In love with…acceptance

Hi lovebirds,

I hope you’ve all had fabulous Christmas holidays? As I am writing this, trees and rooftops are covered in snow, ice crystals are decorating our windows and my morning coffee is most likely to be cold, as I cannot help but stare out the window. My Christmas like that of many others was spent differently this year. My grandmother was sick and my mum didn’t join the ‘festivities’ this year to keep us safe. If it hadn’t been for the Christmas tree and the smell of raclette cheese, it would have been an ordinary day. The circumstances didn’t allow a Christmas as usual and I received loving messages from friends and family. However, many of those messages included phrases like: “May next year be better than this!” or “Thank God, this year will soon be over!” I’ve heard people complain about the distance it has put between people. But was it really all bad? I have to disagree!

2020 may have been a year of unprecedented and unpredictable events, there’s no doubt about that! Many of our plans had to be cancelled, or perhaps postponed and things just didn’t turn out the way we had hoped. I know too well how that feels. But what this year has taught me is to accept things as they are and to be open for change! Acceptance doesn’t always come easy, I know that. Especially when you had made plans that you were excited about. I suppose it’s a normal human reaction to be disappointed and sad; perhaps even angry. However, if you stop resisting change, you might actually be surprised about the positive and beautiful things right in front of you that you hadn’t expected. Things that you might miss out on because you’re so focused on the negative.

I don’t want to repeat myself, I think I’ve made it clear in my previous post that I think it’s a matter of perspective and that I like to see the good in things. I also don’t want to play things down or give you the impression that I haven’t suffered from the restrictions, believe me, I have and I still am. I’m just not the kind of person who wants to let this virus determine how I look back at 2020. I cannot change the fact that this virus is circulating, but what I can change is the way I look at it. I will not allow it to take away my positivity and accomplishments because there is a number of things that I am extremely grateful for and that wouldn’t have happened if it hadn’t been for coronavirus.

For me, this year was about growth. Personal growth and professional growth. I took some much needed time off to think. Think about my goals, my dreams, my values, what I want to do with my life, about who I am and what kind of person I want to be. I took the time to spend a ridiculous amount of time outside doing what I love: picking flowers, looking after plants, connecting with nature and animals, hiking with friends and family, to mention only a few. I was carefree, my batteries recharged; a feeling I hadn’t experienced in a long time and yet there were moments of sadness, frustration, devastation. I don’t want to hide the fact that I was angry with the universe for ruining my plans! Yes, this year was supposed to be different, but yes, this year still turned out nicely for me! At some point, I just accepted the fact that it’s within my own power to make something of this year. Why let this virus determine your happiness? Why give this responsibility to someone else, when you alone are the master of your very own life, your own happiness?

Yes, things might have gone in a different direction, but with a bit of creativity and curiosity, it was and still is possible to go on adventures, to MAKE your OWN adventures! It’s really up to you to decide what you make of the circumstances! You can either sit around, be grumpy and complain about the restrictions, but I don’t think it’s going to change anything. Or you can accept the fact that this is the way things are at the moment and make the best of it! Discover your surroundings, go wild on a new puzzle, start your own DIY project, read that book that has been sitting on your shelve for too long. Your options may be limited but it’s really up to your creativity!

We may have had to stay away from people and I do think this is making us socially awkward at times, but I disagree that this virus and the social restrictions that come with it is only damaging my friendships and family. Again, it’s a matter of perspective! This may sound weird but I have never felt more comfortable and at ease in my skin than I have over those past few months. I spent time with myself, listening to my body, my inner voice and simply got to know myself better. That’s not even all. I reconnected with family and old friends and even made new ones, so I think it’s a little too easy to blame a virus and argue that it’s only torn us apart! I too am sad about the fact that I couldn’t see many of my friends this year, but I think some friendships have grown even stronger over the past few months and I do think this is worth mentioning!

If we stopped concentrating on the negative events that happened this year, but instead started to see the positive sides, our lives would be much happier. At the end of each year, I make a list of things that I have accomplished. It’s something I have done for a while now because it simply makes me feel good about myself and about the past year. This year, I felt the urge to share my list with you, hoping that maybe you too will reconsider the way you think and feel about 2020. Hopefully, this will inspire you to make a list of your own accomplishments or gratitudes. Maybe you’ll see that 2020 wasn’t all that bad after all. I do wish you and your loved ones much joy, happiness, health, success and love for 2021!

