Editorial note: Last month Gemma Amran turned the conventional pupillage hunt narrative on its head when she wrote about how not getting a pupillage hadn’t been such a bad thing for her. Here Gemma charts her journey from the BPTC to the European Commission.
Fast forward five years: I had just finished the BVC (renamed the BPTC in 2010), I had no pupillage and was struggling to find employment. One late dewy summer afternoon as I sat in a London park contemplating my future, my head suddenly turned towards the horizon and a calm and soothing voice overwhelmed me, "Look to Europe," it said...
I retraced the steps I’d made five years earlier and applied to the European Commission again. This time I spent a lot of time researching the different departments, as well as the types of roles offered, trying to be strategic about my choices. I had a good bit of criminal law and employment law experience. I also preferred to work in an environment where my legal skills complemented the policy work, rather than working strictly on the technical aspects of European law.
Weighing up my options and my chances of success, I applied to the department of justice followed by the department of employment and social affairs. This time round, I made sure my application was fool proof: it was packed with university transcripts and job and academic references. Once I got past the first stage of the selection process, I targeted certain units which I would like to work in. After some phone interviews, I got offered a stage (an internship) in the procedural criminal law unit of the department of justice.
I began my five month (paid) internship in the spring of 2011. As well as fearing that I might have slightly over-estimated my French language skills, I also worried about my stage in life. Turning 28, starting an internship and living on a tight budget was not the life I had envisaged growing up. But with hindsight, I can safely say that leaving London and starting afresh in Brussels has brought much fulfilment.
I felt particularly lucky to work on legislative proposals, helping to protect the rights of defendants in criminal proceedings. I spent my internship researching member states' legislation and European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) case law, and attending negotiations between the European Parliament and the European Council (which represent the interests of member states) on these proposals. Not only did I have the opportunity to work on policies that make a difference to people’s lives across the European Union, I met many of the actors that make it happen: the civil servants, the lawyers, the politicians and the activists.
Life has been much simpler here. Whereas I encountered difficulties in the job market in London, luck appears to be more in my favour in Brussels. After my internship, I managed to continue working in my unit on a temporary contract for another eight months. I then moved on to the department of education and culture working on exchange programmes. In September, I will move to the department of home affairs to work on anti-terror and asylum policies.
Brussels itself is a strange beast, being a predominantly French-speaking city in the middle of Dutch-speaking Flanders. Add in the Euro-bubble, the Congolese, North African, South American and Vietnamese communities, and you can see it’s a city which thrives on its inability to properly identify itself. Being a cultural mix-bag myself, this crisis of identity has its part to play in what makes my life here so enriching and dynamic.
In the last year, my eyes have been opened to the numerous opportunities to work on the issues that matter, which are not limited to the European Commission. As well as the other European institutions and agencies, Brussels is littered with NGOs, charities, consultancies, trade associations, lobbyist groups and law firms. Amid it all, post-BPTC life continues.
Gemma Amran is a national agency desk officer in the department of education and culture of the European Commission