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Navigating an Internship Abroad

February 23, 2016
by CEA CAPA Content Creator

I stared at my internship coordinator in disbelief as she explained the criteria for our internships rapidly in Spanish. She explained the basics of each of our positions, pointing to people around the room as she went. Some of us would be a classroom assistant at a local school. Others would assist in making meals at a senior citizen home each week. My internship paired me with the Albihar Foundation, a social services network that focuses on the well-being and personal growth of women, children, and the elderly. I would spend 4-6 hours per week with an 86-year-old woman in her home. It would be a 15-minute walk from my house, and throughout the semester, I’d write a ten-page paper in Spanish. At the end, I’d receive class credits that would transfer back to my home university. It hadn’t been quite what I had in mind for an internship abroad, but how could I complain?

It turned out, I couldn’t. While the language barrier occasionally got in the way of everyday conversation, Encarnación (the woman I visited each week) took her time explaining things to me and didn’t mind repeating herself. I’d often spend all week looking forward to seeing Encarnación to tell her about my travels and studies. We’d talk about our families, travels, and home countries, and she’d show me dozens of photo albums illustrating her life experiences. She constantly asked me if I enjoyed the Spanish food, and often offered me pastries and juice. I came to see Encarnación as my Spanish grandmother, and she quickly became one of my favorite parts of my semester in Granada.

  Although interning abroad was a big leap of faith, it improved my language skills in so many ways, and helped me understand parts of the Spanish culture I never would have thought to research further. Encarnación loved politics, and that included explaining Spanish politics. She’d tell me about the various political parties and their leaders and kept me up to date with who was in the lead during debates. She’d inform me of the history behind each party and why she did or did not like certain candidates. It inspired me that she paid such close attention to politics so that she could see how these things would impact Spain in the years to come.

  The connections I built with the program organizers helped me understand the importance of associations like the Albihar Foundation and the power of individual outreach. Additionally, the time I spent with Encarnación allowed me to explore social services, a branch I never would have seen myself pursuing or enjoying. Although the internship doesn’t relate to my field of study, it added to my semester abroad, and helped me understand the Spanish culture who knew more about it from a personal standpoint than any of my professors, language partners, or CEA professional staff members.

Heather Berg is a Spring '15 Granada, Spain alum. She is a CEA Alumni Ambassador and currently a senior at Carroll University.

Read more about our CEA CAPA Content Creators.
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