The program was founded in 2003 after the assassination of the pro-European Prime Minister of Serbia, Zoran Djindjic. It was established in cooperation with the Zoran Djindjic Foundation to offer participants broad-based professional and international experience with stays in Germany lasting up to six months.
For Belgrade-native Jovana Nikolic who interned at the electrical drive systems company Loher GmbH, the program provided direct knowledge of company operations, “During the first seven days I had the chance to spend time with the main Geschaeftsfuehrer (Managing Director) who gave me insight into the dimensions of the company, but also self-confidence and a feeling of safety.”
Initially reserved for Serbian students who wanted experience in the private sector, the internship program is now open to applicants from Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, Kosovo, Macedonia, Montenegro and Serbia. The seventh group of students to participate in the program arrived in Germany in late June.
Knowledge-transfer beyond business culture
The interns have the chance to learn about business operations in major German companies, from management to marketing, as well as German institutions, society and business culture with the aim of transferring the knowledge gained to their home countries for greater economic cooperation and development.
For Maja Dragovic of Croatia, who completed an internship at Open Europe Consulting, the experience was a chance for a critical analysis of her own society, “Knowledge about other societies and cultures allows us to see our own society from another angle. It enables us to see the flows and mistakes that we are doing wrong, and offers us creative solutions of how to make things better.”
In addition to receiving German language instruction, the interns receive a monthly stipend from the Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development and their accommodation is paid by the host company. They also partake in seminars on German business culture and a four-day introductory program in Berlin prior to the start of the internship.
There is no standard internship. Whether at large companies or small ones, the interns are integrated into teams and encouraged to take on independent tasks. For Nikolic, this was an opportunity to be part of the team, “When they realized that I wanted to learn and that I was not afraid of hard work, they were not selfish in sharing their knowledge with me. Whenever I had a question someone found the time to explain the issue to me. They were interested in my opinion and whether I needed some help.”
An alumni network
Over 50 alumni of the first four generations of the internship program met in Belgrade June 21-22 to discuss the establishment of an alumni network and its future activities. Participants were in attendance from Serbia, Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Macedonia and Albania.
Although it’s professionally-oriented, the lasting effects of the internship program can also be quite personal as Dragovic explains, “In the case of Munich, which is really a multiethnic, multicultural and multilingual city, a person really feels like a citizen not just of Germany or of Europe, but as a citizen of the World. Although, it was very difficult for me to come here alone and start working in a foreign language, I can now say I feel that Munich became my other home.”
Applications will again be accepted starting in October. Candidates should be 30 years old or younger, have a good command of English and/or German, and be nearing graduation in business, the sciences or a related discipline. Postgraduates with only entry-level job experience are also encouraged to apply. The procedure consists of a written online application, an interview and the selection of recommended candidates by companies, who make their decisions based on the application and in some cases their own interviews.