HR Consulting in a Cross-Cultural Setting

Hello again! Sadly, my trip to Madrid has concluded, and I am back in Pennsylvania. I will be continuing my work with La Casita de Inglés from home for the remaining couple of weeks of this International Internship Program.

Since my last blog post, my supervisors in the HR department have left the main center in Pozuelo to check in with the other locations and evaluate their progress with this year’s summer camp. They are currently very busy gathering supplies, taking inventory, organizing the teachers’ schedules, and addressing any complaints brought to their attention. The biggest project I am currently working on is editing the employee handbooks. Since the start of my internship, my supervisors and I have created a list of policies and suggestions for new management procedures. Right now, I am revising the handbooks by applying the agreed-upon changes, proofreading the existing text, and editing the document’s layout.

This week’s prompt asks me to reflect on the soft and hard skills I have developed throughout this internship and any global competencies that have helped me navigate cross-cultural situations.

The hard skill I have acquired through this experience with La Casita is consulting. A large part of my work at La Casita de Inglés is answering questions from the Human Resources department. Since I’m not shadowing an actual HR consultant, it has been a “learn as you go” process. I have only taken a few classes focused on human resources management techniques. Therefore, when an employee or my supervisor asks a question, I rely on my limited prior knowledge to provide a brief answer and usually follow it up with “let me research a little more and get back to you”. Often the sources I use, such as the Society of Human Resources Management and the Boletín Oficial del Estado (the official gazette of the Kingdom of Spain) are enough to answer the question. If not, I share with the HR staff whatever I could find and advise that they hire a professional consultant for pressing issues.

A soft skill I have developed through this International Internship Program would be organization. Apart from the times I met with the HR department in Pozuelo, most of my work is done online at my own pace. There are not many strict deadlines for my work, but I am expected to have something prepared for our weekly meetings. Simultaneously, I am completing another internship this summer, so throughout the week I have multiple assignments to keep track of. This has probably been the most challenging part of my summer since in the real world there is no Canvas or Blackboard to monitor assignments for you. I have practiced taking detailed notes during meetings and have gotten used to using Google Calendar to track important dates and reminders.

The last part of the prompt is the easiest to answer. I felt that I was prepared for this new cross-cultural experience because I am half Puerto Rican. My mother is from the island, and I learned how to speak, read, and write Spanish through her. Sharing a similar dialect and cultural background has definitely helped me blend into my corporate environment better. However, there are some notable differences between Castillian and Latin American culture that (initially) can be difficult to adjust to (check out my previous blog post “Adjusting to Castilian Culture” for more information!). All in all, although there have been some small challenges to overcome, I have gotten along well with my colleagues and truly love working with them.

Aside from my background, The University of Pittsburgh’s study abroad department also helped highlight the importance of cultural sensitivity before the IIP started. They provided some insightful points that reminded me of some of the topics covered in my International Dimensions of Organizational Behavior course. For example, I learned that Spain has a high “uncertainty avoidance” which means that most people of this culture feel uncomfortable in ambiguous circumstances. According to Hofstede Insights, Spaniards often avoid confrontation because it is stressful and can quickly become personal. Interestingly, I have noticed that this is partly true. A section of the employee handbook that I am changing is the company’s penalty system. The HR staff are aware that whenever an issue arises with an employee, they often give too many warnings before action is taken. Some of my suggestions to be stricter and more upfront with disruptive employees were initially met with a little shock. However, I am always prepared to explain my reasoning, and my supervisors and I have often been able to reach a compromise.

Check back again in two weeks for my next update!