  • I moved into a brand new apartment, which I finally get to decorate the way I want and makes me feel at home
  • I made new friends and reconnected with old ones
  • I landed my dream job working in international relations & renewable energy, which gives me the opportunity to contribute to the energy transition and makes me feel good about what I do
  • I managed my first projects
  • I worked on my finances
  • I discovered my love for flowers and plants
  • I spent a ridiculous amount of time outside reconnecting with nature and myself
  • I bonded with our turkeys that I took care of over the summer
  • I hiked up mountains & hills
  • I got to spend more time with my family
  • I rediscovered Vienna & its surroundings
  • I tried new recipes and got really good at making bread
  • I improved my yoga skills
  • I volunteered and got out of my comfort zone
  • I got to visit a friend in London and watched ‘Wicked’ for the first time
  • I made my own scrunchies
  • I successfully completed an online course on renewable energy technologies
  • I managed to stay healthy all year
  • I finally went to see a doctor about my pollen allergy and am starting treatment
  • I felt good about myself

Love,
M

In love with…perspectives & positive mindsets

When COVID-19 had finally hit Europe and more specifically Austria, life changed rapidly. Set to move to Australia with a box of my belongings already waiting for me in Queanbeyan, there I was: stuck in my apartment without a rental agreement, a job that was about to end a few weeks later and a plane ticket that was suddenly worthless. How had I gone from the best timing to move away to the worst timing possible? I was angry, frustrated, and sad. Our borders were technically closed, something I – a true believer in the European project – have never experienced in my 28 years of existence. But what if in the end, we all ended up exactly where we were supposed to? What if the universe wasn’t really trying to punish me – as I had told myself many many times – by making it impossible for me to move to Australia in April? What if it turned out to be a blessing, despite all the tears I have shed?

A dear friend of mine (half Austrian-half Australian, obviously we’re destined to be friends) has accompanied me virtually in those – at least for me – difficult times. He has managed to put a smile on my face and drag me out of my days of self-compassion when I needed it most by reminding me to work with what I have and to take it day by day. Now, patience does not run in my blood naturally and as much as I love the fact that I can be very determined (mum calls me stubborn, but I like a more positive attitude), I keep stinging myself in the back like Scorpios stereotypically do. Seriously, why are we always so hard on ourselves? The other day, my friend – let’s call him A – shared a post on LinkedIn with a quote by Alexander Graham Bell and it triggered something in me:

‘When one door closes another door opens (well that’s not new, but it’s the second part that struck me!), but we so often look so long and so regretfully upon the closed door, that we do not see the ones which open for us. ‘

When one door closes, another door opens

The past few weeks and months have been characterised by many ‘don’ts’ and ‘can’ts’, they are called restrictions for a reason after all! All of a sudden, our focus shifted to the things we couldn’t do, instead of seeing what there is we CAN do. Perhaps, some of you – like myself – adopted a negative mindset and gave the downwards spiral a free ride, as we’d say in German. But sometimes, we just need to accept things as they are and put them in a different perspective in order to shed light on those doors that have opened for us. This isn’t always easy, but I’d like to give it a try.

A few weeks ago, I moved back to the countryside to stay with my family for a while, at least for as long as I have figured out where I’m going and what I’m going to do. Experts say young people are affected most by the recession, so I hope they are not fed up with me just yet. I am the fittest I have ever been (and I haven’t even set a foot to the gym!), I have had the best sleep in years, I have reconnected with my pal nature as I go for long walks, hikes or runs, I have picked the most beautiful wild flowers, I got to spend more time with my family, particularly with my brother whom I had neglected for a very long time, I have practiced yoga and meditation, which has given me strength and has helped me revive my positive attitude, I have cooked healthy meals, baked delicious cakes and bread, and I have finally worked out what sector I want to work in. Now I know those are not literally doors, but to me, all of the above surely do feel like one hell big of a door.

Obviously, I don’t know what would have happened, if things had worked out let’s say ‘according to plan’, but if I had got on that plane one month earlier as anticipated, I probably would have been on that rescue plane a month later anyways heading back to Austria and I can only imagine how devastated I would have been, if that had been the case. Unemployment has risen significantly in every country, rules for migration are becoming even more difficult and hope for change for the better is high. I’m not saying I’m giving up on Australia just yet, I’m determined, remember? ­čśë But I am saying that perhaps it’s not the right time for me to do it just yet and maybe I’m exactly where I should be: back home with my family, surrounded by nature and many possibilities to learn new and old things helping me change my direction, professionally and personally. What about you? Do you think you are right where you should be? Or are you still looking regretfully upon that door that so happens to be closed right now?

Bisou,
M

In love with…the little things

Hi lovebirds,

It’s no big news that I get nerdy from time to time, but this morning I was in the flow of reading a book in my hands on my way to work. I just couldn’t put it down and had to make the best of my ten minute walk from the metro to my office, so I continued reading and was thrilled about the red lights that allowed me to read an extra few lines. While I was standing in front of the zebra crossing, I felt a finger tapping on my shoulder and I looked up immediately. A young man was standing right next to me and he wanted to know where ‘Untere Viaduktgasse’ was and pointed at google maps on his phone. Wondering why he was speaking to me in English and uncertain of what language I should use, I went with English and I told him to come with me and showed him the way.

This obviously happened in pre-Corona times, when our lives were still busy and what we like to refer to as ‘normal’. Last summer, I once again participated in an online course, which is perhaps one of my favourites. It’s called ‘Mindfulness for Wellbeing and Peak Performance’ and can be found for free on futurelearn. One of my Aussie host mums had recommended it to me three years ago, when I was going through a rough time. I don’t think she was aware of what an impact this would have on me when she sent me the invitation.

One lesson I took from this online course is to slow down, enjoy the little things we tend take for granted and to be in the present moment. This is where life happens! It’s changed my perception of my surroundings and my environment, as I began to smile at people, look them in the eye and sometimes even say hello to a stranger, or stop on the way to look at the blossoms on the trees and you know what? It feels damn good!

