Internship opens closed doors

Milja Komulainen, a final year student in the European Studies programme at Tampereen lyseon lukio high school, found the internship of her dreams at the European Parliament. She learned a lot in five days.

Your attitude should be: I’m going to get that internship!” laughs Milja Komulainen. For Komulainen, who completed her matriculation examination in spring 2014, that attitude made it possible for her to intern at the European Parliament - a dream come true.

Milja Komulainen and Elina Oksanen

Komulainen is studying in the European Studies programme at Tampereen lyseon lukio high school. The European Studies programme, launched in 2002, enables students to gain a deeper understanding of public life and decision-making than is usually possible in high school.

Twenty-five students are enrolled annually in the programme. It attracts students interested in social sciences and decision-making from around Finland. Komulainen, who is originally from Iisalmi, is one of several students who moved to Tampere to enroll in the European Studies programme.

In 2012, an internship was included in the programme. “We wanted to give students the opportunity to undertake an internship so that they would gain practical experience of working,” says Elina Oksanen, coordinator for the European Studies programme.

The goal is that students gain first-hand experience in types of work they are likely to pursue in the future. “High schools generally have very little contact with the job market, and we wanted to give students the opportunity to learn skills they will need in the future,” Oksanen explains.

Komulainen is among the first class of European Studies students who have undertaken the internship. For an unforgettable five days, she worked for Member of European Parliament Riikka Pakarinen in Brussels.

It pays to be bold

For many students, the thought of having to find their first internship seems challenging at first. University students compete for the same placements, and some employers do not want to take high school students. However, the majority of students are able to find an internship independently, Oksanen says.

Komulainen started her search by asking about internship opportunities at the Finnish Parliament, to no avail. Her own proactive attitude opened up an even more enticing opportunity, however. MEP Pakarinen was speaking in Hämeenlinna, so Komulainen showed up and asked a question that made an impression. “Pakarinen came to sit at my table after the event and encouraged me to get in contact with her if I needed anything. I asked about an internship, and she agreed right away.”

In her five days as an intern, Komulainen was able to do a lot: she prepared blog posts, sat in on sessions, and, being the only person proficient in Russian at Pakarinen’s office, compiled news summaries from Russian media. In the evenings, Pakarinen’s assistants introduced Komulainen to Brussels’s sights.

“It was an amazing experience! I have always been interested in public affairs, and the internship afforded me the opportunity to peek behind closed doors. I gained a better understanding of how multifaceted the work of an MEP is and how the European Parliament works.”

All European Studies students take part in a study trip to Brussels, including a visit to the European Parliament. Studying in the European Studies programme and participating in such trips gives a good idea of the workings of the Parliament, notes Komulainen, but working there herself enabled her to gain a more detailed picture of an MEP’s work.

“The study trip was a good experience, but it was a completely different thing to actually be working at the Parliament. The internship was really inspiring,” Komulainen enthuses.

Risks worth taking

Komulainen has finished her matriculation examination, and in spring 2014, she is applying to study International Relations at the University of Tampere.

European Studies students take university courses during high school, and Komulainen has already completed the introductory course in International Relations.

“Students can freely choose university courses, but most take courses in administration, law, economics or journalism,” Oksanen explains.

One goal of the European Studies internship is to enable students to gain a clearer idea of what kinds of work they could do after studying a particular field at university. “International Relations, for instance, does not prepare you for a specific profession. Everyone knows what kind of work you can do after graduating as a teacher, but this can be unclear with many university degree programmes,” Oksanen says.

In her internship, Komulainen gained a rich understanding of how the European Parliament works, and working there in the future is a dream of hers.

Her advice for students seeking internships is clear: “Be confident and bold. Contact people directly. Take risks: apply to places you initially do not have the nerve to apply to. As a high school student, it is understandable to think that you do not have enough experience, but by confidently contacting people you may be surprisingly successful.”

Text: Juha Rudanko
Photo: Samuli Siirala

“Your attitude should be: I’m going to get that internship!” Read how one student made her dream come true.


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