I was long struggling with my journey to find a suitable international traineeship. Having always been somebody who loved travelling, exchanging experiences and admiring cross-cultural differences, the opportunity of going abroad was one of my main reasons to pick this Research Master programme. After already having studied fully online for more than one year, I felt like I would not enjoy a summer school held online or online guidance from a supervisor abroad.
In March 2021, I stumbled across an invitation to an online congress held by EFPSA, the European Federation of Psychology Students’ Associations. Its main theme, The Paradox of an Open Mind – Cycling Through Controversies, immediately sparked my interest. Working on a dissertation project about the mental health consequences related to cannabis consumption, I was often confronted with “closed minds” and was looking for ways to improve such interactions.
Additionally, I was very surprised about the many initiatives the organizing committee had come up with to engage the audience and create social interactions. Every day, they had several social activities included, ranging from Quiz Nights over Networking Events and Yoga Classes to simple after-session discussion rooms on Discord. While I was doubtful whether the organizers efforts would translate into an active audience online, I appreciated the many creative approaches and was looking forward to partaking.
Due to the nice overlap between the congress’ main theme and my dissertation, I applied to become a presenter at the conference as well. Not having heard anything back, I was rather surprised to receive a confirmation two weeks prior to the start of the congress! While preparing a session for up to fifty students in such a short time was challenging, it was one of the periods that inspired me most for my thesis in terms of thinking of issues that might come up during discussion.
On the 20th of April the first day of the conference had come, and I came prepared with an empty notebook, groceries for the cooking workshops, and lots of coffee. Even on the first day, I was blown away by the participation during lectures: All cameras on, lots of attention, and even more questions from students, something I could only dream of as a tutorial teacher myself.
In terms of content, I was especially interested in the programme of Wednesday with the theme “Health & Addiction: Be the Heroine of Your Life, Not the Victim”. While I can be hesitant to approach strangers, I was motivated to gain most possible out of the conference and did my best with openly approaching others. Like that, I was able to have some questions answered by experts in the field and some professors even offered to send me some additional literature based on our discussions.
Nevertheless, I think the main learning experience came from delivering my own student presentation. All students were very active, leading to too many discussion points and questions than time available. Several students approached me afterwards, so that we organized a follow-up discussion session the next week.
Not only in terms of the presentation I gave, but also during the social events of the congress, I had the chance to become closer to several others (such as my great escape room team) with whom I still keep contact now. I even met another research master student from a different university team with a similar focus on individual differences. In the end, we supported each other for weeks after the conference, benefitting from each other’s expertise!
Taken together, this “international” traineeship was a very useful and fun experience that provided new insights and many controversial perspectives to reflect upon. And while I may not have gone abroad right now, I may well visit one of the others after the pandemic.