It’s surely become more difficult to smile at people, when you’re supposed to wear a mask, but if you look closely enough you can still see the friendliness and glitter in people’s eyes, or perhaps it’s just the pollen messing with people’s allergies. No but seriously, we always get so caught up in our thoughts, criticism, anxiety and life that we forget to enjoy the little things in our lives. We began to take everything for granted: our family, our houses, our healthcare system, being able to go to the supermarket. We look at our phones as we walk, we rush by the busy people in the morning without saying anything, yes, sometimes, we don’t really see what’s right in front of us.

So I’m asking you: When was the last time you took a walk and actually looked at the houses or trees around you? When was the last time you sat in a park and watched the ducks chase one another? When was the last time you had a real conversation with your family without discussing dinner, chores or who’s going to pick up the kids from school? When did you last smile at someone and said good morning to a person you don’t know? When was the last time you helped out a stranger? This list is endless and I too have struggled in those past few weeks since the lockdown. My life was turned completely upside down and I too have difficulties with the uncertainties, but that’s a different story. It’s okay for us to mourn, it’s okay to be angry and sad, but there comes a point in life, in which we need to accept that there are some things we just don’t have much power over, but instead as individuals we can, however, control how we see things and react to them.

Ever since I started appreciating the little things, my life has turned around. Consciously looking at my environment has made me realise how many beautiful things and inspiring people I am surrounded by every day. We are currently writing history and you are part of it! Isn’t this exciting news? Traffic in Vienna has decreased by 50% since the lockdown, streets have been blocked and turned into ‘meeting zones’ for pedestrians, residents of Venice are noticing a vast improvement in the quality of their canals. Is this ‘new normality’ really that bad?

Helping out this young man was again a moment of realisation for me. It might seem absolutely meaningless and pathetic to you and that’s okay too, but I’ve come to appreciate those moments more because I know I helped a person or made someone smile that day. Enjoying the little things currently helps me get through this crisis. I’m not saying, I’m doing a great job at it, but I certainly try. Next time you’re on the street, why don’t you try and smile at a stranger? You might be surprised by the friendly reaction! Stay strong lovebirds, we’re all in this together! By the way, it turns out that the book I read was in English.

Bisou, M

In love with…my inner child

Hi lovebirds,

2019 was an emotionally very intense year for me. Despite some of the tears I shed and the struggles I had to go through, I’m convinced that all of it was necessary for me to grow into the strong young woman I am today. A few years ago, on New Year’s Eve, some girlfriends and I started writing our new year’s resolutions on a little piece of paper and kept them in our wallets until the year was over and replaced it with a new one. For 2019, I had kept my list rather short: travel, sports, improve your photography skills (which is really the only thing I didn’t do in 2019), believe in yourself, see the world more mindfully and resolve your daddy issue.

After all those years of having a strange relationship (if you can even call it that) with my dad who had moved out after my parents’ divorce when I was 13, I felt the urge to finally work on that relationship and to let go of all those negative feelings and anger that I had built up over the years. Quite frankly, I knew, this wasn’t gonna go away. A problem doesn’t just disappear. So I chose the active way to MAKE IT go away because deep down I knew that this – together with many other reasons – was at times holding me back from being in a healthy relationship with myself and with others. Over the years, I had learned not to let men in my life because I didn’t want anyone to hurt me. I subconsciously wanted to prove a point to myself that I was perfectly capable of living my life without anyone’s help, particularly without a man (Look dad, I know you’ve left, but see how well I am doing without you! Look at all the things I have accomplished without your help!). I didn’t know how to be loved by a man, particularly not by my own father. But how can you, unless you start loving yourself?

My relationship with my dad had had involved so much disappointment and anger, I sometimes wished I didn’t have to see him again. Yet again, things that are uncomfortable don’t just go away. It’s entirely up to you to decide, if you continue to let them drag you down, or if you step out of your comfort zone, work them out and move on as a grown person.

In February, when my grandmother on my father’s side had passed away, we had a big family gathering on the occasion of my grandmother’s funeral. I hardly ever see dad’s side of the family, which is mostly due to my dad’s relationship with his siblings. At the funeral, I finally saw everyone again, including an auntie that I hadn’t seen since I was perhaps 15. That encounter with my auntie opened up my eyes to see something I had never seen before and that changed everything for me: my dad’s childhood. And this is where the story really begins.

A few weeks after the funeral, I went to a book store – I don’t remember what I was looking for – and on my way out, a book by Stefanie Stahl, a psychologist, had caught my eye: ‘Your inner child needs to find home’. It was as if it was talking to me. The book had everything I was going through united in one title. So I decided to buy it. This book has allowed me to reflect my own personality, my needs, my fears and where they come from. As children, we learn to love and to be loved and we get a basic sense of trust. In this book, our inner child is described as ‘the sum of our childish imprints – good and bad, which we have experienced through our parents and other important caregivers. We do not remember most of these experiences on the conscious level. However, they are fixed in the subconscious. The inner child is therefore an essential part of our subconscious. It is the fears, worries and hardships that we have experienced from childhood, as well as all positive influences from our childhood.’

