[EDITOR’S NOTE: This article is a collaboration between several of the interns who took part in the internship program mentioned in this article.]
CHIÈVRES, Belgium – Since February, local Belgian college students have been helping U.S. Army Garrison Benelux at Chièvres Air Base accomplish its mission by participating in the garrison’s internship program.
USAG Benelux has offered internships to students from the Faculty of Translation and Interpretation of the University of Mons, which gives them an immersive linguistic and cultural experience with English native speakers, all without leaving the country.
Not all students have the opportunity to go on a foreign exchange program, especially during COVID-19 prevention measures have prevented international travel. This internship allows the university students to have immersive English-language experience while acquiring new skills in the field.
UMons sends every year more and more students to live this experience.
“(A) benefit to the USAG Benelux as an internship placement is simply the exceedingly rare opportunity (for the students) to surround (themselves) with native speakers of one of the languages (they) have studied and all the cultural exposure that can bring,” said Dr. Jean Robertson, professor at the UMons.
This year, there are nine interns, who worked at several offices: the Religious Support Office, the Public Affairs Office, the Housing Office, the Department of Emergency Services, the office of the garrison chief of staff, and the Directorate of Family and Morale, Welfare and Recreation. For nearly eight weeks, they have experienced the work life at Chièvres Air Base.
The interns agree that this experience has strengthened their abilities in English. But the internship has also other benefits for them.
“As a work experience, I can learn things in the field, things we cannot learn at the university and I get to know a new environment – the U.S. Army,” said Stephanie Delcroix, intern with PAO. “I personally would like to keep working for the US Army and I am going to volunteer right at the end of my internship.”
“It goes without saying that I learn a lot about the culture of the people whom I work with,” said Amina Grini, RSO intern.
Marie-Lise Baneton, chief of public affairs for the garrison, and Jean Robertson, professor at the Faculty of Translation and Interpretation of the University of Mons, launched the program in 2010. Every year, the garrison welcomes a few interns and allows them to practice their English and to discover the unique work environment of Chièvres Air Base.
The former interns of the USAG Benelux have also enjoyed the experience. It has enabled them to learn new things that were useful for them.
“It was a great experience on the whole on the human and cultural level,” said Chloé Van Nieuwenhove, MWR intern in 2018.
“The internship was especially beneficial in understanding how relationships in a workplace work through the lens of American society,” said Joachim Butryn, another MWR intern.
“Having lived in the United States, I wanted to be in contact with the American culture once more,” said Antoine Vilain, intern with PAO in 2020. “Also, the Army is absolutely unknown to us, and I wanted to discover the military world and the base. How local populations help in the armed cooperation here is something we cannot learn and that we can understand only if we have experienced it.
“From the professional point of view, I was soon given many responsibilities and I have never been considered as the intern there for doing coffee or for printing sheets as we might imagine,” continued Vilain. “I learned all the services the PAO provide as well as all the unexpected events that can happen, mainly with the COVID crisis starting.”
Vilain’s different tasks gained him professional experience with communication, graphic design and writing that he’s carried into his current career. He recommended the program on the merits of the professional experience it could provide.
“This program is really interesting from an immersive point of view as well as from a professional point of view,” he said. “I would recommend it to all the students looking for an internship, and if I could do it again, I would immediately go for it!”
This experience is not only beneficial for the UMons and the interns, but is also important for USAG Benelux. The garrison has the opportunity to show prospective employees what their workforce has to offer were they to work for the U.S. Army. Due to the internship, the interns have another vision of the Army and break the usual stereotypes.
It is also a way for the American soldiers to get to know the host nation culture: the traditions, the places to visit, and more. These benefits have been reported by the sponsors.
“There was the need of the garrison to support, seek out and cultivate young talents,” said Lt. Col. William Frost, garrison chief of staff. “Then, it was an opportunity to further enhance my own experience of working in Belgium. I could have further contacts and insight in the host nations folks.”
Monica Young, who works with FMWR, was also enthusiastic about the program.
“It has been a great experience,” she said. “The internship program has helped the marketing department with translation, with graphic design, commercial sponsorship appointments. And a couple interns even starred in a video!”
Young has been welcoming new interns every year since 2016. She said that mutual learning is key.
“I was motivated by the experience of having a French-speaking intern assist with an English-speaking marketing department,” she said. “As with all the interns I have had in marketing, we all learned from each other.”
“Firstly, it’s a rich human experience in terms of cultural exchange, because, even if we have many local host nation manpower on base, we don’t have whole-day interactions with them,” said Chaplain (Lt. Col.) Simon Chang, garrison chaplain. “So when we have (the interns), we learn more about Belgian culture and way of thinking. Also, we met interns from different backgrounds (Italian, Maltese, and now Algerian and Congolese) and we learn a lot from each other’s cultures.”
The sponsors were enthusiastic about the experience, and they expect to take other interns next year.