Vincent’s Intern Story Part 1: Learning Goals for Leadership and Innovation

7 min readApr 5, 2022
Story written by ErasmusX Intern Vincent Smeding

Hi, my name is Vincent Smeding and three weeks ago I started my internship at ErasmusX. During the coming few months I will be working with the ErasmusX team as a junior business developer. I will also be writing a series of blogs about my experiences working at ErasmusX. In these blogs I am going to share my successes, failures, struggles and learning moments in pursuing my personal learning goals. Furthermore, I want to show my professional development as well as my personal thoughts, feelings and emotions. Please enjoy my first blog where I will dive deeper into my learning goals.

These past few weeks have mainly been about getting into the ErasmusX workflow. One of the things that makes this workplace unlike any other is your ability to determine your own path in terms of workplace activities. This gives you a lot of opportunities to pursue your personal goals, but it also comes with uncertainty because no one will tell you exactly what you should be doing. In order for me to find my way in this landscape, I had to determine what my personal goals were. I summarized these goals and my motivation behind them in the internship plan I wrote for my EUR internship supervisor. In this blog, I want to outline my two overarching learning goals as well as provide context as to why these are my learning goals. Furthermore, I want to connect my learning goals to the work activities I will be taking on in the coming few months.

The cocktail of problems

In order to understand the context of my learning goals, we have to go back five years to 2017. The spring of 2017 might have been the hardest spring of my life so far. I was failing my first year of economics at Tilburg University after failing my first year of international business administration in 2015 and failing my first year of economics in 2016 at Erasmus University Rotterdam. Before going to university I had never failed in school, so I never learned how to cope with failure, let alone failing three times in a row. I had also never learned how to ask for help. To me, asking for help felt like inconveniencing others with my problems, which could make them despise me or think less of me. I was so afraid of giving other people reasons not to like me that I would do everything to keep people on my good side, including bottling up my thoughts, emotions and problems. I would also let others cross my boundaries in order to keep them as ‘friends’ and I would repeatedly exceed my own limits.

This cocktail of problems fostered a deep dislike for myself and dropped my self-esteem down to its lowest point it had ever been. I felt like I had completely lost my identity as a person and what was left was a major piece of s**t. I was diagnosed with severe depression and had to completely rearrange my life. At this low point, I started therapy with the goal to figure out who I was and who I wanted to be. During those sessions in 2017, I discovered that all I wanted to do was help people. This is who I am at the core and is still my driving motivation today. Knowing this I had to start getting to the more practical side of things: how did I want to help people?

Inching towards a comprehensive personal philosophy

Fast forward to 2018, the year my personal philosophy started taking shape. I was out of therapy, but still recovering from the depression. I decided to keep going with economics, but I still had not figured out how I wanted to help people. I also hadn’t figured out how to structure my daily life in such a way that allowed me to succeed in my studies. I had a hard time being motivated and hadn’t yet found a daily routine that allowed me to pursue my goals. During this time I was still failing classes, but I started putting the pieces together.

Something that became clear to me during this time, is that adults are able to shape their own life. Adults are able to make their own choices and to a certain extent decide their own fate. Of course, if an adult asks for help we should give it to them, but it is up to them to ask for it. Children on the other hand don’t have that agency. They can’t choose the circumstances in which they are born, they can’t choose their family and they are overall the product of their environment. This is all very well until you realize how much these factors impact someone’s chances at success: the better the environment, the bigger the chance a child will attain success in life. The disproportionate influence of the environment on the success of a child seemed so unfair to me that it struck a nerve. After a lengthy process of searching for who I am, I finally found it: I wanted to make an impact on the lives of these kids. Then again the question arose: how will I make this impact?

In order to find out, I started doing volunteer work at the Voorleesexpress, an organization that focuses on the language development of children with non-Dutch speaking parents through reading aloud to them.

An education love story

Fast forward to 2019, still studying economics, still failing, but something had changed. I loved volunteering at the Voorleesexpress and actually felt a spark every time I thought about helping children succeed in life. In February of 2019, I decided to quit economics once and for all in order to give myself time and space to figure out my future. I started working full-time and devoted my free time to figuring out the practical side of my future. It was during this time my passions started to take shape.

One of the things I figured out was that, although I loved the Voorleesexpress, I knew I wanted to attain a deeper understanding of the development of children. I wanted to learn how children grow up, what influences the outcomes of an upbringing and how children learn. I also knew that I wanted to design a school that compensates for differences in socioeconomic status. For me, this all came together in the study of pedagogical sciences at Erasmus University Rotterdam, so I once again applied and started studying in the fall of 2019.

Fast forward once again to the fall of 2021, finally following my passion, feeling motivated and not failing in my studies anymore. Unbeknownst to what was to come, I started the minor Future Learning with Technology, hosted by ErasmusX. Up until then, I had learned a lot about the theoretical side of child development and education. I had however not yet applied my knowledge to the problems of the real world. In the minor, I got the opportunity to do this and together with my team, we decided to focus on the declining reading skills of Dutch students. Language development had been an interest of mine since I started volunteering at the Voorleesexpress and knowing a lot of language problems are situated in groups with lower socioeconomic status I was able to bring together two of my longstanding passions. We decided to try and reinvent the way we teach reading comprehension to elementary school students and we are still growing this project to this day. Seeing this come to fruition five years after deciding I wanted to help people and three years after drafting up my personal goal of designing a school that compensates for socioeconomic status was one of the greatest moments of my life.

Looking at the future

For me, reading comprehension is not enough, though. I want to do more in terms of all aspects of education. I want to grow this company and revolutionize education as we know it. In order to do this, I need certain skills that weren’t taught in my studies. These are broader leadership skills like being able to lead multidisciplinary teams and being able to adequately communicate to different stakeholders as well as more specific skills like being able to properly budget, being able to do acquisition and being able to report the progress of projects. Furthermore, I want to be able to further apply the content knowledge I acquired during my studies. I want to learn how to analyze and solve educational problems, improve my communication skills with different ages and target groups, become better at visualizing my thinking, and increase my reflection and feedback skills.

In order to achieve these learning goals, I will be taking over as the project lead for the online virtual campus project throughout my internship. I had a lot of fun meeting the entire team and getting to know the project over the past couple of weeks and can’t wait to see where this project will lead us. I will also start working on developing an educational method for the Erasmian Values Game project. I am very much looking forward to applying my content knowledge to this project. Lastly, I will be joining Alex and Farshida in their managerial, budget and stakeholder meetings.

In conclusion, ErasmusX has been the catalyst of my personal goals and dreams, for which I will be forever thankful. I am looking forward to contributing to and learning from the team in the coming few months and am very excited for what the future will bring!

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