The book includes many exercises, which you can reconstruct your relationship with your dad, your relationship with your mum and the relationship between your parents with. It helps you recreate your negative beliefs, where they come from and how you can transform them into positive ones.

Working my way through the book, has helped me understand not only my own, but also other people’s behaviour a lot better. It has made me realise that in my relationship with my dad, my inner child learned to believe that it wasn’t important (e.g. my dad never showed up to any of my school performances or concerts), that it wasn’t wanted (I was always yelled at when I was woken up by mum and dad fighting at night and I tried to yell back at dad because I knew he had yelled at mum for no reason and I wanted to help her. ‘Go away!’, ‘Stay out of this!’) and that men leave me – hence relationships with men hurt (divorce). But I also learned that dad wasn’t the only one who had left scars on me. Because of the unloving relationship with my dad, my inner child has learned to take responsibility for mum’s happiness. I had learned to be a good girl, to make mum happy, to protect her and to comfort her.

This book has made me realise that it wasn’t just the relationship with my dad I needed to work on, I also had to work out my relationship with mum. All of a sudden, I understood that I needed to figure things out just for ME! This is really difficult for me though because I have trouble taking decisions for myself and doing what I think is best for ME. But when, if not now, am I gonna start taking decisions for myself? I’d spent all my life protecting mum from pain (there were a number of breakups), was considerate of her feelings and made sure she was happy. One of the most important lessons I learned from that book is that I am no longer that little child and that it’s not my duty to make mum happy, I live my own life now and that includes taking decisions for ME ONLY. Perhaps you see where this is going: That was the moment I knew I HAD TO move to Australia, to follow my own dreams, my own desires, even if it might make mum unhappy.

It was time for me to let go of that protector role I had learned to be, as well as to let go of that anger towards my dad and to forgive him for his past mistakes. I’ve come to understand that my dad loves me very much, he just doesn’t know how to show me because he is perfectly aware that he’s been a bad father to me. He – like most of us – struggles with the things that have happened in HIS childhood and thanks to the conversation with my auntie I know that there have been quite some traumatic events in his past that he has been trying to deal with ever since. I know that’s not an excuse for his behaviour, but it has allowed me to understand and to simply move past it.

Today, I no longer start shaking when he calls, I no longer look for his approval, I’ve simply made room for him in my life and let him be there, if he choses to. My mum and I? We’re still as close as before, but I do try to give myself the necessary distance to be able to live my life the way I want to, but also for her to live her life the way she wants to. I’ve learned to let her make her own mistakes that I can’t always protect her from. I feel much more at peace with myself, maybe my inner child has finally found home and a place where it’s being heard. For 2020, I have only one resolution: Take better care of myself and do things that make me happy!

It feels so powerful and great to be in charge of your own life and to move forward. When will YOU start taking your own life and happiness in your own hands and take decisions just for yourself?

Bisou, M

P.S.: The book I read is called ‘Das Kind in dir muss Heimat finden’ by Stefanie Stahl, but I’m afraid it is only available in German. I was not sponsored or paid to promote this book. I just wanted to share my personal experience with you, as I know some of you may be going through some similar issues and here’s an idea of how you can overcome them.

I am moving Down Under!

Hi lovebirds,

I have waited a long time for this, but I have BIG NEWS! I am moving to Australia in less than four months and I am so excited to be able to explore more of the Canberra area so soon. What? Canberra? YES, CANBERRA! Quite frankly speaking: I have never felt so certain about anything in my life! Australia’s been my greatest love since 2010 and I think deep down Australia loves me too.

Why do I want to move?
I love Vienna, everyone knows that. But it has always been my biggest dream to move back to Australia one day. When I got off the plane in Sydney last February, it felt so right to be back. To me, it was like coming home to Australia and I instantly knew, I had to come back again for a longer period. I remember my host mum asking me already in 2013, why I didn’t give moving there a try and I remember exactly what I replied to her: I can’t do this to mum, it would break her heart!

There’s emus along the road!

I never really got Australia out of my system and when I found out about some major changes at work, I took those as a sign! Australia is happening! Now, I know, this doesn’t solve the mum issue and I’m afraid there won’t be any other way than having to break her heart a little regardless. But I’ve figured, she’s gotta go her way and I’ve gotta go mine. I can’t always be around to protect her. After all, she just wants me to be happy, like any other mother would.

Why Canberra?
I know that many of you associate Australia with Sydney’s Harbour Bridge, surf beaches, or kangaroos. But the truth is: There is so much more to Australia than big cities and the beach. So when I get asked why I’m moving to Canberra, my answer is pretty simple: Because I love it there. I’m a country girl as much as I am a city girl and Canberra allows me to be both. Canberra is perfect, it is about two hours from the coast, three hours from Sydney, two hours from the mountains (and the snow!) and there are plenty of kangaroos. Oh and did I mention the wine? There’s vineyards, so basically it’s a lot like Vienna: surrounded by hills, vineyards, it’s the capital city (nope, Sydney is not the capital!), it has great restaurants (more restaurants per capita than any other city in Australia!), oh and they have a flower festival every year, loooots of Tulips! But most importantly: the people! Despite the thousands of kilometers that separate us, I still call some of the people my family and best friends, so it’s really not that surprising that I want to go back to spend some more time with them. I will surely write more about Canberra in the months to come and perhaps even charm you over. In the meantime, Canberra has some fabulous social media accounts that I personally follow and whenever someone asks me ‘Why Canberra?’, I just send them a photo with the caption: ‘That’s why!’.

