My Share of “Common Sense” on Internships

by: Maria Sheviakova

Giving internship possibilities some thought, I decided that for me the best time to do it would be during my first winter break – the competition for limited internship positions during the summer is much more intense and travelling seems way more attractive. Thus, to get an internship starting mid-February, I began my search of a host organization in the beginning of November, and eventually was offered an internship in the Budapest-based NGO “Common Sense Society” (CSS).

Common sense is defined by Merriam-Webster as “sound and prudent judgment based on a simple perception of the situation or facts” and this is pretty much what CSS is trying to achieve by promoting civic engagement, entrepreneurship, and the ideals of responsible liberty among university students and young professionals in Hungary through a series of different educational programs.

CSS was established in 2009 in Budapest, Hungary as a non-profit organization governed exclusively by young people. The leadership of CSS has a rather flat hierarchy. This is explained, first, by the non-binding and voluntary nature of the staff’s involvement in the Society’s activities; second, by the fact that all the leaders of the organization currently reside outside Hungary, mainly in Washington, DC, and split their time flying between the countries.

This has both positive and negative sides. On the one hand, since the organization is non-profit and the staff is not paid for working there, it gives flexibility to combine work in CSS with studies or a full-time occupation. As all internal processes and communications are managed via Internet, it reduces the costs for renting an office space, for instance. Geographical diversity helps to establish international networks and brings new partners into joint projects. On the other hand, such a distant mode of work sometimes complicates coordination of activities between Washington and Budapest and slows down the alignment of positions on different issues.

For me personally, it was definitely a positive experience to get an insight into the distant mode of an organization’s management, which is a challenging but mandatory skill for any leader in the age of Internet.

As an intern, I was involved in four sets of activities:

  • Organization and preparation of public events,
  • Contribution to the Weekly Digest newsletter,
  • Writing articles for the Paprika Politik blog,
  • Preparation of the Summer Leadership Academy 2013.

CSS hosts regular activities for its members – debates, panel discussions, lectures, workshops, film screenings, book events, etc. During my stay in Hungary, I had the opportunity to assist in the preparation of the Future of Europe Debate, which is a series of three parliamentary style debates, a joint initiative with the European Commission Representation in Hungary. The main focus of the debate was: the European Union’s welfare model and its viability in times of crisis; austerity measures and their impact on growth; the EU 2020 Strategy and EU-Hungary dialogue.

Another event we were organizing was a film screening of “Debtocracy”, a documentary made by Greek journalists about the causes of the Greek debt crisis in 2010. The choice of this particular film is explained by the urge to broaden our perspective while talking about the current economic crisis and to get to know other interpretations of the story.

A second task for me as an intern was contributing to the Weekly Digest newsletter which is a summary of the most interesting and important news stories in the past week on politics, economics, society and culture. This activity, though simple and quite routine in execution, enhanced my understating of the Hungarian political landscape and gave me an overview of its current economic situation. Besides, it improved my knowledge of various media discourses on Central European politics as I was responsible for articles in three languages – Russian, English and Spanish.

The most interesting and challenging task for me was writing for the Paprika Politik blog as an independent writer. By now, I have had two pieces published – one article on youth unemployment in the EU (http://www.paprikapolitik.com/2013/03/europes-lost-generation/)  and a feature story about the innovative Hungarian project “Odoo” as a part of a series on entrepreneurship (http://www.paprikapolitik.com/2013/04/young-innovators-design-odoo-house/) .

Finally, the last project I was working on is the preparation of the Summer Leadership Academy which will be held in August 2013.

Generally, the internship at CSS was a positive experience in the light of studying in the Master of Public Policy (MPP) program. As it requires a high degree of autonomy, it can be recommended to students who are able to work independently, show initiative, and implement their own projects.

Besides, Budapest is an amazing city with its eastern European charm, and it is definitely worth staying there for a while.