A Year Working at BritCham

By Tomos Ireland-Life

Not knowing many people in Brussels at first, living in overcrowded house and missing home a bit meant that I was nervous to start my new role one year ago. Now, even though this year has panned out differently than what was expected, I can say that deciding to work for BritCham in Brussels has been one of the best decisions that I’ve made.

I did not know what to expect at first. Whilst I was definitely interested in communications and events, in all honesty when I applied for the job in February 2019 I did so primarily because I wanted to live in Brussels for a year, and because I liked how it sounded to say that I worked at the British Chamber of Commerce | EU & Belgium. But I’ve thoroughly enjoyed the role, and it’s been an incredible time to represent UK-EU as Brexit unfolds.

My responsibilities changed throughout the year as there was a restructuring within the organisation due to the impacts of Covid-19. Generally speaking, my role consisted of three main responsibilities: the organisation of the Brussels New Generation Task Force (the leading network for young professionals in Brussels); content development of all of the Chamber’s social media platforms and regular blog updates; and delivering content and support for the high level events that the British Chamber organises.

Even though we were hosting online webinars, working remotely since March meant that less impetus was placed on the events side of the role and more on the communications, and I enjoyed developing my communication and writing skills further.

I’ve developed skills in the field of communications and public affairs, gained an appreciation of how to organise a committee of highly capable professionals, and have developed the ability to organise multiple assignments whilst meeting tight deadlines. Since early on in the role I’ve learned to use my initiative so that progress with various projects could then be made.

One of the positives of working in a small office was the larger responsibility that was placed on us, and the opportunities that have stemmed from this. Consequently, we were working alongside a number of senior, highly accomplished professionals in Brussels, and being able to learn from how they practice within their businesses was truly a huge pleasure. It’s also been amazing having the opportunity to listen and gain insight from senior representatives in the European Parliament, senior members of the Commission, the previous Deputy Prime Minister of Belgium, the British Ambassador to Belgium, and the Chief Economist of the British Chambers of Commerce as these people have spoken at a number of our events.

It’s been eye opening living in another country which speaks another language. My favorite bar in Place Jourdan was run by a sweet old man called Bernard who could not speak a word of English, so I’d then have the opportunity to practice my French. But other than ‘deux leffe blonde s’il vous plait’ I must concede that the only other term that I can say with great confidence is ‘je voudrez parler français mais c’est difficile’… still, I am determined to learn the language if I am to return to Belgium! 

Another perk of the job was that we were essentially given season tickets to watch Royale Union Saint-Gilloise (better known as UNION!) who played football in the Belgian First Division B. After winning a few matches later on in the season we were hoping to see their charge for promotion but this was disrupted due to the pandemic. Now that the season’s back on they seem to have picked up some form, promotion might still happen… as a self-diagnosed Union ultra-fan I will have to return to watch them play at some point next season.

Whilst going into my final year without having cemented a grad role from my placement (as many of my peers have) is slightly daunting, I’m not in the slightest bit regretful for the time that I’ve spent with the British Chamber. I’ve learned skills that I would not have learned otherwise, and have had the opportunity to achieve things that I wouldn’t have done elsewhere. Three of my biggest achievements was setting up the BNG Mentoring Scheme which is the first of its kind in Brussels, establishing and becoming editor of the BritCham Weekly Newsletter, and organising the Connect with the EP two-day event in the European Parliament last October.

As long as you’re learning, any experience is good experience. I would therefore recommend this internship to any student who’s looking to do a placement in another country. Whilst I may not want to be a communications expert once I’ve graduated, I’ve learned so many other transferable skills that I’ll be able to bring forward to whatever profession I go into when I leave university. With the challenges posed by Brexit and Covid-19 I sincerely hope that the class of 2020 and beyond will benefit from similar opportunities that I have, and will continue to have the option to work in Europe for years to come.

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