National War Memorial

I know this is a lot to take in and some of you perhaps think that I am a crazy person, maybe I am, but if you have any questions, feel free to contact me, or leave a comment below, I’m happy to answer them, if I can. If this is something you are interested in, please let me know and I will develop further on the moving process and my new old life in Australia.

Bisou, M

P.S.: If I had already known in March that I’m gonna move to Canberra, I would have taken more pictures! But here are a some of my favourite Instagram channels:
https://www.instagram.com/visitcanberra/
https://www.instagram.com/australiancapitalterritory/
https://www.instagram.com/canberralocals/

In love with…me, myself and Portugal

Self-love is a concept that I thought I was perfectly aware of. I was actually convinced, I was pretty good at it: I love beautiful food, regularly buy myself flowers, take an occasional bath, have a glass of red wine or two, in other words: I was doing nice things for me. But then, last summer, I hit a new low in my self-esteem. I had hit rock bottom.

I’d started reading about self-worth and realised how little I value myself. Think about this: How often do you talk badly about yourself? Little things like: oh I’m so stupid, I forgot the keys. Or: No, I’m not smart enough to do this! It’s the little things I hadn’t noticed. Even the fact that I wasn’t even appreciating my own work. Whenever someone complemented me, I couldn’t accept it, basically rejected it, or tried to find a plausible explanation for it. Not long ago, someone told me I smelled nice, and instead of just saying a simple thank you, I replied saying it was my body lotion, and stretched out my arm for him to smell. I guess I was trying to prove a point that it wasn’t actually me who smelled good, but the product I had applied.

Earlier this year, I wrote my very first evaluation report by myself. It was not my personal choice, but this is how things turned out. Perhaps, I should mention that I had only started working for this firm half a year earlier and during the first three months, I was an intern and yes, that does make a hell of a difference. I wrote a 70 page report and both the project manager and my boss complemented my work. My reaction? Oh that was nothing, everyone else would have done the same. But seriously: would they really have done the same? Not to mention I was writing about a topic that I had absolutely no clue about. So it wasn’t until I had it in black on white in front of my eyes that I realised, I needed to change the way I treat myself. It’s not just about the flowers I buy for myself, but also about the way I talk about myself in front of other people and how I think about myself. So I’ve decided to take better care of myself.

But why is it that I always seem to be doing a better job at taking care of myself when I’m far away from home? Those past few days in Portugal have been so refreshing and I’ve finally found or should I say took some time just for myself. Even though I certainly wasn’t the only one who’d decided that Portugal was a nice place to hang out at, I was still able to do the things I love: brunch, sipping red wine overlooking the river delta, reading a book of my choice while sipping flat whites and the best thing about it? I didn’t even have to worry.

Coming to Portugal has once again showed me how important it is to continue this path that I’m currently taking and it’s really not as awful as one might think to spend time alone. After all, it’s you who you spend 24 hours a day with so why not take a trip by yourself? However, I’ve soon come to realise that for me, traveling solo isn’t much different from my daily life, except that I’m in a different place. I’ve basically been traveling the life journey on my own for the past 28 years. If this trip has proven me anything, it’s once again my ability to make friends easily and that I’m gonna be okay on my own, which does not mean, I never want to travel or hang out with anyone else anymore, hell no.

I guess what I’m trying to say is that I’ve learned to appreciate myself a lot more and have become increasingly aware of my own value and I feel that for many people out there, traveling solo is the best way to get to know themselves. If that’s the case, please do it, or find another way to really connect with yourself. I’ve been wondering why people fear being alone so much. We always concentrate on getting to know other people, but what if we got to know ourselves first? You might actually meet someone great that’s been there all along.

Bisou, M

Brunch at The Mill, an Australian-Portuguese caf├ę

In love with…the Council of the European Union, a trainee’s story

Hi lovebirds,

Do you remember the times when the grown ups used to tell you how time flies? And now you’re one of them, wondering what happened? Well, today is my one month anniversary of being back in Vienna, meaning that yesterday six months ago, I was on a plane to a new adventure. Today six months ago one of my biggest dreams that I had almost given up on finally came true. Today one month ago, it was all over and oh how many times have I complained about Brussels and yet, my friends were right: it grew on me, in a weird way, but still.

As most of you know, I was a trainee at the Council of the European Union for the past few months. It all started on a cold December afternoon, when I received an email from the Bureau de Stage (Traineeship Office) inviting me to a phone interview for a traineeship. I was in a really bad place back then and desperately needed some good news. Having just come back from my graduation ceremony in Strasbourg (France), where I did my masters, I automatically assumed – although very confused as I almost tripped on the escalator  at H&M where I was headed – it was my Uni sending me that email. I didn’t quite understand why they were sending me another email, especially because I already had my final certificate, and even less so the part where I got invited to an interview for a traineeship that I didn’t recall applying for.

