Or DG-day, if you will. 1/9/2011: my first day as a trainee at the Directorate General of Communication, Web Communication Unit. Rolled out of bed, into the shower, and sped out the door, subjecting myself to the hustle and bustle of the noisy city life shifting into first gear. Where are you all going? Young people, old people, people who look like they would have wanted to get a couple more hours of sleep in (guilty!) people who look like they haven’t been to bed yet. In tram 25, over the sound of Adele – who is, incidentally, setting fire to the rain – I hear cellular phones going off and the occasional coughing up of morning phlegm. Fact: you know exactly which sound I’m talking about. Once out of the tram, I follow the stream into the metro station. Obligingly, I swipe my metro pass and get on the orange tube that will bring me to Maalbeek, which is as far as public transport will take me.
Once emerged from the underground, I take a left and another left as I begin my search for the right building. There’s no way of mistaking the European Vibe in the air, important-looking men in suits and elegant women in heels throw me sympathising (pitying…?) looks as I get out my map and double-check the address where I am expected at 9 o’clock. It is now 8.30h. Biting back the annoyance I feel at looking like a tourist in the city where I was born and raised, I continue up the street. Without too much trouble, I manage to find the MOY building, enter, and have a chat with the receptionist who tells me that; yes, I am in the right place. So I put my envelope back in my handbag and wait. The time is 8.45h, and I silently congratulate myself for making it there in time. At 8.50h I fish the envelope back out of my bag, mainly to give my hands something to do, and – horror – noticed a sentence at the end of the letter, casually informing me that I was in the wrong place at the wrong time. Apparently I need a badge to get into the building where I am expected at 9 o’clock. Ah. Off I go again. So much for punctuality.
It is 8.55h and I find myself queuing (Swedish style!) with a group of trainees in the “Centre d’Accréditation” to get a badge, with a horrible picture to match. I hurry back to the MOY building, past security; and hit the elevator button that should take me to the 2nd floor. Scratch that, I take the stairs because the elevator takes forever. Upon asking the receptionist where the stairs are, he indicates them with a wave of his hand. (9.27h, in case you were wondering.)
Muttering a few choice profanities, I take the stairs, two at a time. Praying that I’m still somewhat on time (as if…), I make my way through the hallway on the second floor, gazing at each of the office-numbers on the doors as they zoom by, when I hear my name. “Caroline?” I twist around and see a pretty (“Don’t mess with Evita”), young (“Don’t mess with Evita”, bis.) woman standing in the doorway that I had just unceremoniously raced past.
“Welcome, Steve has just started his introductory meeting, follow me.”
About 1 month later
A swarm of new trainees have descended on the unit, and I take pride and pleasure in informing them of the seemingly mundane pieces of trivia that I have gathered throughout the past month: stay away from the vending machine in the cafeteria because it will eat your money, yet refuse to distribute the food you paid for; use your informatics-degree to figure out how the scanner works (What’s that? You don’t have one? Oh well, no scans for you, then); and don’t trust Italians who say they will be ready for lunch “in 5 minutes”. There is no “in 5 minutes”. There is only you, gnawing off your forearm 30 to 45 minutes later, depending on how hungry you were to begin with.
Besides eating and failing to scan Very Important Documents, we also do some work, when we can fit it in. (Very) simply put, we help to manage the website: writing, scratching, re-writing, brainstorming, translating, interviewing… Let me clarify something: for a 24-year old with a degree in communication studies, a solid background in languages and a profound interest for the EU, the media and their love-hate-relationship, this constitutes a dream job. I happen to fit that profile to a tee, would you believe it?
Okay, so the first months had some kinks. Halfway through the first (!) day I managed to lock myself out of my account and I will need to sleep with an EU-dictionary under my pillow (I am a firm believer in osmosis) if I have any hope of producing an article that’s halfway decent any time soon. But all in all, I consider my first month here a success. However, if you see me some time next week wandering the streets of Brussels with a wistful expression on my face and a sign that says “ex-trainee”, you will know that something has gone terribly wrong. But if not, that means I’m still part of this dynamic group. Or, as Dr. House puts it: “There’s no I in team. There’s a ‘me’ though, if you jumble it up.” Here’s hoping.