Interning with the European Parliament: Interview with Alexandra O'Neill

by Stasia Lopez /
Stasia Lopez's picture
Dec 05, 2014 / 0 comments

Alexandra O’Neill graduated from the University of Pittsburgh in April 2013 with a Bachelor’s degree in Political Science and Communication and a Certificate in Western European Studies. She had an amazing international internship with the European Parliament in Brussels, Belgium and Washington, D.C. Read below Alexandra’s interview about how she chose her major and college, how she found her internship, the tasks and projects she had to complete, and what she’s up to now.



Interning with the European Parliament: Interview with Alexandra O'Neill


How did you choose your major? How did you choose the college that you chose to attend?

Beginning in high school, I greatly enjoyed my advanced government and history courses. I liked following current events and focusing on political issues. In addition, I always loved talking to people and enjoyed public speaking. These interests drove me to major in political science and communication.

I am originally from the south hills of Pittsburgh, and the combination of a great academic university, a love for sports, and the convenience of being close to my family was key in deciding to attend the University of Pittsburgh.


How did you find your internship with the European Parliament Liaison Office? What resources did you use? Was your internship for credit/not for-credit/ paid or unpaid?

My academic advisor for the Western European Studies Certificate at the University of Pittsburgh informed me about this great internship.

My interest in working and studying in government helped me to obtain this internship. During my time at the University of Pittsburgh, I was the Secretary and Newsletter Editor for College Republicans. Also, I focused my studies in comparative politics between the United States and the European Union within my political science major. Furthermore, I interned for the Green Party in London, England during my study abroad experience, and I had basic levels of Spanish and Irish.

It was a 5-month paid internship where you completed three months in Washington DC at the European Parliament Liaison Office with US Congress and two months in Brussels at the European Parliament headquarters.


What inspired you to consider your major for your career choice? Did you have any mentors?

I really liked learning about politics and government, and I wanted to expand my knowledge on these topics, both locally and internationally.  

My grandmother was such a great inspiration and mentor. She always had a strong devotion to her country, and as she lived through challenging times of crisis such as the depression, she was always in tuned to current events. I used to discuss current political issues with her, and I was able to learn so much from her. I believe this is an important reason why I wanted to focus my career on politics and government.


Was this a very competitive internship? What was the application like? Did you have to speak a different language? Any advice for someone considering applying for this internship?

This internship was very competitive due to the high level of applications they receive each year. The application consisted of an essay explaining why you wanted to obtain this internship. It was important to explain which areas of politics you were interested in, as they did their best to place you in the area that you were interested in at the Parliament. I focused my experience in Economic and Monetary Affairs.

I have basic levels of Spanish and Irish, but it was not a requirement to speak another language fluently. I think it would be beneficial if you were able to speak another language, as it can be challenging to communicate with individuals from various backgrounds and cultures.


What were the tasks and projects that you had to complete in your European Parliament Internship and what skills did you gain? Was interning abroad very different than interning in the U.S.? Please discuss your employer’s expectations of you.

I was working in the Economic and Monetary Affairs division. In Washington, I wrote memos after attending legislative hearings and think tank events on Capitol Hill, and I prepared background research for various delegation visits as well as extensive research in economic policy. In Brussels, I attended Economic Committee meetings and hearings in Brussels, Belgium and Strasbourg, France, and I researched and wrote reports on economic policies for high-ranking parliament officials. I was able to develop my communication and writing skills.  In addition, I was able to learn how to manage my time and work efficiently. 

When I was interning abroad, I experienced a more relaxed atmosphere; however, it was more challenging to navigate living in another country due to the language and cultural differences.

My employers had high expectations, and they expected you to attend various meetings and events while also communicating the essential points to the high-ranking officials in both Washington, DC and Brussels. It was important to be very organized and able to communicate effectively with all levels of employees.


Do you feel that you grew your network while interning? If so, how? 

I grew my network because I was able to meet and work with people from various backgrounds and cultures while working at the European Parliament. It was great to see how each person can work together, even when coming from diverse backgrounds.


Did anything surprise you about interning? Did interning inspire you academically, vocationally, or in any other way? Did it confirm that you chose the right major and the right field?  Can you discuss any challenges that you had from your internship?

It was surprising to me how everyone can use his or her background and skills in order to work together to get the job done on such a large scale at the European Parliament. The language barrier made it challenging to communicate in some instances. It was important to use various forms of communication in order to get your message across. I feel that this experience confirmed my interest in politics and government.


Can you share with us a memory from your internship experience as a take-away?

The most memorable part of my internship is the wonderful people I was able to meet and work with every day from all around the world at this internship. Due to social media, I am able to keep in contact with these great people. I loved learning about their backgrounds and cultures, and I was so fortunate to have this experience!


Any advice for students thinking about an internship with the European Parliament and U.S. Congress? What are some highlights or things that you gained or changed your perspective after this internship ended?

It would have been beneficial if I knew another language fluently. One could develop their language skills while working in this type of diverse atmosphere.

Being able to experience both sides in Washington, DC, as well as Brussels was an experience of a lifetime, and it was very interesting to see how important it is for the United States and the European Union to work together on global issues in our world today.


What is up next for you? Are you working full-time? Is it something that excites you? Anything you’d like to add/share?

Right now, I am working in Pittsburgh at a pharmaceutical company in their legal department, and I am really enjoying it! I am still very interested in government and politics, and I may attend graduate school in the future.






This is part of a series on international education, as part of our commitment to #GenerationStudyAbroad and our commitment to the White House Summit on Study Abroad and Global Citizenship. You'll find many more inspiring stories here on Wandering Educators!





Stasia Lopez is the Global Education Editor for Wandering Educators and is also a Career Consultant at the University of Pittsburgh. She graduated with her Master’s degree in Educational Leadership in Higher Education and Student Affairs from Western Michigan University and earned her Bachelor of Science in Business Administration degree in Hospitality and Tourism Management from Robert Morris University. Stasia is passionate about international education, travel,  and loves working on a college campus. She’s lived in four different U.S. states (Florida, Michigan, South Carolina, and Pennsylvania) and also studied and lived abroad in Rome, Italy. Stasia lives in the Pittsburgh area with her husband, Fernando.



Photo courtesy and copyright Alexandra O'Neill