by: Jorge Sellare
Choosing where to do their internship is definitely one of those hard moments in the life of WBS students, for this experience represents not only the possibility of acquiring some practical knowledge and skills, but also the chance to (further) build your professional network and narrow down fields of interest, which will help when the time comes to choose a research question for your Master’s dissertation. Therefore some questions inevitably arise: Is it better to do the internship in an international organization like the UN or are the learning opportunities better in smaller organizations? Do I want to be in a research center, in an operational or advocacy NGO? Should I stay in Western Europe, do the internship back home, or go to the field in another developing country? As for myself, I decided to go to Kosovo over the semester break to do my internship in an international organization called SPARK.
SPARK is a Dutch NGO that works in post-conflict societies promoting higher education and entrepreneurship to empower the population to lead their countries to prosperity. Through projects that aim at supporting and developing the private sector, SPARK, in cooperation with a broad range of local partners (start-up centers, chambers of commerce, universities, governments etc.), brings sustainable development and new job opportunities to countries and regions like the Balkans, Liberia, Rwanda, Burundi, Palestinian Territories, Yemen and South Sudan. As interesting as it sounds, things are obviously not always flowers. As a Brazilian – someone who has absolutely no idea of what war or ethnic conflicts are – going to a post-conflict society can be both exciting and frightening, especially if you have specialists like Professor Richter telling you “Oh, so you are going to Mitrovica? Things have been very tense there lately.” Luckily, this was not my first time in Kosovo, so I knew what to expect. My first time there however was quite hard, yet by all means a life-changing experience. But that is a subject for a whole new post.
Going back to the internship experience itself, unfortunately I have to say that it was not the best one. I stayed in Kosovo from mid-March to mid-April and during this time all I did was revising a couple of reports about projects that had just finished. Of course I used the idle time to learn about SPARK’s projects, check their proposals for grants, and read about business development, but all that could have been done from Germany as well. As I mentioned above, being on the field can be a life-changing experience so being there was obviously not a waste of time, but if we think about the internship as an opportunity to have hands-on experiences, then it was a failure. What happened in my case is that since I knew that the organization was not looking for interns, I offered myself to do a non-paid internship on a totally voluntary basis. Since they would not have to spend anything on me, I was accepted, but the time to go there could not have been worse because they were in a period between projects, so there was not much to do for an intern – obviously, because if they had work to be done they would have been looking for interns.
I think I can draw from my experience two pieces of advice for the ones who are still looking for an internship. Firstly, after being accepted for an internship position, do make sure that there will be tasks to be performed in the organization. This can be easily done by briefly talking to the internship coordinator. Ask him or her about the project you will be working on and what your part on it will be. If you are not happy with the answers, simply do not go. Secondly, if going to the field is minimally in accordance with your career plans, then do so. Get out of your comfort zone; go to places different from those you are used to. As hard as it may be, you will only be enriched by the experience.