“We Are What We Do To Change What We Are”

It is hard to believe that I have now been home for two whole weeks.  Every time I have thought about or told a story from my time in Madrid, I have been amazed by the excitement and beauty of my experience there.  This experience helped me to grow and learn in ways that could never imagine and ways that I can no longer believe I have lived without.

The types of growth that I experienced in Madrid can be segmented into three different groups: personal, academic, and professional.  My internship, homestay, and independent travels were among the most formidable parts of this experience that contributed to how much it shaped me during the two months.  They taught me how to live in another country, succeed in a new work environment, and adjust to unexpected situations and challenges.

The word independenceis a key word for this trip, especially for the personal growth aspect.  The International Internship Program is designed to give you internship experience abroad, the activities that will fill rest of your life there are up to you.  There were groups of students from Pitt and other universities in Madrid with me, and I quickly learned just how important taking initiative to hang out with them would be.  I worked from 9am to 3pm every day.  Outside of those six hours at the office, my time was entirely independent if I didn’t make plans or accept invitations to do things with the other students there.  For me personally, it has always been a little more difficult to be the one to initiate plans or stuff for a group to do, so Madrid was a great way for me to get practice that would develop this important skill that can be translated to many other parts of life, including academic and professional events.

Academically, I was able to further develop and strengthen a lot of skills that I have learned in the classroom at Pitt.  The most obvious academic skill was Spanish.  The majority of my life this summer was spent in this language, and this full immersion strengthened my Spanish abilities and revealed which parts need the most work.  Thanks to my job, I can read and write in the language almost completely fluently.  I had less exposure to speaking and listening in my job, but I learned alternative ways to practice these skills that I can also bring back to the United States (such as watching Spanish television shows and taking advantage of more opportunities to communicate with in the language).  The other academic strengths that I gained included research and writing skills.  My internship challenged me to analyze complex information and combine and transform all of it to reports that were easy to read and understand.  This was really difficult to achieve efficiently at first, but now I am confident in my ability to do such tasks.

The final growth aspect is professional.  In Madrid I worked with Manos Unidas, an NGO that works on fighting human rights violations around the world.  They have seven different sectors of work, one of which is the environment and climate change.  This was the sector that I focused on and made different reports for. I made four major reports during my internship, all of which explained (in Spanish) different aspects of the relationship between human rights and the health of the environment.  Working in Spanish with unfamiliar content was really challenging at first and initially I doubted my ability to do my job and to complete my work well.  In order to combat this, I began to focus on building relationships with my fellow interns and co-workers.  I wanted to build these relationships in order to enrich my time with the organization and to expand my network for help and advice.  Once I began to talk more with the other interns, I realized that my concerns and struggles were similar to theirs which provided some relief from my worrying.  Also, once I began talking to my co-workers and bosses, it became easier to ask for advice and they became more willing to give it.  I have never been confident in network building, but my experience in the office taught me how to start networking and gave me more confidence in doing so.

Overall, my time in Madrid was humbling, inspiring, and life changing in many ways.  The different ways that I grew and the lessons that I will be able to bring back to Pitt and develop further are sure to be invaluable tools to my future success and will help me to achieve the goals that I hope to reach.  The ways that I grew and the new conclusions that I was able to make are the most important takeaways from my time on the program.  I am returning to Pitt with an increased sense of how to initiate relationships personally and professionally and have learned how to take advantage of what I learn in the classroom and enrich those skills in my work outside of the classroom.  I miss Madrid and the Spanish culture, but I am positive that I will go back one day and revisit all of my favorite spots and maybe meet with my co-workers and homestay mom.  I am also positive that the many takeaways gained through this experience will greatly improve my next two years at Pitt.  I am excited to see how my time in Madrid will influence my future and very grateful for the ways that it has already contributed to my success!