An internship may require thousands of euros in savings or considerable financial support from parents – “Not all internships are accessible to everyone” 

Some internships offer such a low salary that not all students have the financial capacity to complete them. Are some career paths open only to those with high income?

Original text: Miira Parhiala

Pictures: Saara Peltola

Graphics: Kimmo Lust

Translation: Erika Yli-Rahnasto

Artikkeli luettavissa myös suomeksi.

Will I manage financially if I take this internship? 

Cecilia Ingman studies international politics.

This is the question Cecilia Ingman asked herself when she was selected in the spring of 2022 for an internship in New York, Finland’s permanent UN mission to the Unit for Peace and Security. 

Ingman was a third-year international politics student at the time of the application and did not expect to be elected at that point. 

”I hadn’t even returned my Bachelor’s thesis yet. I applied with the thought that they would remember my name there, and I could apply again later.” 

As an internship, the Permanent Mission of the United Nations would be the most equivalent to Ingman’s studies, interests, and future goals. The Peace and Security Unit’s training content consists of themes such as peacebuilding, humanitarian affairs, and arms control. 

“I have this common mentality of an international politics student that you have to do something meaningful and important in life. I want to be where things happen.” 

In the future, Ingman hopes to get employed by the state, for example, in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. That is why it is important for Ingman to gain international experience already during her studies. 

For example, Ingman’s knowledge of the UN system was discussed in the job interview of the UN mission’s internship. What would Ingman herself have to offer the mission?  

During the interview, Ingman was also asked about her financial capabilities. 

“I was told that previously an applicant has been selected, but then it has become clear that the applicant does not have the financial resources to complete the internship.” 

After the interview, Ingman received a video of a Security Council session where the Special Envoy of Yemen gave guidance on the country-specific situation. The applicant had to write a report of the internship for a maximum of half a page from the video. 

“The internship includes a lot of reporting to Helsinki as well as Finnish embassies and missions, so the aim was to test one’s ability to produce seamless reports during the application phase.” 

The report written by Ingman was what the recruiters wanted.  

Even financial matters would be resolved, one way or another, so Ingman packed her suitcase and decided to move across the pond for six months. 

Just like in movies 

Expensive and hectic. Those words come to mind first for Ingman as she reflects on her life in New York now less than two years later. 

”And in a cliché way, it was just like in the movies. It made me feel like you could be anything and do anything. There was such a feeling of stability,” Ingman says. 

Managing everyday things was slow in the city. When Ingman went to buy an $8 package of oatmeal from the store, there was a queue squirming through the entire store. 

Distances are also long inside New York City. Many people spend several hours a day on commute. 

The rent for the room was $1,200, and Ingman’s internship paid about $1,300 a month. You had to have your own savings. 

The employer did not help Ingman find an apartment, but Ingman received help for the apartment hunt from the so-called intern guide. Eventually, Ingman found a home just 45 minutes away from the mission by subway on Roosevelt Island, an island between Manhattan and Queens. 

”My roommates were pretty talkative. The biggest culture shock was probably related to the small talk culture.” 

The rent for the room was $1,200, and Ingman’s internship paid about $1,300 a month. You had to have your own savings. 

”Spending money there was so distressing that I didn’t want to count how much money went into food, for example. I lived on a budget and made sure there was enough money at least for food.” 

Ingman says that in the end, it took thousands of euros to manage the everyday life, and the internship required a lot of financial support from the parents as well. In Ingman’s case, the internship would not have been possible without the help of the parents. 

”I’m really grateful that they have wanted and been able to support my dreams. I feel lucky that my parents have had the resources to do this.” 

Sessions and votings 

During her first working week, Ingman was sent to the Danish mission to follow up on the report instead of the person in charge of African affairs. 

”You were able to do some real work and get some responsibility. I completed my internship during the summer holiday season. While officials are on vacation, their jobs are delegated to other team members, such as interns”, Ingman says. 

