WRITER AND BLOGGER ON INTERNATIONAL AFFAIRS
What do you do as Political journalism intern for Tremr?
Tremr is a platform for social blogging. It's a community for writers, who write on topics related to politics, culture, philosophy, religion and so on. I write a blog on international affairs - specialising in security, defence and conflict. Most of the time it means that I sit somewhere with my computer and write articles, while worrying about all the topics I need to write about.
This is your fourth internship since you started your BA. There is a lot of debate about internship and their fairness. What is your take on it?
The internship culture has reached the point where there is a need for serious debate on its purpose. Internships should be a chance for young people to get first-hand experiences and insights into their chosen field, whilst for companies and institutions it is a chance to find and familiarise themselves with the talent available.
However, the internship culture is not about getting experiences and insights anymore. Rather, it has become a condition to get a job and an opportunity for institutions to cover their missing workforce. It is especially appalling when the internship is unpaid and an intern has to work with a thin promise of future employment or not even that. There is a gap in enforcing legislation and institutions are taking the most from it.
Internships should be about developing a future workforce. Companies should see interns as the people who will continue carrying their work and values; they should think about how to transfer their aims and expertise so the same mistakes will not be repeated in the future.
In short: stop seeing interns as a competition or a young, naïve and easy workforce. Rather, see them as an opportunity to continue your work, values and expertise!
Any tips for our readers about how to make their internship worthwhile and what they should look out for when applying?
I recommend seeing an internship as a tool, like a phone for example, which you can use for your benefit.
For example, use it to gain specific and practical knowledge in your field. Use it for gathering specific knowledge that helps you to stand out at school, networking and job hunting. Attend every event, talk, lecture, film screening etc. that is taking place in your company or institution and try to read every magazine, report, briefing that they produce or have around their office. This information and expertise you gather is great basis to start to writing articles or a blog.
Secondly, take every chance to make your face known. Talk to people, help them, be active, offer and show your skills. Don't just sit behind your desk. You are going to need those contacts some day, or they might need you. Therefore, invest time and create good relations with your colleagues and professionals you work with.
A final note about internships - do not underestimate the value of small organisations or companies. In smaller organisations, you actually get closer to the real action, which means that you can actually do more interesting things that require greater responsibility that will give you more experience and skills.
Your first internship was at the European Parliament. What was it like?
I worked at the MEP Siiri Oviir’s office at the European Parliament between my first and second year at university. I had the perfect first internship, since I gained skills and experiences in office administration, but also had the freedom to attend as many committee meetings and hearings on topics close to my heart. At that time, it was the height of Syrian conflict and this kept me really busy, since there were many events happening in the parliament.
This internship also had the significant effect of bringing me closer to reality. For me, the European Union represented the dream that I hoped to achieve one day. I had all these expectations about how it would be to work there - meeting important people, attending meetings, the feeling of having an impact... You will do all of this, but you also spend hours researching, answering emails, filling documents and completing necessary tasks that seem pointless. Following this experience, my view about what it actually means to work for an international organisation became much more realistic - of course, this in itself is extremely valuable.
I very much recommend seeking an internship at the European Parliament. First of all, they pay. Secondly, it is a great insight into the working mechanism of the EU, which comes handy in whatever political theme you are interested in. Finally, it gives you a chance to work in Brussels, which is the political hub of Europe. I got my internship through sending an email to the Estonian MEP, stating who I am and my need for work experience. I was fortunate that they replied. So, be courageous and ask for what you need and want.
You then interned at the Estonian Embassy in Tel Aviv. What did you do there?
I helped out with the daily tasks of embassy and also wrote an overview of Israel’s economic and business culture. Again, this internship crushed my expectations and brought me nearer to reality. I had a bit this romantic understanding of diplomacy and the work of embassy based on books and films. Actually, it is much more about sitting behind a desk and writing reports and overviews.
The most valuable part of this internship was that I had the chance to live in Israel for a month. This really changed my perspective on how I approached societal and political issues. I finally grasped that politics is not black and white, right and wrong. Rather, it is mostly grey and there are better and worse solutions. Therefore, it is normal and acceptable to say: 'I acknowledge the complexity of political problems and therefore I do not have a clear position in this matter.' It is essential to understand this when working in foreign policy because it gives you a balanced view and allows you to access all the actors involved in the issue.
Your fourth internship was in summer 2013, with the Estonian Ministry of Defence. What did that entail?
