Izette Polinder (21) is a third year IRIO student who has done the career minor and an internship at the European Parliament. In this interview, she will tell you more about her experience as an intern for a Member of the Parliament.
Could you give us a short introduction about yourself? "My name is Izette and I am 21 years old. I am from a small Dutch village on the Veluwe, and I exchanged this for the bustling Groningen. I chose to study IRIO here because it combined my interests in law, economics, politics, and language. Besides this, I have always been interested in studying and working in an international environment."
Why did you choose the career minor? "After having focused a lot on the academic and theoretical side of IRIO, I wanted to get to know the practical side, and gain more insights in my career possibilities. The first block of the minor, called Humanities at Work, mostly focused on how to do job interviews, work in teams, and prepare yourself for the labor market. Besides this, we all had to choose a certain module. We could choose between Peace and Security, Entrepreneurship, and Working in and on Governance. I chose Working in and on Governance, because I would like to work in the governance field myself later, and the module included many nice speakers from, and trips to, organizations I am interested in working for. The module looks a lot like our IRIO bachelor, but way more practical. We learned about government structures, and had multiple guest lectures from people who were working in politics, research, business, and at different Ministries. Moreover, the assignments were also focused on the practical side. For instance, we had to write a policy advice paper to the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and we worked on a project proposal for the MATRA Fund. In short, the first part of the minor really prepared us for a career after graduating, and it gave me a better idea of my career options after IRIO.
For the second block, we had to choose a practical assignment. We could choose between an entrepreneurship concept, a team assignment for a government/business organization, or an internship. As I was interested in discovering what IRIO is like in the work field, I chose to do an internship, and I ended up doing one for a Dutch Member of the European Parliament in Brussels."
How did you find your internship? "At first I had no idea where to start, what were possible options, and Covid-19 made it very difficult to find a (physical) internship. The minor coordinators gave us an Excel file with examples of what former students did for their internship. There, I found out that it was possible to become an intern for a Member of the European Parliament (MEP). I emailed one I was interested in working for with an introduction about myself, a motivation of why I would like to work for him, and my CV. I made clear that I had an affiliation with the things that they stood for, and that I would like to contribute to their work. However, some parties in the European Parliament also have vacancies for interns on their websites.
It was very helpful that most email addresses of MEPs are available on the website of the European Parliament. This way, you can look into different MEPs and find out what party you would like to do an internship with. Be precise in your motivation letter and let them know why you would be a good fit for the internship program. Don’t be afraid to contact your preferred organization on your own initiative. Even when they might not have an internship vacancy on their website, some organizations can still be interested in a proactive internship seeker.
After my application, we emailed a bit, and I got invited to an online meeting. We talked about each other’s expectations and we got to know each other a little bit more. They also asked me some practical questions, like whether or not I was prepared to come work at the office in Brussels. This is something I really liked, as I wanted to gain experience on the work floor instead of online."
So what did your internship entail? "Something I really liked about the internship, is that I got to do a wide variety of tasks. Every task was different and taught me something new. For instance, I did desk research, prepared speeches, wrote amendments, wrote an opinion piece, prepared questions for my MEP that he could ask during debates, and wrote questions to the European Commission. I also got to visit the Permanent Representation of the Netherlands in Brussels to take notes during a technical briefing. Most of my tasks were focused on helping the MEP prepare for the debates and doing background research. In addition, I had to work on one major individual assignment about NGO funding by the EU."
What are the most interesting things that you've learned during the past few months? "I think the most interesting thing was attending the plenary session in Strasbourg. It was really interesting to see how these debates take place in real life. Some of the topics that were discussed were COP-26 and the Covid-19 pandemic. I also learned a lot about myself. I was used to student life in Groningen, so when I moved to Brussels for an internship I definitely stepped out of my comfort zone. I learned how it is to work in a professional setting, and met a lot of new people. An internship like this also felt a bit out of reach, but apparently there are possibilities, and I really recommend it to every IRIO student."
What were the biggest challenges during your internship? "I was used to doing research in a very detailed way during my bachelor’s, because usually you get about 7 weeks to write a research paper about a specific topic. Here, I had to work faster and less detailed. In politics, they need the most important information as fast as possible, and you work on multiple assignments at the same time instead of focusing on one paper for a couple of weeks. I really had to get used to this different way of working. Also, in the beginning I was a bit hesitant whether or not I did everything correctly. However, after receiving positive feedback, I became more confident in my work."
Did the internship give you an idea what kind of job you would like to do after graduating? "Yes, it definitely helped me to get a better idea of how everything goes behind the scenes in the European Parliament. I got a good taste of what MEPs and their assistants exactly do, especially because I got to experience the whole legislative process. After obtaining my degree I would be interested in working in European or Dutch politics, but I would also like to do an internship in Foreign Affairs later on to discover another type of work field. At least I discovered that I would like to contribute something to society and make real changes. The internship has for sure strengthened my interest in international politics." Is there any advice you would like to share to students who are not sure whether they want to do an internship? "If you get the chance to do an internship, then you should absolutely do it! It is a great way to discover your own interests and talents, and to get some work experience. Even if it turns out different from what you expected, you at least know what you don’t want to do later. It is very important to do some research about the internship you are interested in, to make sure it is a good fit for you, and to show you did your homework. Also, do not get discouraged when you get a rejection or when an interview does not go as planned. I applied for multiple and got a lot of rejections. Always ask for feedback and what you could do better in the future. Keep taking the initiative and do not be afraid to ask others for advice."