A year in the thick of it…

We are living through a time of immense change in world politics.

From the day I interviewed for my year-long student placement at FleishmanHillard Brussels in February 2016 to today the world scene has turned on its head. The UK voted to leave the EU, Trump was elected President of the United States, Commission President Juncker confirmed he would not run for a second term, and most importantly Jon Snow came back from the dead.

This is undoubtedly the most interesting time for a 20-year old student to be thrown into the heart of Europe, working with some of the world’s largest corporations.

Having spent six months supporting FleishmanHillard’s Environment and Transport team (and enjoying the beer and chips Brussels has to offer), I thought it would be appropriate to reflect on my experience. And give you my reasons why taking a year out of study to work in EU public affairs was the best decision I have made.

  • Exposure – Within my first few weeks I was trusted to find my way around the maze that is the European Parliament. In spite of getting lost on the way in… and way out, I was able to see with my own eyes how decisions are made, what matters to Parliamentarians, and why all actors, from NGOs to private sector companies should be included in the political debate. From aviation to trade or road transport policy I help execute public affairs campaigns. My work has allowed me to understand the link between policy, corporate strategies, and business operations. For a second-year Politics students, that is the epitome of putting theory into practice.
  • Brexit – As a self-proclaimed politics nerd, and one who wants to know everything about Brexit at every stage (it’s going to impact many aspects of my life unfortunately), I have been privileged to have been given a front row seat to the unfolding discussions on the future of the EU-UK relationship. While everyone speaks of Brexit on both sides of the Channel, I have had the opportunity to read high quality analyses on the impact for key sectors of the UK economy, and understand the nuances of the political negotiations. Thankfully my colleagues do not hate ‘the Brits’; they just look down on us for our subpar beer (fair enough).
  • Diversity – In a recent office survey we discovered that there are 18 different languages spoken in the office. In light of the many important elections, due to take place in 2017, colleagues have presented insightful trainings on the Dutch, German, French and Italian elections providing an understanding of the issue which only a native could provide. These different perspectives have made me much more able to best service clients facing interconnected challenges while operating in multiple markets. I am very happy to have been privileged to work with such an array of personalities, each of them bringing an individual perspective and knowledge to issues.
  • Dynamism – Working in a consultancy is as dynamic a role as you will find. In the morning you could be working on the details of the Aviation Emissions Trading System and its interplay with the ICAO agreement, in the evening you could be at an event chasing new business or networking. This division between client servicing and new business generation keeps you on your toes and makes no day the same.

In the STEM subjects it is quite common for students to undergo a placement year during their degree. It totally makes sense: you gain real world experience that can be applied back into your studies when you return to complete your degree. You can begin to build your network; this makes you more employable and helps you to figure out your career goals.

In a few months, I am about to dive into my final year at university with a renewed sense of focus. I am grateful for the opportunity and would strongly advise all social science or humanities students that are thinking of applying for a placement to do it. I can promise you that you will not regret it.