Interning Abroad in Seville, Spain: Navigating the World of Soccer
I always dreamed of studying abroad in college, though COVID-19 delayed my plans. In May ‘22, I graduated from SUNY Binghamton with a degree in business administration, a concentration in marketing, and a one-way ticket to Spain. This country appealed to me because I studied the Spanish language in high school. Throughout my final semester in college, I participated in virtual interviews with CEA CAPA to best align my undergraduate degree, personal interests, and prevailing goals with a unique internship abroad in Seville, Andalusia.
CEA CAPA paired me with FutboLISTAS (2019), a sport-for-development nonprofit with the objectives of promoting healthy habits, bolstering confidence, and facilitating the development of young women through play and exposure to positive female role models. To provide some context, I played soccer for over 10 years, including at the division I collegiate level, so I resonated deeply with this organization and its mission. I gained two months of invaluable experience collaborating with FutboLISTAS as a Marketing and Communications intern. For the first half of my internship, I had the pleasure of being on the field, which was more often than not a concrete slab, as an assistant coach for the girls, ages five to twelve. It was my responsibility to aid in providing structure to drills and games, serve as a bridge between languages, and ultimately, to foster a positive and safe learning environment. In addition to making strides on the pitch, the organization has secured more than fifty female mentors from a variety of careers, ranging from biochemists to pastry chefs, who serve as tangible references to the young Futbolistas. As their motto rings, “if you can see it, you can be it.”
Another slogan of the organization is to be #MásQueDeportistas, or “More Than Athletes,” which is a reference to the innumerous benefits of practicing a sport, such as improved physical and mental well-being, increased self-esteem and confidence, and greater energy reserves, that aren’t limited to a successful athletic career. In fact, research conducted by Ernst & Young (EY) found that 94% of women in the c-suite, or those with executive level management positions, participated in sports growing up (Kristy Ingram, "Why Female Athletes Should Be Your Next Leader"). An outdated notion that prevails in Spain (and elsewhere, unfortunately) is that women don’t have a place in the world of sports and, moreover, that interest in or support of professional women’s sports will never equal that of men’s. This stigma prevents girls around the world from playing, and from having an opportunity to learn and grow in a supportive environment.
Behind the Scenes of Spanish Soccer and an Unforgettable Internship Abroad
One of my most memorable experiences from practice is a prime example of how sport is a multifaceted activity; I was introduced to young Ukrainian refugees who were displaced in Spain and sought solace through FutboLISTAS. It wasn’t their dream to become professional football players. On the contrary, I vividly remember one’s desire to become an actress. Through sports, they were given an opportunity in a foreign country to make lifelong friends, practice a new language, and play, a child’s right per the United Nations’ Convention on the Rights of the Child. I developed an entirely new appreciation for and perception of sports attributable to these children. Given the unbearable summer heat in Seville, practices ended in July, but I cherished what limited time I had with those girls.
Throughout the entirety of my summer internship abroad, I worked closely with Brittany Gropp, Founder and CEO of FutboLISTAS, the organization’s communications manager, and various head and volunteer coaches. The nonprofit didn’t have a dedicated workspace, so I often completed tasks from my apartment (Casa de Lola), or nearby cafés, which proved to be an easy transition from online classes to a remote internship. At the start of my experience interning abroad, I brushed up on some notes from college regarding the inner workings of and business lingo for small startups and nonprofits. Moreover, I noted a gap in my understanding of gender inequality in sports around the world and the socio-demographic factors at play in Seville, so I did some research. Interactions with program participants and their families provided first-hand accounts, but I also read articles, studied past grant proposals from the organization, and watched YouTube videos on the subject to learn more. I even had the pleasure of attending a conference alongside Brittany for Women in Sports Management held by the Spanish Association of Women, Executives and Sport (AEMED).
It was important for me to understand FutboLISTAS’ mission in addition to the barriers faced by women in sports so that I could identify tailored opportunities for the organization to grow and be a knowledgeable advocate on its behalf. I devised strategies to discover prospective business and foundations that may have interest in collaborating with FutboLISTAS in some way, shape, or form based on similarities in mission statements, or their pre-established partnerships, and proactively opened lines of communication. In conducting grant prospect research, I became further acquainted with the management concept of corporate social responsibility and the importance of having a global mindset, especially with the expansive, digital network we’ve constructed today.
One way that I helped to increase the accessibility of FutboLISTAS’ content was by translating the organization’s website and social media posts to be viewable in both English and Spanish. For example, follow this link to play an educational video game about the 2022 UEFA European Women's Football Championship that I revised, edited, and translated copy.
In other instances, I researched current and historical events involving inspirational women to feature on Instagram, though I didn’t have to look far; Brittany, FutboLISTAS’ CEO, originally from Washington, D.C., moved to an entirely different country at a young age and started her own company; the young Futbolistas of Seville, who showed up to practice with smiles plastered on their face despite the difficulties they face in finding opportunities to play; my host mom, Lola, who, although she didn’t live with us, welcomed my roommates and I into her home, cared for us, and shared bits of authentic Andalusian culture, such as when she taught us about "el Camino del Rocío," a 19-mile religious pilgrimage, before taking off on foot herself to participate. Not only did I find inspiration in those around me, but I began to see myself as a source of inspiration for others.
Natalie Burns is the Summer 2022 Alumni Ambassador in Seville, Spain, and is currently studying at Vanderbilt University.