the hardcopy folders so that the person who goes to the negotiations can take these with them. So all the information about what to say during the negotiations about the development projects will be in that folder. And then there is also other taks like writing minutes, and evaluating reports of projects. But I would say that the preparation of the trips is the most interesting.
Moreover, the work at the ministry is not just about trying to enforce certain policies and projects in these countries. There are countries that put more focus on specific areas, like energy or trade. We work together with them to understand what can be financed more and what area needs more support. Of course every country has their own norms and values so sometimes a compromise is needed.”
What did you like most about the internship? And what were its challenges?
“The preparation of those consultations and negotiations were really insightful. It helped me to understand what I would be doing if I end up working here. You are actually very close to development cooperation itself. The work can sometimes be stressful and time consuming which means that I also learned a lot about time management. The work life from 9-17 is very different than the flexible student life that I was used to. During my studies I was only responsible for myself, I had to hand in my deadlines on time and do my exams. But here, the drafts that you create are actually used by the government. I also learned a lot about approaching these different tasks and working together with my colleagues. The internship really showed me what is going on behind the scenes.”
Did the internship give you an idea of what you want to do after graduating?
“Yes, I do know what I would like to do, I am going to do an Erasmus Mundus master in Gent. The master is called Rural Development, so I definitely want to stay in the development field. I already was critical about development studies and working in development. It is very controversial, but I also realised that I am very passionate about it, nonetheless. So when I started my internship I was already quite set on the idea that I wanted to go into this field. However, for me it was more about finding out whether I wanted to work for the government in this field. It is a very process oriented, bureaucratic job. You are still very close to the actual development work, but I am also interested to know more about the work of e.g. NGOs.”
Is there any advice you would like to give to students who are unsure whether they want to do an internship?
“An internship is really a great way to understand how a field actually works in real life. It will show you what you like and what you dislike, and that is very valuable information. Also, send out more than one application because there are so many people applying so don’t be disappointed if something does not work out at first. Of course try to aim high, but a small NGO can also be very valuable, or even more valuable to gain work experience. And of course check out the Clio Career Platform to find your internship ;).”