Politics and Policies of the EU: Internship Program in Brussels

Brussels, Belgium

Friday, May 25, 2012

Interview Review

In the first week in which we participated in everywhere from four to six interviews each I often felt like an enormous practical joke was being played on me. Or perhaps it was more of a game, one in which I wasn't too sure of all the rules. They arm twelve students who may or may not have any command of the French or Dutch language with a list of offices where they are to interview, a metro/bus/tram card, a metro map, and a map book of Brussels that was an exercise in cartography itself just to figure out how to use the book as something other than a paperweight or coaster. Then send the students off into the city with a warning not to be late or more than five minutes early to their interviews. Then to add a twist to the game, not every street is signed. Sometimes the sign is only on one side of the street, attached high on the wall of a building, sometimes its at the other END of the street, and sometimes its just not there at all. I even had one street appear that wasn't in my book of mystery maps; which threw my whole plan off on how to reach my office (which was in an un-signed street). Naturally, each and everyone of us gets lost, turned around, and eventually desperate enough to try out the three or four words of French we picked up at the airport when we landed. I feel like this must be hysterical for the people of Belgium to watch every summer. Luckily, they also take mercy on us and after listening politely to us (re: me) completely mangle their language, respond back in almost flawless English.
       After this initial week of trial-by-fire orienteering though I see there is real value to it. Now after one week I have a much better sense for finding my way around Brussels (after all, with all my wanderings, getting lost, and doubling back, I've seen most of it), and am comfortable with using the metro, bus and tram system. I even use my map book for its intended purpose. Additionally, all the walking we did has helped to counter all the waffles I've been eating. For anyone who has never been to Belgium before, the rumors are true, they have the best waffles.
        My last impression from our first week was that the business culture appears to be more relaxed than it is in the U.S. The clock is not so strictly watched as supervisors seem to be somewhat flexible as to when you arrive, lunches often last over an hour and coffee breaks are expected. It feels like they try to build an atmosphere in which the employee is comfortable and in which the quality of the work vs. the quantity is emphasized.