"Internships are one if not the best way to realise if you actually want to work in the field"

 

Headshot of alumna Michela Pittalis

Michela's story

Michela Pittalis

Programme and major: Global Studies, Political Science major
Cohort: 2017-2019
Name of the organization: SUARAM (Suara Rakyat Malaysia)
Country: Malaysia

Why did you decide to do an internship?

The main reason why I decided to do an internship is that after a few years of academic studies I really wished to have some concrete experience in the field – political science – which, I believe, can be pretty theoretical/abstract. I wanted to put myself out there and see if it was all how I imagined it. I guess I also wanted to get out of my comfort zone – both Lund and the university life – and see how I would be/feel in a different context, be it social, cultural and professional. 

How did you find your internship?

I began to look for an internship relatively early on and I’m happy about that since it was good to start familiarising myself with websites and organisations in advance, both to think about what I wanted and to get a feeling of opportunities in the field. Like many, I started applying to big organisations (UN, EU, WHO, WFP, etc.) and slowly moved to smaller ones. I found SUARAM in a website which listed the member organisations of the World Organisation Against Torture. I sent them an email with my CV and they got back to me asking for an interview. I got two more interviews in the same way. So, my best advice is to not focus only on “open placements” but send emails around with your CV and cover letter (even when they do not advertise intern positions)! Please do not despair when you see that either no one replies to you or you keep receiving negative feedback. Keep going! I personally sent more than 70 applications, and I can count on less than two hands the number of those that got back to me.

I did not have many expectations before starting my internship, which I think, generally speaking, is a good thing. It turned out to be an amazing experience. I loved the work my organisation was doing in the field of human rights, which mainly consisted in advocacy, campaigning and awareness raising. I was lucky to have extremely passionate colleagues who were an inspiration and a model for me. I learned first-hand what the work of an NGO consists in, its struggles and victories.

What should students think about when they search and apply for internships?

I think the best approach is to be open and flexible but at the same time to know what you want and what your inclinations are. For example, since my course was pretty broad, I could choose among a variety of issues (ex. human rights, development, women’s empowerment) and type of work (ex. NGOs, international organisations, community-based organisations). Learning outcomes and exposure highly depend on who you are going to work for. In this sense, if you are applying for an NGO, you’ll probably have more chances to come into contact with the community compared to a big organisation which could be working on a more normative level. 

Which of your responsibilities were the most interesting and challenging? Can you think of some task you did not enjoy doing while on internship?

What I liked the most was participating in workshops, conferences and meetings with stakeholders. I feel like those were the times I learned the most and had direct contact with issues and people affected or fighting the problem. I personally found challenging writing media statements and official letters since they follow a format and style quite different from the usual academic assignments. Maybe one task I did not particularly find “exciting” was media monitoring. Although it was very important and had a good aim, it was rather repetitive. 

Would you recommend students to do an internship? Why?

I think internships are one if not the best way to realise if you actually want to work in the field you have chosen for your studies since sometimes that may not be the case. Even if you already know that or have had other experiences, I believe it’s good to challenge yourself and try something new. And you never know what the future brings! For example, thanks to the internship, I found the topic for my thesis. Also, I know people that were lucky enough to stay with the team after graduation.