Why interning abroad was the best decision I ever made
As an international travel blogger for The Intern Group, the purpose of my role is to encourage young people like yourself to seek international experiences. I often talk about the incredible benefits an internship abroad offers, but I’ve never fully opened up about the role international internships have played in my life. Very few decisions have been as pivotal as when I chose to do my internship abroad.
“Wherever you go becomes a part of you somehow.” ―Anita Desai
I live in Santiago, Chile and I work for The Intern Group. However, I originally headed southbound from my home in Texas for an internship with the online newspaper The Santiago Times. After four months I decided not to take my flight home and I stuck around. I’ve worked several journalism jobs here since then and I know that I can credit my internship for that. But I wouldn’t have even considered flying down to this skinny South American country if I had never gone to Argentina and lived my first abroad experience without parental guidance in Buenos Aires. It was also the first time I lived in a big city, the first time I lived in a Spanish-speaking country, the first time I lived in a foreign country… lots of firsts.
I took a journalism internship in Buenos Aires, Argentina after junior year of university. I was minoring in Spanish but realized upon arrival that despite years of studies, the biggest challenge of the experience would be communicating with locals. How was I supposed to write articles in Spanish, review theater and do interviews if I couldn’t even manage to order the delicious facturas (pastries) I smelled baking down the street? But I managed. My Spanish improved, a lot, as did my motivation to get even better. Once you depend on language skills in practice, you see just how useful they are and also how difficult they can be to master.
“The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes.” ―Marcel Proust
This experience in Argentina opened my eyes to so much culture, history, politics – so many new stories. Even sitting on the bus and people-watching was enjoyable. One day I even managed to befriend an older Argentine woman who invited me for tea and cake and taught me Spanish. Everything was difficult I felt: riding the metro, ordering coffee, figuring out how to get to museums and restaurants. It was awesome. I loved how hard it was, especially because I knew just how much I was learning. I was becoming an adult in a foreign country, and the experience became a catalyst for so many positive experiences in my life thereafter. The thing about going abroad is, it’s not so much the fact that going automatically makes you bilingual, globally minded, culturally conscious, etc. But rather that the experience sets off a chain of events. It reverberates into the rest of your life decisions. It gives you a new lens by showing you a new framework, a new normal, a new paradigm. If you love it, like I did, four months is not enough.
Though I would like to think I’ve always been an open-minded and globally conscious person, there were always other interests of mine that took priority throughout my youth above learning about other cultures. We traveled as a family, but I preferred journalism, theater and soccer in high school and I eventually double-majored in theater and journalism in college. I was passionate and opinionated about politics and social justice, but within the United States, my home country, not outside. I was learning Spanish because I liked the idea of talking to people in another language and Spanish “sounded pretty”. The whole reason I wanted to go to Argentina so bad was because I liked the musical Evita, the Andrew Lloyd Webber musical. London would have probably been a more logical choice, thinking about it now. But I’m glad I foolishly selected South America.
I remember how difficult it was to adjust back to university life once I had lived in Buenos Aires. I caught the travel bug, as they say. It felt like one day abroad was equivalent to a semester of learning, so going back to school felt like I was being held back. There was so much to know about the world – the world was suddenly so big. I wanted to speak better Spanish and I wanted to have friends from different parts of the world. I wanted so much to go back, not necessarily to Argentina, but to that mental space I occupied when I was in Buenos Aires when everything was so real and surreal at the same time. When I understood so very little and had to just accept that and let my head fill up with new information until I couldn’t stand it anymore.
“Now more than ever do I realize that I will never be content with a sedentary life, that I will always be haunted by thoughts of a sun-drenched elsewhere.”
―Isabelle Eberhardt, The Nomad: The Diaries of Isabelle Eberhardt
After graduating college, I went to Belize for 3 months and interned with a spoken word poetry NGO. It was something completely different, but inspirational and terrifying, eye-opening and exhilarating all at the same time.
But I still wasn’t satisfied. My Spanish was still subpar. I considered moving to New York City, but there was still something inside of me that felt like this was the time to let my wanderlust take over. On Twitter, of all places, I found a link to a journalism internship opportunity in Santiago, Chile at an English-speaking paper. I went for it. And when the 4 months of the internship were over, I decided not to take my flight home. It still wasn’t enough.
It’s been almost four years in Santiago now. I have a job that allows me to travel and I get to write every day about the different ways going abroad fills me up – and will fill you up too. Every aspect of my life is colored by the fact that I am abroad. I have an international group of friends, I speak Spanish every day of my life and I learn something different about Chile every day – still. There are so many headaches and heartaches that have come with this lifestyle, but they have all been worth it. I don’t know anyone doing something quite as interesting (in my opinion) from my high school, and it makes me proud. I’m not rich or famous and there’s always something that could be better, but I’m fulfilled. I’m happy. My curiosity is fueled in a way that I never imagined. And it all happened because I interned abroad.
Choosing to do my internship abroad was the best decision I ever made. Apply now to change your life with an international internship
Photo 1. by Alicja Siekierska
Photos 2. 3. and 4. by Elizabeth Trovall