Everyone should go abroad at some point in their lives. I spent my summer in Madrid with the primary goal of becoming a more proficient Spanish speaker, yet what I received from the experience was much more transformative (although I did become a better Spanish speaker). I have found that it is very easy to get trapped in the U.S.-centric narrative if you’re from the U.S. Most of the news we receive is domestic, most of the music we listen to is either in English or from the U.S., most of the films and movies we consume are American, etc. We live in a bit of a cultural bubble.
I am probably luckier than most– growing up with parents that are immigrants exposed me to another culture from birth. Yet, even with this exposure, I also have moments when I realize just how powerful the bubble is. For instance, when I first decided to go to Spain, I didn’t know the name of the king of Spain, while the people I met in Spain knew the names of tons of prominent Americans. It was embarrassing. I am really grateful for this program because it pushed me out of my own cultural perspective by fully immersing me in a new one, and I think I am a better person for it.
In my time in this program, I traveled by myself for the first time, I met people from all over the world (some countries include Turkey, Columbia, South Korea, and the Czech Republic), and I explored a new career. I ate dinner at 10 pm, discovered work-life balance for the first time in my life, and finally learned how to take a good nap. I salsa danced on the street, learned about the Spanish healthcare system, and had the opportunity to review international legal contracts.
Over the course of this summer, I experienced immense personal growth. I became much more independent, and more importantly, much more confident in my abilities to get by on my own. I became more spontaneous, bolder, and more daring. Moreover, I became more comfortable in my own company without other people around (a big milestone for an extrovert like me). I took solo trips to new cities for long weekends entirely by myself and introduced myself to strangers on the street in order to make friends (some of whom I have kept in touch with to this day). When I found myself in difficult situations, I felt more capable and prepared to handle them on my own. Throughout the entire program, I took chances I would have never even considered a year ago, and I am really proud of that growth.
Academically, my Spanish skills improved exponentially. By the end of the program, conversations became much more comfortable and fluid. I became more confident and unafraid of making little errors. My writing abilities in Spanish improved greatly, and now I can write professional communications and academic articles in Spanish. Furthermore, as someone learning a few languages at the same time, my ability to isolate and focus on each language individually without unintentional crossover improved.
Professionally, I learned so much about the finance and startup industry. I was able to attend startup pitches and learned which key qualities make a founder an asset to their company. I received exposure to corporate law in a way that is unheard of for undergraduates, especially international law. I was able to read and analyze real legal contracts and sit in on meetings with clients. Moreover, I believe my written and oral communication skills vastly improved, as my professional Spanish was rather limited before the program. In addition, I vastly improved my cultural awareness and cultural competencies.
The key takeaways from the program for me were that I have grown more confident in myself, I should continue to seek out culturally different experiences, I need to continue to nurture my Spanish proficiency, and I should make an asset out of the unique insight into a non-US legal system. I think that these takeaways will translate into my time at Pitt and my future career in a multitude of ways. To begin, my increased self-confidence and self-sufficiency will empower me to make bolder decisions regarding my future and seize opportunities that intimidate me. My commitment to seeking out cultural experiences will be helpful in future internships with international dimensions, the completion of my Portuguese minor, and encourage me to seek out career opportunities in international firms or in other countries. My Spanish proficiency will make the volunteer work that I do at Pitt easier and will make me more attractive as a candidate to future employers. Finally, my time spent immersed in a non-US legal system will help me critically analyze our own legal system during the law class I will TA in the fall, and may help with future European clients at work.