Three weeks ago, I walked into the office of the Financial Times Brussels bureau for the first time.
Dressed in my best business-profesh attire, I rang the door bell to one of the many row-houses found across from a beautiful park and the Belgium Royal Palace. It was a little after 9 a.m., and I swayed back and forth in the cool Brussels air to the rhythm of my screaming nerves. “What if I’m late?” “Did I bring an extra pen?” “I definitely shouldn’t have had that last cup of coffee.”
Countless, insignificant thoughts and questions rattled around inside until someone finally opened the door. A woman juggling an espresso and a dust pan looked down at me, her naturally cheery faced mixed with confusion. “You are…,” she asks with an accent I can’t yet place.
I give her a nervous line about being the new intern, and she quickly ushers me into a newsroom far different than any I’ve stepped into before. She introduces herself as Catalina, the housekeeper of the FT office for the past decade.
“Darling,” she says in what I learn is a Romanian accent, “I’m going to go make you some coffee. Do you know you’re here an hour early?”
Catalina’s warmth was a beautiful surprise-start to my internship this semester with the Financial Times Brussels bureau.
To say my learning curve going into this internship felt as deep as Greece’s debt cerca December 2009 would be an overstatement, but just barely. I met Catalina on the doorstep that Monday morning full of expectations and doubt — the unhealthy combo that accompanies any major change. I think the fear I most heavily carried up the steps and to my corner desk was the fear of looking foolish — whether it be for arriving late (or in actuality massively early), struggling to understand austerity or failing to articulate the difference between the European Council and the Council of European Union (let’s get a little more creative with names, people).
Over the past three weeks, of course, there have been times when I felt foolish. But so far I haven’t been asked to simplify a very convoluted EU system or solve the debt crisis, so I haven’t looked nearly as foolish as my irrational fears would have led me to believe. What I have been asked to do is play a small part in one of the most accurate, longest-standing newspapers in Europe and in the world. And I’m finding more and more that feeling foolish is directly correlated with learning, and continually learning is the whole goal of becoming a good journalist, isn’t it?
My desk is a front-row seat to how a paper of this weight and responsibility thrives. In offices that were long ago living rooms and bedrooms, FT journalists have been recording European (and world) history here for the last 40 years.
I still get to the office anywhere from an hour to 30 minutes early, but now it’s on purpose. I check in with Catalina before she leaves and ask her how her family in the states are doing. I make an espresso downstairs before I grab the day’s copy of the FT, sit down at my desk and open up my pink textbook.
The nerves are still there – I feel them every time I walk into an EU press conference or mess up a dial on my Ph.D-required desk phone. But what I feel now – more than my own self-doubts or insecurities – is an insatiable excitement to learn everything I can from a paper I respect more and more everyday. And that’s far more fun than feeling nervous.