Written by Guest blogger
This is a guest blog post by current student Saga Oskarson Kindstrand, studying BA (Hons) Politics.
My name is Saga, I am doing my bachelor in Politics at BU and just finished a 34 week placement at the Foundation for Environmental Education (FEE) in Copenhagen. I’m born and raised in Sweden but chose to attend university abroad to learn better English and get new perspectives on politics and society. I came to the UK in the midst of Brexit (which was interesting, scary, and confusing) and I’ve learned a lot so far.
I was very determined to find a good placement that suited my field and interests and started looking for places at the start of my second year. I was mainly looking at placement ads from companies and through employment websites, and didn’t think about asking places directly about placement opportunities. But in November, FEE sent out an email about an internship opportunity coming up after Christmas which was way too early for me (I had one whole semester left of my second year). But I sent them an email asking them if they needed an intern later on, along with my CV, and they said yes! I had attended a workshop organsied by this organisation in Portugal in 2018, so I had already been in some contact with their team in Copenhagen and was on their alumni mailing list.
I know Corona virus changed a lot and made many students’ placements impossible. I started in August 2020, just before the second wave hit Scandinavia, and was able to work at the office every other week for about a month before we got new restrictions and had to work from home full-time. However, since I was mainly doing communication and admin work I was able to continue working normally from home.
I rented an apartment in Malmö, Sweden, with a roommate which cut expenses a lot (Copenhagen is very expensive!) and commuted to Copenhagen. After a few months I moved in with my grandmother to help her out and save some money since I was only working from home anyways. This way, my funding was sufficient and I didn’t have to worry about getting a part-time job or anything like that. I also got student loans from Sweden during this time which helped a lot since my placement was unpaid. Of course, I would have preferred to have a paid internship but I didn’t find one in my field and I saw this experience as an investment for the future.
In terms of support, working from home can be a bit tricky. My supervisor was often very busy and I was not comfortable asking too many questions or booking her for meetings to ask for help, which led to me making mistakes and feeling confused a lot of the time. It wasn’t until my first review with my coordinator at BU that I understood that I was doing this placement to learn and that I wasn’t supposed to know everything already. Looking back, I wish I could have seen that a bit earlier, and if someone reads this I think that is my best advice I can give you. You are there to learn, and in order to learn you need to ask questions!
I am always quite shy, which was only made worse in a digital environment since it was so easy just sitting there listening with my microphone muted. But as soon as I started being more vocal and active during those meetings and discussions, I noticed my confidence grew considerably and that people appreciated my opinions and thoughts. I also learned so much more and had more fun.
Working from home was in some ways similar to studying in that you have a lot of alone-time and freedom to plan your day, which takes a lot of self-discipline. I personally love that aspect of university life, but it also has its drawbacks. For example, you lack the social aspects of having somewhere to go every day. Especially during those winter months, not having anywhere to go or do but sit inside, in front of the computer, could be very depressing and lonely. Sweden gets very dark during winter and it was always dark when I finished working. There is also the issue of not ever feeling like you’re off work. I had to find ways to deal with the stress of feeling like I always had to be available. I was constantly checking my email and just going for a walk could be difficult, since it often ended up with me rushing home to answer an urgent email. I think setting boundaries for yourself is crucial to remain sane.
Despite all of that, I am very happy I did this placement and a lot of the difficulties I faced were due to the pandemic, not the organisation itself. I feel so lucky I got to work with this amazing team at FEE and I learned so much about environmental education, NGOs, journalism, and much more I hope will be useful for my career in the future!
I would recommend everyone to try and get an internship and start looking early. If a company, institution or NGO puts out an ad for an internship, chances are they will need one in the future as well so don’t be afraid to ask even though the dates don’t match your academic year. I did not expect so much personal growth from these 34 weeks but in the end that is what I value the most from this experience.