‘If they don’t accept you, would you even like to do an internship there?’

Rania Zeroual found herself in a from pillar to post situation during her search for a graduation internship. The now graduated law student wants to warn and help other students.

‘In October last year I posted on my LinkedIn profile that I was looking for an internship company to carry out my graduation assignment in the second semester. That post was viewed very often, tens of thousands of times. But I noticed that there was zero response to that post. Then I started applying to different companies with really well targeted cover letters in which I delved into the mission and vision of those companies, and I gave reasons why I thought I could be a good fit. Of the forty companies, two invited me for an interview. I didn’t hear anything from the rest or I immediately received a standard rejection by email. Even when I called, I constantly received the answer that they were not looking for interns or had already been provided. At the end of January I still didn’t have an internship and I reflected that very much on myself; you think you are not good enough because you may not have the right competencies and skills to work.’

‘Too ambitious’

‘During the interview at one of the two companies where I was allowed to apply, the word ‘discrimination’ came to mind for the first time because, according to them, I did not have the right legal experience. But last year I had conducted licensing research and drafted legal documents at another law firm. I have also had conversations with clients. They offered me an internship position as a telephone operator. But my application letter clearly stated that I was looking for an HBO graduate internship. ‘I’m a student, right?’ I thought. Isn’t the point of being a student that I come to learn and gain experience? But I didn’t convince

the lady on the phone with that either. What it came down to was that she thought the internship was far too ambitious for me. At a moment like that you really fall apart, because you are already very insecure about yourself because of all the rejections. Ultimately, the course assigned me an internship position; which I really liked, but it was not at the company I wanted. Plus, because of all the unpleasant experiences I had prior to the internship, I was completely exhausted and insecure at the start of my graduation period.”

Gut feeling

‘Once I got to that internship, I started paying extra attention to myself, which may have made me seem a bit insecure. I was the only Moroccan at the company, and I was constantly thinking about whether I spoke and wrote correctly. Whilst I had never thought about that before, because it was always good. I suddenly had no self-confidence anymore. That’s why I feel like my colleagues didn’t fully trust my abilities and that I was a bit underestimated. I want to convey this to people who do not understand what internship discrimination is: it is never literally stated with the words ‘we do not trust you or will not hire you, because you have a different surname or you have a different origin.’ It is about a pattern. I don’t like to label it as discrimination or internship discrimination, but at some point I got a certain gut feeling. That says something of course. I always thought: if you do your best in your education and get good grades, you will succeed. But that’s actually not the case at all.’

‘I also noticed that when I talked to colleagues about what you are doing or what you are researching, they would laughingly say: ‘Good luck. We’ve been trying to do that here for ten years.’

Don’t let anyone tell you what you can or cannot do

‘This spring I discussed with teachers my delay in looking for a graduation internship, and they found it very remarkable because I normally always have my affairs well in order. It also turned out that several students with a “different” background had raised the same issue. I would therefore have liked to receive more support from Windesheim. But on the other hand, I also find it difficult to ask for help. When I and other students indicated that we had a lot of difficulty finding an internship and that I was almost never invited, this was a signal for the programme to better guide students with a different background. I now want to work hard for that.’ ‘I want to tell students that you really have to make your voice heard if you disagree with something. And that you report it if you have the feeling that something is not right in your studies or during your internship. Don’t let anyone tell you that you can or cannot do something. If no one responds to you or you are rejected again, don’t reflect on yourself like I did, but ask yourself whether you even want to intern there if they don’t accept you for

who you are. Over the past few months I have constantly reminded myself that I am good enough and that it is okay to make mistakes, you learn from them. Life is a big lesson. My dream is that through my efforts I can help people who are having a harder time, and that I can do something for the world.’

Text: Reinhilde van Aalderen

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