Interning in Colombia: Reflections 2 Years Later
Star intern Kristine de Bever explains how interning in Colombia continues to impact life now that she’s back home in Australia.
I first set foot in Medellín two years ago. All I could see on my ride into the city from the Rionegro airport was tall grass and luscious green trees, with banana trees here and there. That is until the winding road started to descend into the Aburrá valley, which cradles the city of Medellín.
I tried to adjust to my new life as fast as possible. I observed the unique Paisa Spanish spoken by my colleagues and tried to adjust my European Spanish to be more like the local accent. I learned many of the uniquely Colombian expressions. Some, like ‘qué pena contigo’ I learned to use correctly, but will never quite be able to explain to other people. Arepas and Amazonian fruits quickly took up a recurring space in my fridge. I started drinking my coffee black. And my idea of a weekend well spent became a visit to green areas, flower farms, and traditional Antioquian villages residing in the mountains outside the city.
My Internship Experience
I spent four months interning in Colombia for the Under Secretary of Tourism at the City Hall of Medellín. The first few days of March I spent interning as a member of the delegation of Medellín and Antioquia at ANATO Vitrina Turística, the biggest annual tourism trade show of Colombia. After my internship, I spent five weeks exploring Colombia. Some of my favourite places include the Atlantic coast, Guajira desert, Coffee Triangle, the less-frequented city of Cali and the chilly mountains of Nariño. After nearly six months, I left Colombia on a cool April day in Bogotá.
The Things I Learned About Myself Abroad
I returned home to Brisbane, Australia. Almost two years later, I still find myself reminiscing and missing Medellín. Along with the fond memories my internship left me, it also changed me.
For one, I have returned with improved interpersonal skills. In my work and studies, I see positive changes in how I approach teamwork, work with people from other cultures and talk with confidence at networking events. Moreover, I now easily connect with Latin Americans who call Brisbane home. The bonds you forge with Colombia and Latin culture persist well beyond your time as an intern, because you will have a little something in common with Latin Americans when you meet them in your home country. An appreciation for the place they come from forms a solid foundation for friendships. I, for one, am now involved in organising events for the Latin American Student Association of my university in Australia.
I have also become more willing to take risks and work hard to make them pay off. Compared to the challenge of taking on a position in an office in a faraway place, where everyone speaks a foreign language, very few challenges are daunting in your home country. Stepping out of one’s comfort zone is something that we all end up doing in order to further our careers. That is why it is important to be able to adapt to new tasks and environments.
Colombia, by taking me out of my comfort zone, has put me in a better position to persevere in challenging projects and dynamic work environments. At the end of my first semester as a postgraduate business student, I was chosen to be part of a four-person team representing my university and Australia at a business case competition in the United States. The case competition focused on international human resources management and my experience in multicultural workplaces helped me create insightful links between business strategy and managing diverse workforces.
Interning abroad is a great character-building experience. It pushes you to be open-minded, adaptable, connect with other cultures and grow professionally. In the end, I found a home-away-from-home in Medellín, made lifelong friends, learned to celebrate Christmas the Colombian way, was in a work environment that truly challenged me and have made many fond memories that I carry with me at all times.
Now that you know about the impact interning in Colombia has had on Kristine’s life, apply now for your own internship abroad.
Photos and blog by Kristine de Bever