The Brussels Field Study and Internship Program
Often Europe is reduced to a geographical collection of states and/or a young experiment in economic community struggling to add a political dimension. This perspective needs to be expanded, both in space and time, to encourage a historical, cultural and geo-political understanding of Europe as a continent, as the space where a specific civilization has developed that is unique in the world in some important ways, as well as a rich potpourri of sub- and supra-national cultures.
It is just this multi-layered Europe in its contemporary and yet historically-conditioned guises, striking in both its unity and diversity, that the proposed study program seeks to introduce to students originating from American university campuses. If there is a tendency on the other side of the Atlantic to see Europe as a simple economic entity, there is recent and growing interest on both sides of the Atlantic in providing a fuller account of the current reality known as ‘Europe’, an account that would draw on a wider range of voices to include cultural influences (writers, artists, philosophers) among others.
The choice of Brussels and Belgium is propitious in several ways: a space where multiple European cultures meet; a nation-state emblematic of and central to the great political and geopolitical constructs of the 19th century; emblematic also of the great European university tradition and of the tradition of humanism; an historically important European capital, including within the great empires (Roman, Spanish, Germanic), and today the policy and decisional center of the European Union as well as home to a lively, multi-lingual, contemporary and urbanized European culture.
Internships in Francophone Europe is a French not-for-profit educational organization, founded in France in 1987. Active in Paris, Strasbourg and Brussels, IFE offers French-language Field Study and Internship programs for undergraduates and recent graduates. These programs are academic programs of education abroad, lasting a semester or longer.
IFE was founded for the purpose of serving as a resource for advancing trans-Atlantic understanding and contributing to French and European studies in the US. It fulfills this mission principally by providing undergraduate and recent post-graduate students the opportunity, the preparation and the necessary structure for effective cross-cultural, French language-based education focused on contemporary French and European society.
Since its creation, IFE has developed close relations with a number of leading American colleges and universities. It has diversified its programs of cross-cultural learning while remaining focused on its central area of expertise: using its field-study-and-internship model to provide students the opportunity to discover France, Belgium and Europe from positions within French (or Belgian) society.
In 2004 IFE earned the "haut patronage" of the French Ministry of Education in recognition of its contributions to these objectives through its various programs.
The IFE mission-driven academic internship
THE FIELD STUDY AND INTERNSHIP MODEL
The Field Study and Internship model uses participation in the professional workplace of another society for language perfecting, inter-cultural learning, and acquiring comparative knowledge in a specific field.
IFE works individually with each student to identify a placement and research strategy that meets his or her academic and career goals.
The four principal elements of the success of this model are: thorough classroom preparation; topic-specific placement; guided independent field research; individualized accompaniment, follow-up, and advising.
All organizations which host IFE interns understand several key points:
This is a trans-cultural experience for both parties.
An IFE student is well prepared in general for the internship and will be ready to take on some responsibility after a short period of adaptation.
The student intern is to be included as part of a working team, interacting on a regular basis with other members of the team.
Hosting an intern requires a commitment of time and space to make sure the internship is a structured learning experience.
The individual placement strategy
At the core of the IFE model, the placement strategy for each enrolled student is put into place by IFE and the admitted student several months upstream of the start date of the program. The process begins with the “placement form” filed as part of the application for admission. This form provides applicants an opportunity to delineate what they hope to gain from the IFE Field Study and Internship semester as well as to describe their relevant background, skills and any other ideas they
may have for the internship (such as type of organization).
This approach is the core of IFE programs. In any semester, as many as one-third of IFE students hold internships that have been arranged by IFE for the first time, despite scores of host organizations already known to IFE — but not appropriate for specific student projects.
Types of organizations, range of fields
No two student interns are exactly alike, and IFE works with a broad variety of organization types to ensure a good fit between an intern and the work environment. Government ministries, agencies, not-for-profits, schools, research centers, foundations, corporations, cultural institutions, laboratories, NGO’s, small firms and partnerships, media organizations, are some of the organizational categories in which IFE student interns go to work.
Variety also results from IFE’s commitment to placing students as close to the heart of their chosen interest as possible. A typical IFE student group may include students of art history and museology, physics, international relations with a range of area interests, social and cultural anthropology, sociology and social work, peace studies, French and Francophone literature, economics, English or comparative literature, contemporary art and markets, architecture, biology and pre-medicine or public health, marketing, many types of engineering, mathematics for the social sciences, fashion, public policy, urban studies, Romance languages, management of organizations and still other fields.
The IFE preparatory sessions
Why an intensive preparation before the internship begins?
To enable students to take the step across the line that separates observers from participants, the IFE model begins with five weeks of classroom training, a mix of lectures and workshops combined with site visits. The IFE preparatory sessions provide students with an in-depth introduction to the local setting and culture that will be their milieu for living, working and studying during eighteen weeks.
How does the preparation work?
The pedagogical approach practiced in all three cities mixes lectures with small- group workshop classes for discussion, debate, press review, oral presentation, site visits and lecture/visits. In this way a balance is struck between needed new material on one hand and, on the other hand, a chance to work with new facts and concepts, in French, applying them to a reading of current events.
What is the language of the preparatory session?
All instruction in all three programs is solely in French. French is the only language spoken during the preparatory session in class and outside of class while present on IFE’s premises in the three cities.
