To Barcelona and Back: How a Part-Time Internship Enhances the Study Abroad Experience

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IES Abroad alum Catarina Ruiz Santiago (IES Abroad Barcelona, Spring 2018 ǀ University of Virginia) recently completed a part-time internship in Spain while enrolled in the Barcelona – Liberal Arts & Business program. Catarina previously participated in the Barcelona Summer – Language and Area Studies program, as well, but that wasn’t her first time in Barcelona. Here, Catarina explains what keeps her coming back to Spain (three times!) and answers our questions about her internship in Barcelona, and where she worked to aid Barcelonans in need.

IES Abroad: Tell us, how did you come to travel to Barcelona three times in fewer than two years?

Catarina Ruiz Santiago (CRS): The first time that I fell in love with the city was during a trip at the end of March with my best friend. Those eight days in the city were filled with hourly walks, and of course a lot of jamón and pan con tomate. When it was time to leave, we were both in tears whilst listening to Ed Sheeran’s track “Barcelona”. At that moment, we frantically searched online for a reason to come back.

We discovered we had little time left to apply for the IES Abroad program, and in five days we had submitted everything. After a lot of praying and begging to the Catalan Gods, we were accepted, and the summer of 2017 was most definitely the best summer of my life. I met students from all over the United States, experienced what the city had to offer, ate a little more then I should have, and had professors that made my stay remarkable (Ignaci and Raul: los quiero).

Soon after I left, the pro-independence Catalan movement became stronger and stronger. As a politics student, I became even more intrigued to make sense of it all. I also wanted to continue learning Spanish, be in a cosmopolitan city, have amazing food, have an internship experience, and see even more of the city.

IES Abroad: Why did you decide to do an internship abroad?

CRS: Truthfully, as a junior at university, I thought it was a good idea to add international experience to my curriculum. Also, seeing how people work in different parts of the world would give me a different perspective, along with tips and ideas that I could apply further into my career.

IES Abroad: Who did you intern for? What are some highlights?

CRS: Since I want to work for the third sector (NGOs and community programs), I worked at two community centers: Franciscanos Conventuales and Sant Egidi, which are both religious entities. The most thrilling part was noticing that you’re helping people that are at their most vulnerable and that you’re impacting their day somehow. The greatest highlight for me, I think, was seeing some of them receive an opportunity to improve their conditions through jobs, courses, language classes, and so forth.

IES Abroad: What was your experience working with people in need in Barcelona? How is it different from the United States?

CRS: In Barcelona, you can find a lot more diversity. Therefore, your interactions can be with Arabs, Africans, Eastern Europeans, Latinos, Catalans and so forth. Hence, communication can sometimes be hard since many people don’t speak English or Spanish. At the same time, you are learning and they are doing the same, so it’s nice to notice that we are both growing together and slowly building a friendship.

Also, the quantity of soup kitchens in Barcelona are a lot greater than in any state in the United States. There are many centers around Barcelona that give support, providing the most basic necessities (such as food, clothing, etc.)

IES Abroad: What obstacles have you overcome during your international internship? Any tips for other students?

CRS: When dealing with people on the streets, many can be inebriated, have mental illnesses, or are not able to communicate since they don’t speak the language. Thus, my biggest tip is BE PATIENT. Be patient with yourself and with others. Sometimes there are things you don’t know how to deal with, what to say, what to do, and you get frustrated due to your lack of skills in some aspect. Other times, when dealing with people that are in different mental states and capacities, it’s hard because they can change their behavior very rapidly. So, it is important to stay calm, try to understand your scenario, ask questions to colleagues or superiors and try your best. This way, the next time it happens, things will feel a lot easier.

IES Abroad: What advice would you give to students who are considering study abroad versus an internship abroad?

CRS: I studied abroad with IES Abroad Barcelona during the summer of 2017, and now I have studied and interned during the Spring 2018 semester in Barcelona, as well. Therefore, I have both perspectives in that regard. Firstly, you can still do everything you want to do while interning abroad. When you only study abroad, you have so much free time on your hands that you almost create a routine and things become a little boring. However, when interning, you get to interact with local people, make friendships, practice your Spanish a lot more, and have experiences that will contribute to your character and give you valuable skills.

IES Abroad: How was your time abroad in Barcelona overall?

CRS: I’ll sum it up in one word…AMAZING. My semester wouldn’t have been what it was if I hadn’t interned and done a homestay. I got the opportunity to experience Barcelona for what it actually is, not just the touristy overcrowded spots. Furthermore, I met people that impacted my days here in the most significant of ways—people that I now consider friends and hope to stay in contact with.

So overall, my decision to come back was not hard. I ended up housing with the best family in Catalunya, [interned] with people that changed my life, studied politics at the University of Barcelona, had a photojournalism class at IES Abroad with one of the coolest/most insightful instructors (Fred) and had overall a challenging but unforgettable experience. So, what I have left to say is: GRACIAS IES BARCELONA!”

IES Abroad: What are your future career goals and how has an IES internship contributed to these?

CRS: I definitely want to work for the third sector and spending the semester doing just that solidified and gave me certainty of what I want to do in my future. The IES internship in Barcelona contributed because it gave me the assistance I needed to find the perfect fit for me, it helped build my curriculum, and it provided me with valuable skills that I can take and apply wherever I choose to go. 

Thank you for your sharing your internship experience with us, Catarina! See Catarina in action at her placement with Comunitat de Sant Egidi de Barcelona in this article from Spanish news source elPeriódico [2nd photo from the top]. 

Interested in interning or studying abroad in Spain? Explore all of our program options in Barcelona, as well as Granada, Madrid, and Salamanca.

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