IMG_2535

After an unsuccessful half hour at H&M Home, I finally realized who the email was really from: the Bureau de Stage of the General Secretariat of the Council of the European Union (so obvious, right?). All of a sudden, it all made sense and I remembered applying for the Department of Foreign Affairs last summer, clearly without high hopes. Knowing that I had nothing to lose helped me remain calm during the interview and all my last minute preparations paid off when I got my traineeship offer the next day. Although very undecided at first, I accepted the position and off I went to Brussels to start my new adventure at the Council of the European Union.

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Now here’s a bit of explanation for those who are not very familiar with the European Union. For those of you who are familiar with it, I am terribly sorry, but please bare with me, or skip a few lines: The Council of the European Union is one of the main EU institutions, which – together with the European Commission and European Parliament – is responsible for EU legislation. It’s where the Member States are represented and the so-called ‘Council Meetings’ take place, I’m sure you’ve heard of them on the news or elsewhere. The ‘Council’ is perhaps the least known institution, which is why I am even more grateful to have interned in this institution. Very often, we believe that the Council only meets several times a year, but we tend to forget that representatives, diplomats and experts from our countries meet in the Council on a daily basis to prepare the work of the Council Meetings and to negotiate and discuss EU laws and the texts that are being adopted at the end of a summit, the so-called ‘Council Conclusions’. Those experts, diplomats and representatives get instructions from our various capitals, so don’t trust anyone who says it was ‘Brussels’ who decided on a law because our national governments have a hell lot to say in the EU that people clearly are not aware of, which I find problematic.

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I, personally, worked in the Development Unit of the General Secretariat of the Council of the EU. The General Secretariat is an institution that many people not working in EU politics don’t know exists. It is mainly supporting the work of the Council, particularly its EU-Presidency, as well as the European External Action Service with carrying out their agendas. Every six months, another EU Member State is holding the rotating presidency of the Council of the European Union. The presidency’s role mainly is to push forward the agenda and to mediate between the Member States and find consensus on EU legislation. Since 1 July Austria is holding the EU presidency. As you can imagine, with 28 Member States, a country doesn’t hold the presidency very often. This is why it is essential to have the General Secretariat, as it supports Member States with expertise on procedures and mechanisms and advises/assists them throughout the presidency, but also prepares them before they take over the lead.

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The General Secretariat is also responsible for – hold on and now it gets confusing – the European Council. Now what is that? The European Council is another EU institution bringing together all 28 Heads of State or Government and the President of the European Commission (currently Jean-Claude Juncker) and is chaired by the President of the European Council, currently Donald Tusk. The European Council usually meets four times a year to ‘define the general political direction and priorities of the European Union’.

Now what was I doing there? As a trainee, I particularly worked on EU-Africa relations, as well as on UN-related issues and migration in the broader context. For me, it was the first time to actually work in the development context and to see how policy in this field is made. My daily tasks included following the Africa Working Party, attending weekly (preparatory) meetings and conferences, writing reports, carrying out research and of course some administrative tasks. I was one of the few people who got to work both with the EU-presidency, as well as the EEAS who chairs some of the geographical working parties in the field of external relations. It was a good way for me to experience yet another EU institution and to get a better idea of what the General Secretariat does.

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Following a geographical working party meant that I wasn’t an expert in one specific field or country, but we basically discussed the political and economic situation of countries of a whole continent (although Subsahara Africa). So every week we discussed another three to five country situations. We got updates on elections for example, or from the EU Delegations on the ground. Sometimes, when the situation in a country is very volatile, the Member States adopt ‘Council Conclusions’ at the Council Meetings. For example, we had Council Conclusions on the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) in May this year.  DRC is discussed in the Africa Working Party, which is part of the Department for Foreign Affairs, chaired by the EEAS. Council Conclusions on DRC would therefore be prepared within the framework of the Africa Working Party, which usually entails very long discussions, as Member States decide on them unanimously. They then go up to a higher political level until they end at the Foreign Affairs Council, where they are adopted. This was of course very interesting to follow, even though it was exhausting in some way to discuss different countries every week, as you feel like you start over every week and don’t get a specific expertise in a certain country.

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I consider myself as very lucky, as I was able to attend the Foreign Affairs Council (in the General Secretariat’s listening room) – a meeting of all 28 Foreign Ministers chaired by the High Representative of the European Union (Federica Mogherini) – that adopted the Council Conclusions on DRC. I had then completed the whole circle. I also got to go to both study trips (more on that below), was able to volunteer at the European Council in June and participate in many interesting meetings and conferences and managed to see very high-level politicians and diplomats. I am so grateful for having been selected for this very competitive traineeship and am aware of how privileged I am to have had the opportunity to collect all these experiences and participate in events that always seem impossible to attend because they are. I know how many people apply each year for very few positions, but I hope that by sharing my impressions, you can at least be part of my adventure for a little bit and profit from my experiences.

