¡Hola, Madrid!

My name is Michelle, and I am a rising senior going on the International Internship Program in Madrid. I am in the Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences majoring in Economics and Politics & Philosophy with a minor in Portuguese. Minoring in Portuguese may seem unusual for someone studying abroad in Madrid, but there is a method to my madness. I have a huge affinity for languages, so I have been studying both Spanish and Portuguese in college while trying to maintain the French that I studied in high school. 

When I began my time at the University of Pittsburgh, I began studying Spanish and teaching English as a Second Language to an adult student from El Salvador with Literacy Pittsburgh. Both of these experiences made me fall in love with the Spanish language and the culture of Hispanic countries. I chose this program because I want to increase my Spanish vocabulary and fluency in a professional environment which would reflect my future career aspirations. I want to improve my cultural competency while continuing my professional development and learning more hard and soft skills for my future career. Beyond the professional, I believe that I will experience immense personal growth. This program is the first time that I will be traveling alone, much less staying with a host family. This will be a very healthy push out of my comfort zone— I will become more independent and gain more confidence in myself to navigate unfamiliar situations. 

In some ways, I believe that I was almost destined to become deeply interested in languages and other cultures. My parents and brother immigrated to the United States as refugees from Kyiv (then the Soviet Union), and I was raised in a Russian-speaking household. As a result, I was exposed to another culture besides the general American culture from birth, and like many other first-generation kids, navigated a world which was a blend of the culture around me and the culture of my family. Being confronted with constant cultural and linguistic differences in my everyday life drove me to become more curious about other cultures and languages. Frankly, the experiences I’ve had with my own cultural background have made this particular study abroad program incredibly appealing. I know firsthand just how beneficial total immersion can be; after spending just one night with my grandparents, I feel like my Russian vocabulary expands enormously. 

Beyond my love of languages, I am a huge fan of the arts and music. Some of my favorite weekend activities include going to a concert, sitting in a jazz club, browsing around a museum, exploring an art fair, and more. Moreover, I love simply meandering around new places and getting a feel of a neighborhood through its markets and people, so I am really looking forward to strolling along the streets of Madrid this summer. I am also very into dancing, in particular Latin dancing like salsa and bachata, which I am sure I can find around Madrid as well. 

As for my academic interests, I am very interested in global economic policy, specifically economic development, labor economics, and international trade policy. After taking a class on international trade last semester, I was able to take a deep dive into how many global industries have an impact on human rights and labor rights abroad, specifically the apparel industry. Moreover, I did a lot of research on Portugal and Spain’s youth unemployment crisis over the last decade and Covid-19’s effects on the whole situation. Through that research, I was able to examine many of Spain’s labor policies and get a holistic view of their various industries, their labor market, and public opinion about the Spanish economy. It is incredibly exciting to have opportunities such as these to merge my economics background with my other interests in international policy and ethics. 

Professionally, I am thinking about a career path centered in corruption and financial crime prevention. Growing up, my parents would always tell me stories about the incessant bribery and corruption that pervaded the Soviet Union, and how this financial exploitation made the lives of ordinary people much more difficult. This coming fall, I plan to do an internship at a think tank which researches financial crime and corruption on a global scale. After college, I plan on going to law school and becoming a lawyer who specializes in international financial crime. 

Unfortunately, a lot of bribery, corruption, and financial exploitation is located in South and Central America. Therefore, a major reason I wanted to do the Madrid International Internship Program was that the eventual improvement of my Spanish proficiency will allow me to work with international clients and foreign government organizations in their native language, facilitating more nuanced conversations. Coupled with my Portuguese minor, I will be able to conduct more holistic work in the region and communicate with the people affected by financial crimes in their native language. 

Overall, I am very excited to start the program!