What is the content of the preparatory session?
Read more about the specific courses comprising the preparatory curriculum:
The curriculum of the Brussels Program
Preparing students to participate in Brussels and Belgium.
The overall approach is to train students in multiple ways of examining contemporary Brussels and Belgium both for their own sake as well as for what they embody of European realities past and present, cultural, political, societal. Once prepared in this way, students will be able to continue this learning path through intensive professional engagement in their chosen area.
A note on local languages and Flemish culture: As is only fitting for student interns preparing for engagement in a multilingual setting, the preparatory session also includes 15-20 hours of Dutch language instruction, to equip students with a minimum of conversational capacity (my name is...etc.), as an act of cultural sensitivity and yet another gateway into local society.
Three courses comprise the Preparatory Session (+ conversational Dutch)
Course I - Belgium: A contemporary European culture
This course is intended to build students’ understanding of what it is to be Belgian and European by examining Belgian history through the lens of culture – and in particular literature and art – in the first three sessions, and then by focusing the last three sessions on three important aspects of contemporary Belgian culture: fiction, comic book art and cinema. Culture and identity is the sub-theme of the course, throughout the six sessions, brought out in both what is specifically Belgian in cultural terms and what are the quintessential European foundations of being Belgian. Taught by Frédéric Saenen.
Course II - Brussels in Belgium and in Europe: A socio-urbanist approach
_The goal of this course is to draw on Sociology, Economics and Urban Studies to understand Brussels specifically, and the Belgian cityscape more generally, in the context of European urban experience. Furthermore, examining the city will help students to grasp the sociological characteristics of Belgium in a European framework and in counterpoint to the United States.
By focusing on dynamics and problems – demographics, social stratification, social stakes, labor markets, migrations, inter-cultural relations, relation to Europe, Brussels’ role as a national and European capital, etc. – a multidimensional and integrative viewpoint is constructed. Taught by Marcel Roelandts.
Course III - Belgium in Europe and the World: A historical approach
This course enables students to situate Belgium in the “concert of nations” since the 19th century, using a joint historical/geo-political approach, as a method for illustrating major historical and political trends of Europe qua Europe. Questions examined include the colonial past and its lingering impact at home, the impact of two world wars, as well as the role of Belgium in the long and incomplete phenomenon of European integration. Belgium serves at once as the focus of examination as well as an illustration of larger European issues: the past, present and future of the nation-state, war and peace, colonialism and post-colonialism, sub- and supranational community and other issues. Taught by Chantel Kesteloot.
During the internship period
It is during the internship period that students work individually with their research advisor to delineate a research topic, set an outline, define sources, and produce the independent study field research project.
Student-interns also return weekly to IFE premises to attend a third academic course, a seminar which examines what it is to be European, including in practical daily terms, and searches for answers on several levels to this question.
Course IV - What is Europe? Culture, Institutions, Society(ies)
This course intends to deepen the understanding of Europe on the part of student-interns who are involved daily in the work life of Brussels by exploring more fully certain themes of the preparatory session, as well as introducing new themes such as an examination of the various “Europes” and “balconies” comprising the continent; the institutional environment; a study of European public opinion, democratization of the EU, and the notion of European citizenship; the relation of politics and culture in Europe (e.g. the impact of transnational space on local cultural identities). The question of what it is to be European, including in practical daily terms, and the search for answers on several levels serves as the organizing principle of the course. Taught by Virginie Von Ingelgom.
What is the outcome of the preparatory session?
At the end of the first five weeks of the program, students are much more confident in spoken French and boast a solid familiarity with local issues, concepts, historical foundations, and actors. They are now informed observers, ready to become informed participants.
And competent readers of the daily papers!
Field research – The internship in writing
The extensive independent study field research paper produced by the student is both the centerpiece of the intern’s professional engagement and the culmination of the academic achievements of the semester.
During the preparatory session IFE teaches the methodogical guidelines and principle to which students are expected to adhere in the development of their written research.
Students work individually with a research advisor from their field. The first task is to identify a topic, following guidelines established by IFE for research topic choice. The subject must be tied in a useful and complementary way to the student-intern’s responsibilities, as well as to the core concerns of the host organization. The research question should be designed to draw as much as possible on resources available to the intern via the internship (data, documents, interviews, observations, seminars and the like).
Students begin to focus on this project after the first 2-3 weeks on the internship. Each internship agreement signed with an organization makes explicit mention of this program requirement, and this is the culminating element of their semester. Once the topic is identified, students meet individually, as regularly as they wish, with their IFE research advisor to generate a research question from the topic, develop an outline, identify sources and research methods, and discuss drafts submitted by the student.
The research advisor also helps students prepare for the oral defense (soutenance) of their work which takes place a month before the end of the program and the due date of the paper. The purpose of this exercise is to help students evaluate their progress and diagnose the weak points in their outline and arguments.
Rather than an extraneous burden added to the intern’s other duties, the field research project grows out of the internship through a useful and rewarding synergy of internship and research.
The Field Study and Internship model results in well-trained student-interns fully engaged in mission-driven internships in their field, while exploring a critical problem guided by an experienced research advisor.
The Profiles section of this site contain sample profiles that illustrate the continuum which connects a student’s major and study abroad goals with the IFE placement and the topic of the independent study.
For more information: http://www.ife-edu.eu/Overview-52