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Alumna Q&A: The Value of an Internship Abroad

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My semester abroad was my wildest adventure, my biggest accomplishment, and the best time of my life. And CEA gave it all to me. 

I had known since my 8th grade Spanish trip to Spain that someday I wanted to study abroad. When that someday came, I knew I needed to be in Spain. I had 12 years of Spanish under my belt and was ready to take the country by storm. Going into the study abroad office at my university and facing hundreds of choices for locations and programs was overwhelming, and that’s when CEA fell into my lap. My advisor mentioned the program and I was hooked.  

It was about a month before my departure that I got an email explaining that I could add an internship to my program. I looked into that option and decided that there was no better way to experience a country than working in it. 

When I arrived in Granada, Spain, I was placed with the Colegio de Virgen de Gracia. It’s a private school in the heart of the city. There, I had the opportunity to work with students who were 5-6 years old. I learned all about the school system in Spain, and got to assist the teachers with lesson plans, games, presentations, projects, and grading.  

What goals did you have for doing an international internship? 

When I decided to do an international internship, it was purely for the experience. I want to work internationally someday, and this was the perfect opportunity to dip my toes in and test the water. I had originally hoped to be placed with International Cooperation NGO but was instead placed at the local school, and it was a perfect fit. Although it was outside of my field of study (majoring in International Business and Spanish), it pushed me to learn more about the education field. It also helped to speak with locals, and children have no problem telling you when you’ve messed up your grammar or a verb. It was nice to have that no-filter correction, and it improved my Spanish by leaps and bounds.  

The international internship gave me a huge resume booster, but it also gave me the life experience to know that when I land a job internationally in my career, I’m confident that I will do okay in the new work environment. 

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Were there aspects of the internship that you had doubts about? How did you deal with that? Would you encourage other students with your major to intern abroad with CEA? What advice would you give them? 

I had huge doubts about the internship, especially after I received my placement. I was a little disappointed because I had wanted to experience something in my field. Internship Specialist Sadi Foltz pushed me to just try out the school, and even though I didn’t see teaching in my future and didn't feel like I was great with kids, she was encouraging -- adding that I might learn something useful or find a new passion. Well, of course she was right. I learned so much from my time at the school. I found a new passion in helping students, and although I still don’t see teaching in my future, I did learn so much from my internship abroad. 

If a student is considering an internship and has doubts, my biggest advice is this: you're already pushing yourself so far out of the comfort zone by living in a new city, on a new continent. You’re probably learning a new language, meeting new people, and trying new foods. What is taking one step further and jumping into an internship? What do you have to lose, when you can gain a whole new world of experience?

What was your typical day like as an intern abroad? 

Every day was different. I completed all my internship hours on Tuesday of each week. I would arrive at the school around 9 a.m. I would go to my class and help with whatever project the students were already working on. Then when it was time to switch subjects or classes, I would help the teacher get everything set up and ready and help explain the new assignment, lesson, or project to work on. I would occasionally take the students one on one and practice reading in English, flashcards, or learning games. It was helpful for the teachers to have someone who spoke English as their first language to help with pronunciation or grammar. I would occasionally help grade some of the older students' papers that were written in English. Then, the students would go to their snack and recess break. When they returned, I usually helped in the art classroom, helping to set up the art stations, get the kids going on new projects, and sort the finished projects to be graded.  

I was lucky enough that I got to attend a few days of school on weeks with upcoming holidays. This meant that the students had parties and did projects and activities pertaining to the holidays. I got to eat traditional holiday foods and learn quite a bit about the region, holidays, and different cultural traditions. It wasn’t a typical day, but the holiday weeks were some of the best! 

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What was a major project you completed? 

At the end of the internship, we were assigned to complete a research essay pertaining to our placement. It was around 10 pages long, and you really had to use your experiences and information gained to write the paper. I wrote mine about the differences I experienced in the school system in Spain versus the school system in the United States. There were some really big differences, and with the research as well as my firsthand experiences, I feel I have a pretty good grasp on the Spanish school system now.

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