In any internship, there is bound to be some ambiguity, especially early on as you try to navigate your daily responsibilities and familiarize yourself with expectations. Coming into my internship in Madrid, I was anticipating these challenges being exacerbated by the international nature of the internship and the English-Spanish language barrier. While I initially struggled with the occasionally unclear, ambiguous nature of the internship, I have gradually become more comfortable and realized that the flexibility of my job here in Madrid is an asset rather than a limitation. As my internship progresses, I continue to learn how best to navigate lack of clarity in such a way that I can continue to get the most out of my work experience abroad. In particular, I have learned that communication is crucial to avoid getting lost in the constantly evolving day-to-day of my job. By asking lots of questions, frequently reiterating instructions and interrupting when something is unclear, I have become more comfortable with my job and surer of my role at Pulsar Technologies.
I went into my internship at Pulsar anticipating a very structured, clearly outlined description of my day-to-day tasks and general responsibilities over the course of my two-months at the company. Instead, I got an incredibly generally, loosely organized set of tasks and guidelines with lots of room for adjustment, reevaluation and change. Initially, this resulted in a lot of wasted downtime as I would finish a task and passively wait to be given something else. However, as I have gotten more comfortable with my coworkers, I have gotten more comfortable asking the all-important question: “What else can I be doing right now?” Having to take this initiative rather than wait for oversight is something I am gradually growing accustomed to. By seeking out tasks rather than waiting for them to come to me, I have been able to take more control over the responsibilities I am given every day and it has become clearer how I can be spending my time.
Alongside taking the initiative to ask for tasks, my time has also been more efficiently used by frequently clarifying theses tasks after they are assigned to me. In particular, I have found it useful to repeat instructions to confirm my understanding. Early in the internship, when I was given an assignment I would simply listen carefully, nod affirmatively and figure out the specifics of the task by opening it up and examining it after the fact. I did this out of a combination of anxiety and a desire to avoid pestering my coworkers. However, as my familiarity with my coworkers has increased, I realize that not only are they not pestered by my confirmation, they actually appreciate it as a sign of comprehension and a desire to understand not just the task itself but the rationale behind it. By repeating instructions back to my superiors, I have been better able to comprehend the tasks I am given, both in terms of the specific details of the individual task and their purpose in the bigger picture.
Perhaps the most difficult adjustment for me in navigating workplace ambiguity stems from another means of confirming understanding: interrupting. In the United States, I have grown accustomed to a conversation style that centers on turn-taking; a back and forth between two people with clear pauses in between. In Spain however, these pauses aren’t always present, as I have gradually realized. In my first few days shadowing a fellow employee, I would listen intently for minutes on end as he explained things. Despite maintaining eye contact and appearing engaged, he would still frequently ask me if I was following him. While initially confused by this, I eventually learned that by interjecting things occasionally, even just reiterations of what he was saying, I could avoid the “Are you following me?” question, and better convey my engagement in the conversation. Since interrupting is not a natural thing for me, this practice has at times been difficult. Nevertheless, it has greatly helped me to confirm my mental involvement in work conversations.
In conclusion, I have experienced a lot of ambiguity in the day-to-day of my internship. The tasks I am given, bigger projects I contribute to, and my overall role in the company frequently require some level of clarification. Fortunately, I have been able to develop tools to help me cope with this occasional lack of clarity. By constantly asking questions, repeating instructions and interrupting during conversation I have been able to participate on a higher level in the workplace.