During the internship, Ingman attended Security Council sessions, followed the speeches of the UN General Assembly, reported on these to Helsinki, other Finnish embassies, and missions, and held briefings within the mission. 

”At the time, the situation in Ukraine was also very much on the table. Russia is a permanent member of the Security Council, so you were able to witness pretty wild speeches there.” 

At times, Ingman had to face difficult emotions during the sessions. It was challenging to listen to certain speeches because they portrayed a whole worldview. The pain of the world became real. 

“I had to think about how to write about those things into the report.” 

The internship revolutionised Ingman’s understanding of the international community and the world: the extent of mutual relations between countries and the influence of groupings in countries on individual people’s lives became clearer. 

”When a matter is voted on in the Security Council, one may vote according to the grouping. It is absurd that these voting decisions directly affect right people in the right conflict zones.” 

Over the last few weeks, Ingman was responsible for his mentor’s desk on African affairs and peacebuilding.  

“Responsibility helped us to perceive our own expertise and competence in challenging issues. Self-confidence increased.” 

After the internship, Ingman got a summer job at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Recruitment at the Ministry for Foreign Affairs emphasised, for example, internship experience from the mission. 

“The internship has been a concrete benefit in terms of future job prospects. During the internship, I also gained an understanding that I want to pursue an international career,” Ingman says. 

Unequalising salary 

Ingman understands the lower wages of internships in the sense that it is not yet, so to speak, a real job, but an internship that requires guidance and support. 

”However, the pay raises questions about who ultimately has the opportunity to do certain internships. Internships during studies also affect where you end up later in working life,” Ingman says. 

In this sense, poor salaries of internships may, in Ingman’s view, unequalise students. 

“The idea that you should save money for internships is rather daunting. This is not just about internships abroad, after all, Helsinki is also expensive, and salaries can be really low. Not all internships are accessible to everyone.” 

According to Reeta Lehmusoksa, career counsellor and Specialist in Joint guidance and counselling services at the Tampere University, small internship salaries affect students’ income and, for example, whether the student can afford to leave to another location for the internship.  

”The university does not recommend completely unpaid internships. If a student is faced with an unpaid internship, it is worth thinking carefully about whether the content of the internship is such that it would be worth going for.” 

Students also often experience stress about whether or not they can find an internship.  

“Students apply for multiple positions and the process can be stressful in itself. There is a lot of uncertainty about that,” says Lehmusoksa.  

The aim of the university’s allowance for internships is to influence, for example, that the jobs would pay the interns an appropriate salary. The university’s allowance for internships is a financial aid paid to an internship employer to cover the time spent on guidance and the intern’s salary expenses.  

In 2024, a maximum of 1,800 euros will be granted for traineeships. 

The university sets certain conditions for the employer to be granted an internship grant. For example, the salary for the internship period must be at least equal to the minimum wage determined annually, which meets KELA’s employment condition. In 2024, the minimum wage defined by KELA is 1399 euros per month. 

According to Lehmusoksa, Tampere University does not advertise in its job and internship database any internships where the internship salary is below the minimum wage defined by KELA. 

”The university does not recommend completely unpaid internships. If a student is faced with an unpaid internship, it is worth thinking carefully about whether the content of the internship is such that it would be worth going for.” 

According to Lehmusoksa, it is true that varying salaries for internships can put students in an unequal position.  

Certain internships and, as a result, career paths may only be available to students with high-income parents, a lot of savings, or energy to work alongside studies or internships to pay for a low-paying or unpaid internship. 

Internship salaries and internship system also vary by field. For a politics student like Cecilia, for example, an internship is not mandatory for completing studies. 

So far, Tampere University has not collected any data on students’ internship salaries, and it is not yet possible to make a field-specific comparison of the differences in salary sizes. According to Lehmusoksa, data has been collected since early 2024. 

“We want to find out in more detail in general how the students’ internships are carried out and going well overall.” 

However, data is mainly collected on internships supported by the university, which means that information on the salaries of all internships is not collected for the university at the moment.