I completed my six-month internship at URBACT which is an European territorial cooperation programme for cities. The secretariat of the programme, where I was working, is located in Paris. The programme promotes integrated sustainable urban development by providing transnational networking and capacity-building activities among others. My role as an intern was to analyze action plans and other result products produced by the networks and their local partners, spotting good practices but also the local realities of the challenges and communicating these back to the programme. In other words, the programme does not attempt to give “copy-paste”-solutions but it offers tools, methods and connections for the cities to work on their local challenges together.
The internship provided me a concrete possibility to learn more about the diversity of European cities. For example, one of our networks worked on suburban revitalization with partners from Spain to Germany and Romania to Norway. Having a possibility to visit these projects and work with the local stakeholders was one of the highlights of my internship since it expanded my perception of suburbs which was so far strongly anchored to the Finnish reality mostly. In addition to personal learning, I was also able to give back to the programme by using the analytical work to develop a community mapping tool which helps the partners to see their common topics of interest and cooperation possibilities. I also had an honor to present the tool at URBACT City Festival 2018 in Lisbon and to discuss about it with experts and decision-makers across Europe. By disseminating the learnings in events like this, URBACT also feeds back to both local and European Union -levels. The latter defines the objectives for urban development in Europe, and actors like URBACT have an important role of assuring that the voices of local urban initiatives, their aims and challenges, are heard in the larger entities as well.
Career wise, the internship helped me to understand the value of my multidisciplinary background. Having studied public policy, migration studies and urban planning, I had difficulties in finding a clear professional identity. In the job interview for the internship, I described my study background as “rather weird” but soon I found out I was going to work with people with even more colorful backgrounds. Having at least a basic understanding on the different urban topics helped enormously in the qualitative analytical work when the topics of my daily work varied from immigrant inclusion, climate change, digital transition to freight transport.
Previously in my bachelor studies, I also spent my exchange year in Paris but moving back was not my main motive. Finding this internship in the same city was a coincidence and I would have accepted the offer even if the programme would have located in another city. An international internship means only moving away for a temporary period and it is a relatively easy way of trying working abroad. However, having a decent level of the local language is helping with practicalities and the bureaucracy, especially in France. My office was bilingual in French and English, which made it easier to adapt in the beginning. It takes energy to live in a place far away from your family and friends, and to work in another language and culture, but it is worth it in my case. Beside the work itself, I appreciated the after-works, cooking competitions and BBQ-parties with my food-loving colleagues, occasional free moments to explore a city alone during transnational meeting trips and cheering for Les Bleus with the neighbors. All these moments and people were an important part of my internship experience.
Author: Yu-Yi Huynh