La cultura española

When I arrived to Madrid, I had nothing but my overpacked suitcases and excitement for the next two months.  It is now one week in, and I have already added new friends, better Spanish, a family in Madrid, and so much more to the list.

I arrived to Madrid at 7:30am (that’s 1:30am EST) and grabbed a taxi to the hotel.  During the taxi drive, I marveled at the Spanish culture that surrounded me – the taxi driver’s morning news, the motorcycles weaving through traffic-stopped cars, the buildings and trees that adorn the streets. Everything was different.

Once at the hotel, I began to meet the other students on the trip.  I first met three girls from Colorado State University, with whom I went to grab my first breakfast in Madrid.  We ordered Spanish omelets that were served with tortillas.  This was my first of many misunderstandings in Madrid. The “ omelets with tortilla” was actually a sandwich consisting of an omelet made with potatoes between two baguette-styled pieces of bread.  The breakfast was not what I expected, but delicious nonetheless; the bread is “muy rico” (very tasty) and so are the traditional Spanish omelets that I have eaten many times since. After breakfast, we walked around the city and took in our new surroundings.  During this walk and the many other experiences that have followed, I have been exposed to many unique aspects of the culture here in Spain.  Aspects including the importance and centrality of food, the focus on experience, and the special care that is taken to helping to protect the environment.

I gained an even better understanding of Spanish culture and the aspects listed previously when I moved in with Amparo, my homestay mother.  Amparo is an actress, so I have had a very lively and exciting introduction to Madrid.  Her apartment is in a neighborhood called Chamberí and is a convenient 20 minutes away from my office.  I am working at Manos Unidas, an NGO that works to fight hunger and other forms of human suffering around the world.  Manos Unidas has spent the past 60 years creating an impressive network of support to around 50 under-developed countries around the world.  They have seven area focuses: water and health, food and livelihood, women’s’ rights and equality, human rights and civil society, education, environment and climate change, and health.  I will be working with human rights and civil society.  Through this focus, I will analyze and research the development of human rights around the world, as well as the relationship between international organizations, NGOs, and civil societies in the fight for the effective realization of human rights.

Manos Unidas focuses on issues that are difficult to face, yet important to fight.  Human rights are an integral part of every person’s life, and the employees and volunteers at Manos Unidas must stay committed to the causes of the organization in order to ensure that this is true to all citizens of the world. Projects last for about a year and require a lot of time, organization, and resources.  Due to the nature of work, the development of these projects and the success of the organization requires a great amount of dedication and passion.

Effective project management is another important skill for this organization.  Manos Unidas works on dozens of individual projects at a time that span throughout almost 50 countries and their seven areas of work. Because of this, projects are run by specialized teams that must effectively plan, execute, and conclude projects with a proper use of resources and a positive outcome for the community of focus.

A third important skill is transparency.  As an NGO, Manos Unidas collects the majority of its income from the private sector; therefore, it is important that their donors are able to see their money be put into action so that they will continue to provide important funding in the future.  Manos Unidas has an easily accessible website ( through which they communicate their mission, the progress of their projects, and future goals to the public. This transparency gives the organization the ability to influence and convince important donor parties that the mission of Manos Unidas is worth contributing to and protecting, and is a key feature of their continued success.

Spain is a collective culture at its core, which helps them with the fourth competency that I believe to be important in this industry: teamwork.  For Spanish people, this skill seems to come naturally.  During my singular hour that I spent in the office, I was impressed by how lively the community was and how many of the employees were working together.  This work require strong team work and communication between its internal teams, something that Manos Unidas seems to have captured quite well.