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Here are some of my highlights:

1.Volunteering at the European Council – Hello Mr. Chancellor 

As a trainee at the General Secretariat of the Council of the EU, we also get to experience the European Council, as already explained above why that is. Volunteering at the European Council was probably the highlight of my time as a trainee. Maybe you’ve seen my stories on Instagram with French President, Emmanuel Macron, almost shaking my hand, or Germany’s Federal Chancellor, Angela Merkel, giving her press conference, but even if you haven’t seen my instastories, I am certain that you have heard some sort of news of the ‘migration summit’, as it was simply impossible to avoid. Truth is, it wasn’t all JUST about migration, a lot of other important issues were discussed, as well but it was very interesting for me to see how the media works and how they portray and report about such a huge event.

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Of course, I wasn’t actually inside the room, where they discussed the topics, as nobody is allowed inside. But I was in the same position as a journalist these two days and veeery long nights. Mainly, we went to press conferences, or arrival/ exit doorsteps, which is when the leaders enter or exit the building and speak to the press, which you can also watch on a live stream, and reported on what the leaders said. It all sounds super fun, which it was, but it also included a lot of waiting, waiting for someone to come out of the meeting to give briefings to the journalists, waiting for the leaders to finally agree on a text, which wasn’t an easy one.

Most of the volunteers had already gone home at around midnight, as a lot of leaders don’t actually give press conferences on the first day, but some of us stayed, or even fell asleep on the couches and at around 5 in the morning, when they finally reached an agreement, we all had to type real fast and concentrate one last time before we could head home to get a bit of rest for the next day. Nobody forced us to stay of course, but as it was my first and only opportunity to volunteer at the summit – something that no other regular staff member of the Council gets to do by the way – I wanted to experience the whole thing. Unlike most people, I was one of the few who actually worked on both days, so you can only imagine how tired I was by the end of the summit.

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After three nice hours of sleep (I had constructions right outside my window and a heat wave had hit Brussels that week, so sleeping was very difficult anyways), I found my way back to the Council, covering arrival doorsteps and finally going to press conferences, which was the most exciting part of the summit to actually see the politicians in action. In case you’re wondering: I saw Sebastian Kurz (Austria), Angela Merkel (Germany) and Emmanuel Macron (France)’s press conference. After I’d sent my last notes, I don’t think I’ve ever been this excited to leave the Council building and get some sleep (which of course I didn’t).

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2. Study Trips to Strasbourg and Luxembourg

Within the framework of our traineeship, the Traineeship Office organised two study trips: one to Strasbourg and another one to Luxembourg. I might spare you the details right now, as the post is already very long, but I might share some more experiences of the trips in separate entries, in case you are interested. This is yet another privilege that we enjoyed as trainees, as most of my colleagues told me they’ve neither been to Luxembourg nor to Strasbourg. On our trips we visited other EU institutions, such as the European Parliament, which has its official seat in Strasbourg, or the European Court of Justice, based in Luxembourg. Most of what we saw in Strasbourg wasn’t all that new to me, after having lived there for almost two years, but Luxembourg was a completely new territory for me and I really enjoyed both trips. It’s always nice to get away and visit new places, but I also have the feeling that I learned a lot about some of the institutions that I wasn’t that aware of, like the European Investment Bank.

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3. EU – Open Day

On the occasion of Europe Day, the Public Affairs Team of the Council annually organizes the open day, where all EU institutions are open to the public, including the Council. Us trainees volunteered to actually make this day happen. Should you ever be in Brussels around that time (5 May), make sure to visit at least one or two institutions, as it is usually not that easy to get in the buildings. On the open day you get to see the conference rooms where the leaders of our countries meet, work and take very important decisions that may affect our lives. I was giving guided tours in German for the day, showing people different conference rooms, telling them about the role of the Council  of the EU, the European Council and its General Secretariat. Even though I’m not a big fan of public speaking, it was fun showing people around and I saw it as a bit of a challenge. I even discovered my picture on the banner of the traineeship stand, my little moment of fame!

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4. Trainees Projects – Story Tellers of the Council

A fellow trainee, actually succeeded in getting his own project realized. It’s about folk stories and mythology in Europe and the things they have in common. He shot videos of people from different Member States, telling a folk story in their own language. I of course covered Austria as the only Austrian trainee and I had real trouble finding an Austrian folk story with a good ending. I ended up telling the Blondel Saga. Check out the Council of the EU’s Instagram to watch the stories.

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5. Photo session with Donald Tusk – President of the European Council

Almost at the end of our traineeship, we all got the chance to meet the big boss for a group photo. Our conversation was rather brief (Hi! How are you? Bye! pretty much sums it up), but I did have a bonding moment with him when we all waved at the camera man for a nice photo and I made a reference to the queen who usually waves like this. He must have found my comment funny as he laughed and replied with a ‘oh yes, that’s true’ (like I said: very brief conversations!). Even though it was only a very short moment that we got to spend with him, it was really nice of him to take the time to meet us. It was a gesture of appreciation which I am sincerely thankful for.

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Copyright: Council of the European Union

A big thank you to the General Secretariat of the Council of the European Union for having me! I had an unforgettable five months that I will never forget!

Bisou, M

P.S.: All thoughts are my own. Some of the photos are bad quality, as they are snapshots that I took with my phone.

