Well. My internship has now been over for a full two weeks, and the fact that the experience has ended is just starting to sink in for me. I spent the week after the program’s end on vacation in southern Spain with my family, and I think this additional week provided a buffer between finishing my internship and returning back to the United States, and back to reality.
These past two months have been some of the best of my life. I do not think I can put into words all the different ways I feel I have grown, both as a person and as a young professional in the healthcare field. I have learned a lot through this experience, and if I could go back in time to nine weeks ago, here are some lessons I would share with my past self, all of which demonstrate ways I have grown and knowledge I intend to bring back to my life at Pitt:
One: say yes to new experiences. If something scares you, use that fear as motivation to do it. Ziplining over the biggest river in Spain, joining a karate class full of strangers who did not speak English, even just coming to Madrid and traveling out of the country on my own for the first time – all of these experiences scared me in different ways. Yet they provided me with opportunities to learn and make amazing memories.
Two: do what is best for yourself, not what other people expect from you. Madrid is known for its bustling nightlife and clubs that stay open until six in the morning. Personally, I am not a huge fan of staying up late and socializing all night. This led me to struggle the first few weeks, as I felt torn between missing out on what I saw as “must-have” experiences, and doing what I truly wanted. My experience improved immensely when I realized that there is no “right” way to live in Madrid, or anywhere for that matter. I began to spend less time forcing myself to stay up late at night, and instead focused my energy on things I would rather be doing, like visiting new coffee shops or going for afternoon runs in the beautiful city parks. Rejecting what I felt I “needed” to do to get the most out of the experience, and focusing on what I wanted to do instead was empowering, and led me to having some of the best experiences of my summer.
Three: every experience is a learning experience, not just good ones. My time shadowing at the children’s hospital was full of ups and downs. I had some excellent weeks, shadowing psychologists whose work I found extremely interesting and compelling. But I also had frustrating weeks, where there was nobody relevant for me to shadow, or where the disorganization of the hospital management caused me more stress than anything else. However, looking back, I can say that I learned just as much from the disappointing weeks than I did from the interesting ones. While I may not have spent every moment growing my knowledge in the field of psychology, I got to develop skills such as patience, flexibility, problem solving, and compromising, which are just as important as I move forward in my career.
Of course, there were plenty of other, more tangible lessons I learned as well, smaller and more concrete ways I grew. I learned how to navigate a metro system, deal with a SIM card, book an Air B&B, and other tasks that will serve me well as I move to new cities, either domestically or internationally, after graduating this upcoming spring semester. Finally, I would be remiss if I did not mention my Spanish. Increasing my fluency was the original reason I applied to this program. While I have grown in many other ways I did not necessarily expect to, I have found that my Spanish has grown as well. Being completely immersed in the language has taught me to speak more smoothly, think in Spanish instead of thinking in English and then translating, and being comfortable with making grammatical mistakes as long as I still got my point across.
I could continue for pages and pages, detailing every little moment of the past two months and describing how it has impacted me professionally, personally, or both. Each piece of my experience – from staying with a host family, to commuting to work via public transportation, to coordinating and organizing weekend trips around the country – has been irreplaceable and I do not regret a single moment. I will never forget this summer, and I encourage anyone who is considering a study abroad to go for it, to take the leap and watch yourself fly.