On a snowy February afternoon in 1983, a little green around the gills after a rough crossing but otherwise unscathed, I alighted from the ferry at Ostend and made my way to the train which would take me to Brussels for my internship.
I was about to start a ‘stage’ or graduate traineeship with the European Commission, working in what was then DG VII, the Directorate-General for Transport. It lasted for five months and there were more than 200 of us from all over the world.
Internship as a research assistance
We were research assistants, I suppose, and my tasks included writing reports on the impact the Greek accession to the European Economic Community (EEC), as it then was, would have on European transport policy, and relationships with ‘third countries’ (I never imagined Great Britain would become one of them).
We learned about the European institutions and had trips to Strasbourg (where we sat in on discussions about Greenland leaving the bloc) and to Berlin. A group of us also went to Washington DC and New York for two weeks, and had tea with Vice-President Bush at the White House.
Life-long friends from all around the world
I made life-long friends there and many of us have stayed in touch over the years. Some stayed in Brussels, and from our cohort some went on to high office at the Commission, while others became lawyers and economists.
In March 2020, with the world in lockdown and things looking bleak, a few of us set out to get in touch with as many from the group as we could. We now have a WhatsApp group which is over 100 strong, so we are over halfway there.
Some of us are still in Brussels but we also have a real global reach, from Belfast to Washington, from Ethiopia to Turkey, and from Berlin to Costa Rica, sharing wonderful pictures of gardens, grandchildren and our walks. Over some very dark months these conversations have kept our spirits up. Plans are afoot to meet back in Brussels when it is safe to travel once again.
EU and Brussels internship post-Brexit
This scheme has been going since 1960 and is still running: there are two intakes each year, one in March and one in October, and a salary is available. Following Brexit, it won’t be quite as straightforward as there are only a small number of places available for third country nationals, but it won’t be impossible.
More details are available here WHO can apply? | Traineeship.
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