Master’s student Nassim Abba recently completed an internship at the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs. We asked him and his internship supervisor Ms. Nicole Maes how the Master’s programme in Public Policy and Human Development prepares students to take up positions as interns, trainees and eventually policy officers at the Ministry.
Interview with Nassim Abba, UNU-MERIT Master’s Student
Why did you apply for an internship at the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs?
Nassim: When I started the MPP programme at UNU-MERIT, I initially did not plan on doing an internship. However, in February, a friend showed me a vacancy for an internship at the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA). I realised how the internship would allow me to work on topics that I have always been interested in, namely the MENA region and foreign policy. Before joining the MPP programme, I obtained a Bachelor’s in International Studies at Leiden University, with a specialisation in the MENA region.
I have always been intrigued by the region. I think that many Dutch-Moroccans of my age can relate to this feeling. As a child I grew up following the developments in the MENA region, as my dad was always watching news channels like Aljazeera, Al-Arabiya, etc. So the internship looked like an excellent opportunity to learn more about this fascinating region, while at the same time allowing me to build up my CV, and obtain professional experience in the field of international relations. I couldn’t let the opportunity slip by, so I applied immediately!
What are your activities as an intern?
Nassim: I work at the department for the Middle East and North Africa (DAM), which is one of the MFA’s region-departments. DAM is responsible for the bilateral relations of the Netherlands with the MENA countries. The department advises the minister and functions as the first point of call for NGOs and foreign embassies that are located in The Hague. Within this department, I work for the Gulf division, which concerns itself with the countries from the Gulf region, Yemen and Iran.
Next to some of my main tasks – like writing meeting reports and answering letters from civilians – I support policy officers with their work. I have been involved in a lot of different activities in the short period that I have spent here. For example, I have had the privilege to visit foreign embassies, attend meetings with NGOs, work on public diplomacy projects, and more. It is really exciting to work behind the scenes and hear the minister, the media and politicians speak about dossiers that you have worked on.
At the same time, the internship commission of the MFA organises many interesting activities for interns. For example, I have had the opportunity to attend a lecture of UN secretary General Ban Ki Moon when he visited the Netherlands and we visited the Lebanon Tribunal in Leidschendam.
What aspect of the MPP programme has benefitted you most during your internship?
Nassim: There are two aspects that I would like to point out. To begin with, the ability to deliver work during short stressful periods is something that the MPP programme has prepared me for. I think that many MPP students would agree with me that courses like Econometrics and Public Policy Analysis definitely teach us to deliver quality work, while respecting tight deadlines.
In most academic programmes, you get used to the fact that you have the time to thoroughly investigate and analyse problems/policies etc. However, at the MFA, policy officers don’t always have the time to conduct such analyses and often need to make or formulate important split-second decisions or recommendations. I think that the intensity of the MPP programme has helped me to adapt easier to the work pace at the MFA. Furthermore, having followed courses on public policy has given me a better understanding of the policy process. This knowledge has been very useful for the work that I have been doing here.
What are some take away lessons from this experience?
Nassim: I had a great time at the MFA. Although the internship only lasted six months, it proved to be an excellent learning experience. I have built professional connections, learned new skills and gained more insight into how to manage my future career.
Interview with internship supervisor Nicole Maes, Internship Supervisor
What are specific skills are you looking for in an intern from the MPP programme?
Nicole Maes: An MPP student should have good communication skills and be able to express him/herself well, both in verbal and in written form. Moreover, if you are, for example, applying for an internship at DAM, it also helps if you already have some knowledge about the MENA region from books, courses, papers or a former practical experience like an internship. We need to work fast and be able to translate an event quickly into policy recommendations. Networking is also an important aspect for MFA personnel. An internship may help students to get to know a few people and start building a network of domestic and international contacts that could be useful for their future career.
What made Nassim a good candidate for this internship?
Nicole Maes: It was clear from the first minutes that Nassim is a smart, very nice and open guy. He knew what he was talking about and had realistic ideas about what he was going to do at MFA. He didn’t want to change the world in his first week as an intern, and in that sense he distinguished himself from other candidates. At the same time he could handover papers he had written in the past about the region our division is working on. That convinced us that he was the perfect guy for the position and that turned out to be true. Nassim is doing his job very well: quick, good quality work and he is a nice colleague in the team. We will surely look for other MPP students if they apply for internships in the future.
What job opportunities are there for MPP students at the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs?
Nicole Maes: You can work as a policy officer for the MFA if you have a Dutch passport. There are two options to become a policy officer. One is to apply for the special diplomatic course which is offered every year and another one is to be hired on a temporary contract of 2-4 years at any MFA department. Many former trainees apply for these jobs and a successful internship can help them to obtain such a job.
Nassim Abba a Dutch, Moroccan national, born and raised in the Netherlands. He is currently finishing his Master’s degree in Public Policy and Human Development at UNU-MERIT with a specialisation in Regional Integration. He holds a Bachelor’s degree in International Studies from Leiden University with a specialisation in the MENA region. He speaks Arabic, Dutch and English and takes a particular interest in foreign policy, the MENA region and identity-construction. He wrote his Bachelor’s thesis on the European Neighbourhood Policy and Human Rights promotion in Morocco and he is currently writing his Master’s thesis about regional leadership and the GCC (Gulf Cooperation Council).