My internship at the European Network on Independent Living, 2nd of July- 28th of September, 2012
My name is Agnes Sarolta Fazekas. I am currently studying a Social Policy Master’s Programme at the Faculty of the Social Sciences, Eötvös Loránd Science University, in Budapest, Hungary. I was born with arms malformation, but this did not cause any problems in my socialization or in studying. I am very grateful for my parents and the surrounding area. My condition certainly takes a prominent part in handling questions about disability policy.
Completing an internship was part of my Social Policy Master Programme. I decided to do my internship abroad, in the framework of “ERASMUS Student Mobility for Placement”. ERASMUS Student Mobility for Placements enables students at higher education institutions to spend a placement period which promotes cooperation between higher education institutions and enterprises/organizations and contributes to the development of a pool of well-qualified, open-minded and internationally experienced young people as future professionals.
I really wanted to do an internship in the disability sector at the European level. In February, 2012 I applied to the European Network on Independent Living. I was really honoured to receive a letter from Jamie Bolling, the Executive Director, that European Network on Independent Living had approved my application. I also applied for the Placement Grant, which was offered by Eötvös Loránd Science University and Tempus Public Foundation in the framework Life Long Learning Programme, “ERASMUS Student Mobility for Placements”.
The result for my Grant arrived in May, 2012. I was really happy about the news, I was to be based in Dublin, Ireland at the Secretariat of ENIL. I started to prepare everything for my internship. I received a lot of help from Jamie in Sweden and Martin Naughton the Co-Executive Director who is based in Dublin and from their colleagues. They were in contact with me via emails and skype. They prepared my tasks of activities and helped me in searching for accommodation in Dublin.
I arrived a few days before my first work day, so I had some time to adapt to the new environment in Dublin, Ireland. I was welcomed at Dublin Airport by ENIL colleagues. When we went outside to the parking spot, it started to rain. There was no doubt, I arrived to Ireland. My second surprise was the car. Why? You should know that I have never before been in a left –hand traffic country. The Republic of Ireland is the second largest European state, after the United Kingdom, with a left-hand traffic system. Vanessa told me some practical information about life in Dublin before I started to work. She did her best, so I felt prepared for my stay in Ireland.
Jamie Bolling prepared interviewees for the beginning of my internship. I was honoured to interview key actors of European Network on Independent Living. I gained a lot of information about the European history of Independent Living. I could build the knowledge upon each other. Firstly, I got an excellent overview about the Independent Living Movement, so I could follow my second task which was Frequently Asked Questions about Personal Assistance and Independent Living and ENIL. My third task was a Personal Assistance Survey among ENIL members. This task was very interesting, because “Independent Living” and Personal Assistance” terminology differs in each country. It was a great challenge to compare and collect all the fine details about Personal Assistance in a diverse Europe. Challenge has been accepted, [as Barney would say in How I Met Your Mother] I started to go deeply inside the countries’ social policy system and understand their Personal Assistance system and how it works for people with disabilities. The researches of the Academic Network of European Disability Experts were such a help comparing the differences among Europe. I have already studied Comparative Social Policy at my university, but this task was an excellent practice and I deepened my knowledge in this part of disability policy.
My fourth task was a Literature Review on Indicators of implementing the UNCRPD & Article 19. Although I have known UNCRPD, through this work I could understand the deep meaning of this document. We should learn how to use the UNCRPD in our everyday life and the best ways of its implementation, especially for Article 19. My fifth topic was a literature review about Multiple Discrimination. It has covered different aspects, such as what challenges you are facing when you are an immigrant women with a disability, or a child with disability, etc. We have to care about several dimensions and take into account when planning an action or legislation in social policy. As part of my internship I was building ENIL’s library, and I learned extra IT skills. Going through the literature I have realized the deep pool of literature of disability policy and the power of the language. Still there are so many great literatures which are not translated into Hungarian, although it would be great that they are available for everybody, not only those who can understand English.