At the Ministry of Defence I wrote and updated documents and ended up preparing paperwork for official visits and events. I was very fortunate to have the chance to support the organisation of the Annual Baltic Conference on Defence as well. Since I had the chance to meet with people from the field and industry the event was a real boost to my motivation.
York chose me! When I was applying for university in 2010, I really wanted to get into Cambridge and Edinburgh. I got to the interview stage at Cambridge, but in the end I was not selected. Edinburgh declined my application immediately. So, I was left with my other three choices of which one was York, which I initially chose, because it was a good university and I was missing one choice out of five. I actually didn't know much about it!
Now, looking back, I am incredibly happy that I ended up in York. I had to learn a lot about academic study, since my education in Estonia had not prepared me to face the requirements of British academia. While I studied hard and learned a lot, also had enough time to get involved with great activities and develop as a person. I value this immensely and I do not think I would have had this time at Cambridge.
I definitely recommend York, because it gives you enough time to enjoy university to its fullest. It is a campus university, which I think is essential for undergraduate degree and the town is beautiful. It has enough life to keep you entertained, but at the same time it is small enough, so it is convenient to move around and keep your costs down.
In regards to the Politics degree, I recommend York if you are unsure about the areas you want to specialise in. The course offers a very wide introduction and the choice of modules is very broad. This allows you to try out different topics and themes that you might have not been interested in at the first place. But when you have got a specific topic in your mind, for example intervention or green politics, then I do recommend looking for departments that specialise on this specific area. Then again, you probably get the chance to study your area of interest in York as well due to its broad range of subjects.
You are at the early stages of your career - what is your career plan?
I do not have a career plan. My only requirement to my career is that I want to work with topics and themes I feel passionate and I am interested in.
Firstly, it allows me the flexibility that today’s employment market, especially in international affairs, requires and secondly, I can avoid the disappointment when my chosen career plan does not end up being what I expected it to be.
Also, this approach allows me to gain wide range of experience, from the public, private and media sectors. Knowing different industries does have long-term benefits - you are likely to work in those industries one day. For example, in politics you have to deal with the media or you need the support of private sector and it's good to know how they work.
What would you recommend to a young woman who would like to pursue a similar career?
Just do it! If this is your passion, then put it first and let that passion carry you to different parts of the world and different work positions.
Secondly, focus on your aims and goals. Do not think what others are doing is better or worse. The only thing that matters is what you are doing and where you want to end up.
Thirdly, stay true to yourself. If you are not comfortable with the people, tasks or values you are required to represent, then do not think it will get better or it will change. Sometimes it does change, but most likely it will not, and you have just wasted your time.
Finally, surround yourself with people, who support you and see the best in you. Turn your back to people who bring you down or make you feel bad. Also, consider that people change and you change, therefore do not keep toxic relations because of the past. It might have been fun in the past, but if present is negative... then leave.
But here there is also an important note to be made - learn to understand the difference between justified criticism (with the purpose to make you better) and mean and negative comments! The first is the most valuable, because it shows that these people care so much that they are willing to risk their relationship with you. No one wants to fight, so appreciate that they are willing to do that just so you can improve.
What was your first job and what did you learn doing it you still use today?
My first job was a volunteer ticket controller at an International Film Festival in Estonia. I was 15 at that time, despite the fact that the minimum age requirement for volunteering was 16. The way I got the position, and later worked my way up to an info service guru, was all thanks to my passion and people who taught me to not care about my age and focus on my skills and talents.
When I saw the advertisement and the age requirement, I told my mother that I couldn't apply, because I wasn't old enough. She told me to try anyway. What's the worst that can happen - they tell you to apply next year, when you have turned 16? So, I sent my application and I explained that I was younger than required, but that I had the passion for cinema and films and I wanted to work for the festival. I was selected.
I took my position very seriously. I was pro-active, always volunteered for tasks and I engaged with fellow volunteers. About six months after the festival, I received an email that offered me the chance to work for the info service. The info service gurus are responsible for the whole cinema and the volunteers. The job entails a lot of responsibility, since you need to keep everything running smoothly. I was taken aback by this offer and I wrote once more, saying that I was now 16 and were they were sure I could fulfil the responsibilities? I got a reply saying that I had passion and initiative, and that is all that really matters. Again, I was valued for my skills and abilities. I ended up doing the job for three years until I left for university.
I learned that age, gender, background, ethnicity - they only matter when we make them matter. I think we sabotage ourselves sometimes and we need to stop doing that. What matters are our skills, talents, knowledge and experiences and we can assess our suitability only, and only, based on these factors. I am forever grateful to those that showed me that.
What are the most and least rewarding aspects of your career so far?
