Danielle Nourok left her NGO internship in Medellín, Colombia a stronger, more independent individual, having made huge improvements to her workplace Spanish skills. Read more to learn what internships in Colombia can do for you.
TIG: Could you tell us a little about your internship with The Intern Group? Where did you intern?
Nourok: I interned with Fundacion las Golondrinas in Medellín, Colombia. The organization is a non-profit that helps displaced and vulnerable communities in Medellín and Antioquia. My main duties were to make cold calls to companies and people to see if they would be interested in helping the organization. My instructions for the job were to call any country that spoke English and to find people or organizations that would be interested in helping their Fundacion las Golondrinas. Once I found someone I then had to find a Spanish speaker within the organization in order to connect them to my supervisor to go over further details. I organized my data in an excel spreadsheet which showed all of the contacts I had tried to make, whether I was successful or not. This way the organization had new contacts once I left.
TIG: Could you tell us some highlights of your experience in Medellín?
Nourok: A highlight of my experience in Medellín was working in Spanish in an office setting, which is something I had never done before. Previous to arriving I had studied in Spanish and spoke fairly well but I found myself needing to further my communication skills in a work setting. It was a challenge because I had never needed to directly translate from English to Spanish before with such detail. This became a highlight for me because I learned to translate documents and further improve my Spanish language skills. Before arriving to the work environment I often had trouble following conversations in Spanish when there were more than five people. After a few weeks in my internship I had the ability to understand all 20 people at lunch who were often speaking at the same time. I also thought a highlight of the program was the diversity of its interns within The Intern Group. Of the four people in my household there was no one from the same country. I thought this added another element of learning since we were all learning from one another’s cultures, languages and points of view.
TIG: What were some unexpected challenges you faced during your internship in Medellín?
Nourok: I think living in a household with people from all over the world was a challenge. Mainly because we had never met before and we had to not only learn each other’s habits but also the differences between our cultures. It was a very positive challenge and I think it contributed to a very unique and strong unity between the four of us in the household in the short six weeks we were there.
“I don’t think I would have had the same personal growth through an internship in my own country, mainly because my growth came from being away from what was familiar to me, speaking in a language that I was not native to and learning through another culture.”
TIG: What did your experience in Colombia teach you professionally? Personally?
Nourok: Colombia taught me complete independence. This was a result of doing my individual internship without any other interns from the program. I really liked this aspect because it pushed me further outside my comfort zone where I had a greater chance to grow and learn. I liked the fact that the other interns became a support system for each other and we could share our individual internship experiences to learn from one another. It taught me professionally how to learn the ropes and interact in a work setting. It also taught me how to adapt to different work cultures. In addition, the internship taught me to improve my Spanish to the point that I gained confidence to work in the language even after I left Colombia and outside of that setting.
TIG: Do you think you’re a stronger person after having lived abroad? In what ways?
Nourok: I think living abroad has made me a stronger and a more understanding person. Since I was away from my family and my support system for four years I had to learn to create a new one while I lived in other countries. I think this contributed to me becoming a stronger person because I needed to rely completely on myself. I learned a higher degree of responsibility, but also how to ask for help when I needed it.
TIG: Do you think you could have experienced the same personal growth through an internship in your home country? What does the “abroad” factor add to the overall experience?
Nourok: I don’t think I would have had the same personal growth through an internship in my own country, mainly because my growth came from being away from what was familiar to me, speaking in a language that I was not native to and learning through another culture. I think if I did an internship in the States I would have definitely grown but in a different way.
TIG: What would you say to people who have doubts about taking an internship in a foreign country?
Nourok: I think many people worry about safety abroad and I often get asked this question. When I am asked this I respond that it is impossible to be 100 percent safe anywhere, even in your home country. That small piece of doubt could stop you from enjoying and learning an incredible amount. I then explain the positive experience I have had in so many different host countries. I think traveling and taking an internship somewhere other than your own country allows you to understand more than any book or movie could and it should not be an opportunity pushed aside for doubt.
TIG: How did your internship abroad contribute to your professional development?
Nourok: I think I always knew I wanted a job in an international field. Colombia was the first time I worked in an office setting professionally outside of the States, and it helped contribute to my professional development by showing me the ropes. By developing training in both Spanish and English it helped ensure that I would be professional in both languages. It also showed me that it is important to have a positive relationship with your co-workers. I had a very positive relationship with mine and they took me under their wing. They showed me different parts of Medellín, took me out, helped me with my work, and even threw a good-bye party for me. It showed me that these positive relationships help in contributing to your professional development because it was these people who I relied on when I needed to consult with them on my professional Spanish. I think this contributed to not only my professional development but also one of the main contributions to what made the trip so outstanding for me.
TIG: In what ways has your international experience affected your ability to connect and work with people from different cultures and backgrounds?
Nourok: I find that my international experience helps me connect and work with people because of the many cultures I have been exposed to. Often when I meet people from the countries I have been to in a setting other than that country it creates an immediate bond because we have shared an experience. Also when I speak Spanish even if someone speaks English it allows me to connect on another level because most people are more comfortable in their native language. This translates when trying to understand humor and phrases that are often hard to express in English. When I travel outside of the States and meet someone who speaks English, I have the same response because when I travel, it is nice to have a reminder of home.
TIG: How did The Intern Group enrich your experience abroad? What kind of support did they provide and how did that make the experience more rewarding?
Nourok: The Intern Group was amazing because of their active support and desire to help you be a part of Colombian culture. I remember when I first arrived it was the night of the last game Colombia won of the World Cup. When I arrived in Colombia everyone was in a yellow jersey participating in the festivities because they had just won. I must have been one of the only people not in a yellow jersey at the airport – even the immigration officers were wearing them! So when I walked into my apartment there was a welcome bag waiting on my bed with a jersey inside. It immediately made me feel welcome and not at all left out of the night of celebrations. My roommates picked me up from the apartment and took me out to Parque Lleras to celebrate with the city. In addition, The Intern Group provided trips as well as nights out to ensure that we bonded with the other interns since we were all in different internships. I think that Johanna really contributes to making the experience unique to everyone, which really enriches the program. There was also an optional activity every weekend, which was helpful because it integrated us into the new setting very fast.
To learn more about Nourok’s experience in Colombia, check out her blog at TheWildTrekExperience. You can also follow Nourok’s current adventures on her Instagram account at: @thewildtrekexperience.
Want to see your international internship story featured on our website? If you’re a TIG alumni, we want to hear from you! Contact our resident blogger Elizabeth at firstname.lastname@example.org with the subject line “Alumni Experience”.
Photo 1. by Danielle Nourok
Photo 2. by Danielle Nourok
Photo 3. by Danielle Nourok
Photo 4. by Danielle Nourok