I spent the months from February to June with the AEJ. During those months, I discovered passions I never knew were there, I met people whose stories inspired me, I learned more about my new home: Europe and I discovered the magic of networking.

I am South African born and have called Belgium home for five years. I was not familiar with the EU until I arrived, and even what I learned was the bare minimum. I remember being stressed about my lack of knowledge at the beginning of February. Looking back now, I can see that it gave me a unique insight to the EU as everything I saw, heard, and learned, I did with the framework of my life in South Africa and my experience as a foreigner in Belgium. This perspective opened interesting international doors for me during my internship, such as attending the Africa-Europe Week and MAISHA concert and covering Herman Grech’s play ‘They Blew Her Up.’

My time under the mentorship of Honorary President Lieven Taillie taught me the importance of networking. I remember marvelling at the number of people Lieven knew who could help me on certain pieces or give me background information on topics I was researching. AEJ Belgium’s CFO Wytze Van der Gaast was also a big part of teaching me to network as he allowed me to assist him in many projects, most notably the screenings of the LUX movies at the Press Club Brussels Europe. It was at one of these screenings that I had the opportunity to speak with Movement on the Ground co-founder Adil Izemrane and his passion for refugees, or “those forced to flee their homes”- a title he prefers to use to humanise them.

Apart from these valuable lessons, I also had the opportunity to visit the European Parliament and Commission- something I doubt I ever would have experienced otherwise. I attended meetings and got lost more than once trying to find my way. This, and other experiences, helped me grow in confidence in myself as I realised that we are all people chasing our passions and trying to make the world a better place- or at least hoping we can.

My initial fears at the beginning of February were about feeling insignificant and inexperienced, but those fears were constantly proven to be misplaced as no one expected me to be an expert in the first place. One special occasion where I remember feeling like I belonged, was on Women’s Day. I went to the Press Club as I often did to do a bit of work and I did not even know it was Women’s Day. I got comfortable on a couch and started working when Alia, the Vice President of the AEJ walked in and started laying treats on the tables. When I asked if I should leave, she laughed and said, of course, I shouldn’t leave. I am a woman and was, therefore, more than welcome to stay for a Women’s Day brunch. Women of different, incredible professions walked in, and we sat for a while eating and talking and taking photos. I was no less welcome because of my age or lack of experience- which in my mind were two huge flashing neon signs on my forehead. I was simply a fellow woman and fellow ‘Brusselaar’ as we told stories of how we ended up in Brussels and laughed together.

My time at the AEJ was nowhere near what I was expecting. I was alone most of the time with often vague assignments. I was left to my own devices and told to find and write about topics I wanted to – if I could link it with Europe. As a very new player in the journalist game, I was hoping for more guidance on how to keep going after my exams or learn from an experienced journalist about how to get the most out of an interview or from an editor about what key things to look out for while writing. Although none of these happened, I still learned and grew a lot during those five months, and it gave me a step into the world of journalism that helped me land my first job as a journalist. It may not have been what I expected, but I will always remember my internship with the AEJ with fondness and appreciation.