The most rewarding moments have been situations where I have managed to argue my case successfully. It gives me a lot of confidence and motivation, when I see that my point is acknowledged or agreed with. It shows me that my principles, understandings and values are worthwhile to pursue.
I think that the least rewarding part of my career has been meeting people, whose first aim is their career. It is incredibly tiring and frustrating to work with people, who do not share the similar passion for international politics. But here comes the point where I think it is important to stay true to yourself and prioritise your aims. In the end of the day, you have to work together with people in order to pursue your passion and fulfil your dreams and it is important to prioritise that over everything else.
What are the key skills that make you good at what you do? How did you gain them?
I think there are three skills that are absolutely essential to foreign policy:
Firstly, the skill to observe, which in addition requires patience, analytical thought, listen skills and the ability to know when it is the right time to say or do something. Timing is everything and it is important to know when it is the right time and when it is not. This knowledge comes through observations.
Secondly, networking and good social skills are essential. It does not matter how independent you are, you need other people, because you just can't do or know everything. Therefore, it is absolutely essential to surround yourself with people who could help you and with who you have good enough relations to ask for help.
Finally - unfortunately in today’s world you have to sell your ideas and beliefs however good they are. This requires good debating skills, so you know what to say and how to say it.
What is the toughest lesson you have learnt?
Plans do not always work out. You have to be ready to adapt your plans and you have to learn to accept defeat. For me it's hard - I end up being immensely self-critical and I am capable of bringing myself and my motivation down. I have learned to work around it by being more flexible and embracing alternative offers and plans, but it has not been easy and I still have a long way to go.
What has been your biggest challenge and how did you tackle it?
Between my second and third year, I lost my passion for international relations. My summer, spent interning in Tel Aviv and at the Ministry of Defence, was exhausting and I had such high expectations which all collapsed around me. So, I had an eight-month existential crisis, thinking about what I was going to do with my future. Were international affairs for me? Did I want to work in this environment?
I overcame it. I focused on my studies and the parts that were positive and enjoyable. Now, I have reached to this good medium of still having my passion, but also being more realistic about the field and the actual work.
What achievements are you most proud of?
I am proud that I have maintained self-respect and dignity in difficult situations. Sometimes, it is easier to fire back with same weapons, but these weapons have not been always acceptable to me and I refused to use them. For example, when someone is shouting at you, your first instinct is to shout back. But then you realise that shouting is stupid and by shouting back you will fall to the same level. So, you are stupid as well.
Also, I am proud that I have managed to combine my passion for travelling and other cultures with my need for work experience. Thanks to this, I have lived short term in three different countries - Belgium, Israel and the UK.
Why the interest in foreign policy?
I like the challenge that foreign policy poses. I enjoy the complexity of the issues due to cultural, religious, historic and societal reasons and the importance to observe, challenge and defend your values and principles.
I have been characterised as a principled person. I believe that values are the most important part of society, politics and international affairs. Foreign policy offers me the chance to defend my values and understandings, and forces me to consider other values and find ways to make them work with ones that differentiate from my own.
Finally, the possibility that I can change things gives me immense motivation. Whilst I value history a lot, I think I would have never been happy pursuing this career field for example, because I cannot change things that happened in the past. With foreign policy, I can actually use history to improve things.
Do you have a role model and if so who and why?
I have quite a few people I look up to, but I think that there are three main people who have boosted my confidence and grown my ambition. The first is Christopher Hitchens - his book Letters to Young Contrarian is an essential read. The main idea that I took from it is to never let anyone do the thinking for you. I believe this to be essential in working in politics and international affairs. A courageous person who lives by this truth is Hannah Arendt. Her arguments in Eichmann in Jerusalem demonstrate what will happen if we stop thinking for ourselves.
Finally, I read the memoirs of Madeleine Albright, the first female US Secretary of State, when I was 16-years-old. That book made me realise that I want to be part of international affairs, since it is written from a personal perspective that shows what it means to be a person in foreign policy and what it means to be woman in global politics.
Piret Kuusik | Writer and blogger on international affairs
Two years' experience
CV in brief
At the European Parliament
"Internships should be about developing a future workforce. Companies should see interns as the people who will continue carrying their work and values; they should think about how to transfer their aims and their expertise so the same mistakes will not be repeated in the future."
"I very much recommend seeking an internship at the European Parliament. First of all, they pay. Secondly, it is a great insight into the working mechanism of the EU, which comes handy in whatever political theme you are interested in. Finally, it gives you a chance to work in Brussels, which is the political hub of Europe."