The last item of my internship has been a long term research paper which is part of my university studies and was approved by ENIL. “ Hungarian-Irish comparative research paper about the situation of Students with disabilities & their participation in Lifelong Learning Program –Erasmus-mobility programs.” I was really lucky to do research in Ireland where the Ambassador of ERASMUS 25 Years is a student with disability who participated in ERASMUS Mobility Program. During my research I was honoured to get in contact with Mr. Gerry O’ Sullivan, Head of European Programme at the Higher Education Authority. I participated on an International Higher Education Conference organized by the European Association for International Education. At the conference my main interest was on this topic: “Involving students with disabilities in international exchange programmes- No problem”. Participating in Exchange programme in itself is a complex question – exchange programmes and even with the requirement of a personal assistance in a diverse Europe. My aim is collect the core elements of why there is a very low participation in mobility programmes across Europe. I proudly represented ENIL at this conference and got in contact with Mobility International USA. Last but not least in my work with ENIL I could contribute with a Hungarian invitation to Cor Van Damme’s European Road Trip.
To conclude my work experience, participating as a trainee developed my professional knowledge and competence, social skills and foreign language skills. Working for ENIL was a great opportunity to gain international work experience, which completed my future professional plans. The international atmosphere of work and the profit in a special academic field was essential from the point of view of my future professional life and it was essential to analyse, specific disability-related issues in Europe. I have not only the theoretical knowledge, but the practical experience in exploring the recent trends and situation towards ‘independent living’ within welfare policy.
I recommend for everybody who is interested in Independent Living to gain experiences in the Movement itself for example to come to the 10th Anniversary of Freedom Drive in 2013. It will be an amazing experience to meet people from the Movement. All the experiences I have gathered personally through my internship can not realized other way. All the dimensions like my working experience, everyday life and standing on my own feet abroad developed my personality and had a huge impact on me that is really hard to tell in words.
I am really glad that I applied for Erasmus Student Placement Programme and was approved by ENIL. I arrived home with a lot of good practices, ideas what I have learned from my internship, and my stay in Ireland. I feel very inspired and full of new ideas and I have been empowered. I hope I can contribute with my newly gained knowledge to my country’s disability policy. I hope that not only myself but others will join, because I feel the power in me but we can achieve more together.
Everybody has some previous ideas of a country before she or he has been there, or at least only for a short term. I also had them regarding Ireland; especially that it is a rainy country. No doubt, it is. I have already known quite a lot of things about Ireland before I arrived, but afterwards I have to say it was a tiny- tiny knowledge comparing what I have experienced in my everyday life, culture, history, religion, etc. I am very interested about getting to know new places so I decided to discover most of Ireland during my short stay. I was a short term intern and parallel a tourist I tried to catch every moment to experience something new about Ireland. I can start from the language and my funny misspellings (budget- and budgie bird) or the Irish -English (I am fine- I am grand) through the food, music, architecture, and so on and so on. I was impressed about the attitude of people towards people with disabilities. It is hard to describe, because it is so complex, but I felt that my country has to develop a lot in this area, and although we are slowly progressing, we still are far from what I have experienced in Ireland.
To make an inventory I have been to a lot of places, made great friends, experienced a lot, got a lot of help from my colleagues regarding work and everyday life and I will never forget those moments I lived in Ireland.
As you read and suppose I have not covered everything about my experiences. These are just some tiny-tiny parts of my whole 95 days from landing in Ireland to leaving the country.
It was a complex Erasmus Experience which you should live. I really would like that more students with disabilities could take part of this Erasmus experience. Besides all the professional reasons, this is my personal engagement about writing a research study about ERASMUS mobility programmes.
Thanks to the European Network on Independent Living, to my home university, the Faculty of Social Sciences of Eötvös Loránd University and the cooperation with Erasmus Student Mobility for Placement.
Yours sincerely, Ágnes Sarolta Fazekas
Budapest, 20.December, 2012