On Learning Skills to (Eventually) Pay the Bills

Coming into my second month in Spain, I have noticed so many changes about myself, both personally and professionally. I have learned so much about who I am and what my strengths are, as well as the skills I have gained, both hard and soft, along the way. To begin, there have been a multitude of transferable, or soft, skills that I have improved through my internship and just through living in a new (non-English speaking) country in general. First and foremost, it is important to mention just how much my communication skills have improved. Beyond simply language accumulation, of which there has been an unbelievable amount (I will elaborate on this later), I feel like my listening and nonverbal communication skills have improved significantly. Due to the fact that I am working entirely in Spanish (as in, none of my coworkers speak to me in English), there are definitely many moments when I do not understand what is going on. Moreover, I am working in the legal field, so there is a lot of jargon that I don’t even know in English, much less in Spanish. 

Thus, even though I don’t always know the vocabulary my coworkers use, I have developed much better listening skills over the past month because of how much I rely on the context of their words. When you are aware that you lack certain vocabulary and you are in an in-person meeting which makes it impossible to look up words, it is critical to listen very carefully to the context of the word in question enough to guess at its meaning. While I think I was an active listener before this internship, those skills have been refined and strengthened by my experience in Spain. 

Moreover, given that Spanish is not my native language, I sometimes have moments when I am just missing the vocabulary needed to articulate my thoughts. In those moments, I still need to get my point across to my coworkers in Spanish. Therefore, I have been relying increasingly more on nonverbal conversation cues like complicated hand gestures and moving my whole body when I speak. I think that these forms of nonverbal communication will help me in future moments of language confusions and generally during presentations and moments of public speaking. 

Another soft skill that I have gained is flexibility. While in the United States, I have grown accustomed to a very structured work schedule. The same is not true here in Spain. In my experience, I am not usually given clear instructions about which tasks/projects I should prioritize, and I am also rarely given hard deadlines. Also, new projects pop up all the time that I have to balance along with ongoing work. At my internship, I have learned how to be more flexible and self-directed with my work. I simply cannot afford to put all of my effort into one task at a time. I have to be ready for abrupt changes to my priorities and roll with the punches as the day unfolds.

As for hard skills, my professional Spanish proficiency, as well as my general Spanish proficiency, have definitely improved. The full immersion in the language at home, combined with my internship has made me much more comfortable making mistakes while speaking and has helped me speak more fluidly. I know that my Spanish will not be perfect for a long time, but I now feel comfortable making small talk with clients and chatting with coworkers during my lunch break. 

Another hard skill I have gained is the ability to read and understand legal documents. This is the first time I have been able to closely read through actual legal contracts and participate in client meetings. My boss has given me a series of tasks wherein I am supposed to read through the contract multiple times, but through different perspectives and with various goals each time. For instance, I have to read it through the perspective of each party and assess what they gain and risk, through the perspective of how the financial transactions will be carried out, etc. I have really enjoyed this particular part of my internship, because it is my first peek into what the legal world looks like in practice (something that is incredibly difficult to uncover as an undergraduate). 

I think that my global competencies, specifically my curiosity about new cultures and ability to see things from other perspectives, have significantly helped me navigate cross-cultural situations. If I did not have an appreciation for other cultures, the people around me would not be as inclined to interact with me and be as patient with me as I struggled through the language or culture shocks. As for my ability to change perspectives, growing up with parents who are immigrants makes it easier for me to see things from multiple cultural lenses, which is very helpful for making cultural adjustments and avoiding any strong, knee-jerk judgements about unfamiliar customs (except the fact that people in Spain eat yogurt for dessert; this I simply cannot abide).