Michelle is back

Hello there lovebirds,

Einige von euch kennen mich bereits unter dem Namen Michelle von unserem Blog, in dem Lara und ich Rezepte, Gedanken und Reisetipps mit euch teilten. Andere kennen mich aus dem echten Leben, wo ich mich Jasi, Jas, kleiner Hase, oder am h├Ąufigsten einfach Jasmin nenne. Lara und ich haben 2014 (meine G├╝te, wie die Zeit vergeht) unser Projekt ÔÇÜLara and Michelle – In love with the worldÔÇś gestartet. Aufgrund einiger privater Gr├╝nde hat sich Lara schon vor langer Zeit dazu entschlossen, nicht mehr Teil des Projektes sein zu wollen und so kam es, dass auch ich beinahe ein Jahr lang nichts mehr geschrieben hab. Meine liebe Freundin R hat mich dann vor ein paar Wochen auf den Blog angesprochen und gefragt, weshalb wir eigentlich nichts mehr posten. Naja dann bin ich irgendwie ins Gr├╝beln gekommen, da mir das Schreiben eigentlich doch ganz sch├Ân fehlt. Nun sitz ich hier so auf meiner Dachterrasse und lass mir beinahe den Hut vom Winde verwehen und dachte mir, warum eigentlich nicht doch wieder ein paar Zeilen tippen? Da ich gerade auch wieder einen riesigen Tapetenwechsel und Umzug von Strasbourg nach Wien hinter mir habe und endlich (fast!) mein Studium abgeschlossen hab und somit in die Welt der Erwachsenen eintauche, hab ich mir gedacht, es w├Ąre vielleicht hilfreich, einige Erfahrungen mit euch zu teilen. Immerhin kann dieses erwachsen werden – so viele positive Dinge es auch bringen mag – ein echter Graus sein. Wohnungssuche, Jobsuche, Identit├Ątsfindung – keine leichte Aufgabe f├╝r eine Generation Praktika, der ich selbst angeh├Âre. Jaja, tell me about it denkst du dir vielleicht gerade, aber truth is, ich h├Ątt mir gew├╝nscht, jemanden zu haben, der mir davon erz├Ąhlt, wieviele H├╝rden (aber auch wieviele sch├Âne Dinge) am Ende des Studiums auf mich zukommen. So h├Ątt ich mir vielleicht ein paar hysterische Momente, in denen ich ├Ąu├čerst gut bin, ersparen k├Ânnen und auch die eine oder andere Person mit meinem Drama schonen k├Ânnen. Ich hab durch meine vielen Umz├╝ge im In-oder Ausland und meinen gef├╝hlten Tausend Praktika einiges mitgenommen und hab auch immer wieder Fragen diesbez├╝glich bekommen. Vielleicht motiviert euch ja der eine oder andere k├╝nftige Beitrag, selber einen mutigen Schritt zu wagen, den ihr euch vorher vielleicht nicht getraut habt. Also long story short: ihr werdet wohl in n├Ąchster Zeit wieder ├Âfter ein paar Zeilen von mir lesen d├╝rfen. Ich freue mich also ├╝ber jegliche Kommentare und Feedback von euch, sowie Anregungen und W├╝nsche.

Love,

Michelle

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In love with…Valentine’s Day

Hey lovebirds,

Valentine’s Day is just around the corner and we thought we’d give you some ideas on how to spend this special day of love without becoming depressed in case you’re single like Lara and myself. Lots of people hate this day because it reminds them of being single, of being alone. But truth is: who said Valentine’s Day was only a day for couples?

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In love with…a happy new year!

2015, you were pretty good to me! Finished two Bachelor’s degrees, got a job at University of Vienna, got an internship at the Austrian Federal Chancellery, got accepted for a Master’s Programme in Strasbourg where I moved to a couple of months ago and where I met lots of new amazing and interesting people. One would say things have worked out for me this year which makes 2016 scary. You must know, I’m a very organized person – yes, I love making lists and I find tidying my room calming, so you may call me a freak – and I hate it when I don’t know where I’ll be and what I’ll be doing. 2016 will hopefully bring lots of exciting new adventures and surprises. I am hoping to be able to travel a bit more than I did this year (I surprisingly only left the country three times this year! Once for a trip to Hungary’s capital Budapest with my girls, once for a day trip to Krumlov in the Czech Republic and once to move to Strasbourg, capitale de l’Europe). My trips to Vienna and Munich are booked and there’s hope for another trip to Berlin, oh and Lara and I have planned on going to Italy this summer. Even though I’m not a big fan of making new years resolutions, traveling would be one of them if I had to choose (even though some would say it’s already become my lifestyle rather than a new year’s resolution). As a matter of fact, I’ve never been a huge fan of New Year’s – drama is always around the corner and it’s mainly related to loots of  loud noise. This year, just like the year before, I get to spend this special evening with some special people. We’ll be eating Raclette, sipping beer and champagne in somewhat chic outfits – like grown ups do! For this special occasion, I chose a dress that I bought a thousand years ago, golden sparkling details – a must on New Year’s Eve it seems – and red lipstick.

Continue reading “In love with…a happy new year!”