Carrie Herrera Niesen - 2007 Program Participant
Carrie (bottom right corner) with her coworkers at a nonprofit in Córdoba, Argentina.
Why did you choose to intern abroad?
I chose to intern abroad for a number of reasons. I felt as though I plateaued with my Spanish beyond the classroom (I'd already studied abroad once) and I wanted to challenge myself in a professional setting. Interning abroad seemed like the obvious next step, and I knew I could get six credits for the eight week experience. It worked out well because while it was all in Spanish, the organization I was placed at and the work I did coincided well with my second major, Communication Studies.
What made you choose Cultural Vistas as your provider?
To be completely frank, I had no idea what I was doing in finding a provider. All I knew is I wanted to go to Argentina after having studied in Spain, and I knew I wanted to do an internship. Since my university didn't have an internship abroad program nor an official designated study abroad advisor to guide me, I just had trusty Google (this was in 2007).
I chose CDS International (which is now Cultural Vistas) because they have a program in Argentina, they said they'd match you with a placement based on your skills and goals, and my Spanish professors were familiar with it. Despite me being in Minnesota and CDS being in New York City, I felt comfortable moving forward with them remotely because my professors had heard of them.
What was the most unusual experience you had during your internship?
At the time, I probably would have told you every day was an unusual experience, from accidentally ordering puchero for lunch and making my co-workers laugh hysterically at me, to daily fights with the Windows 98 computers that I learned to just roll with (even though it was in 2007, that was still ancient technology), or having my coworkers coddle me as I came in with wet hair everyday and not wearing a scarf (the horror!!!).
What about the most unique part?
The most unique would have to be a partnership breakthrough. Part of my job was to establish the initial step in building relationships with similar organizations in English speaking countries for grant project based work. One of those partnerships resulted in great exposure for the organization by getting their name on a United Nations conference website. I also had a few photos published in the local paper, La Voz del Interior.
What was the biggest challenge you faced in your internship placement?
The biggest challenge was managing expectations. My only context of "intern" was typically a green person working long hours, sometimes doing menial work, and gaining valuable insight to their desired career field. What I didn't realize is that definition varies greatly among cultures, and sometimes doesn't even exist. People in Argentina typically don't work unless they get paid, so having an unpaid intern is a novel concept.
I was the first intern to be with my organization, and at times it was obvious they weren't sure of what to do with me. While I'd planned on devoting the majority of my time to the organization, they were concerned with overworking me and cut a lot of my hours. I didn't learn this until I was on site during my cultural orientation, and would have appreciated knowing that earlier on so I could have planned accordingly with my provider.
What are the things you miss the most from Cordoba? Argentina in general?
I miss the artisan markets and living next door to a tango bar (and of course my co-workers!). There was a great market every weekend steps from my homestay called Paseo de las Artes (they now have their own Facebook page) and I loved seeing the new merchants, learning about the history and culture while I shopped, and inhaling the scents of cooking empanadas from the various food stalls throughout. Tango is such an Argentine staple and I felt lucky that each time I left my house at night, I got to hear the soulful, romantic music and nearly had my own free show as I peered into the windows passing by.
What lessons or things did you learn while interacting with the locals?
The biggest lesson I learned was Argentineans really care for one another. They value their relationships much more than making money, being productive at work, or being defined by their job titles. Once you're connected to them in some shape or fashion, they're generous, loving, and welcome to a fault. It was a huge cultural shift compared to the busy go go go lifestyle in the US, and it was a refreshingly welcome one that I strive to live by on a daily basis.
Would you recommend the program to others?
I would recommend this program to others, as long as they're clear about what they want in terms of workload, desired experience/responsibilities, and I'd recommend working with an already established internship placement. While I had some hiccups and misunderstandings, I did get an excellent homestay location in my preferred neighborhood and was connected to a fantastic alumni of the program to answer my pre-departure questions (and we're still friends to this day!).
What important tips can you give to future participants of the program?
I would do your research, be prepared, and ask lots of questions. Be specific about what experience you'd like to gain and communicate that clearly early on in your application as well as throughout the process. Ask to be connected to an alumni that was in your same city, ask how you can connect with other participants on site, and ask how they'd recommend you connect with locals. I didn't have nearly as many resources then as there are available now (Facebook didn't exist in Argentina in 2007, for example) to get an idea of where I was going and what I could do in my free time when I wasn't interning.
Did you experience reverse culture shock upon re-entry? How did interning abroad affect your life after your program?
I absolutely experienced it upon re-entry. I was in Argentina during their winter and Minnesota's summer, so it was fantastic to feel warmth and sunshine again, but I was out of sorts for weeks. I didn't have any re-entry counseling or guide about how to process nor communicate my experience so I just jumped back into a routine and started my senior year of college.
Since my Spanish fluency reached new heights, I was constantly searching for opportunities to practice it and volunteered with a non-profit assisting new immigrants from Spanish speaking countries transition to life in small town Minnesota. The biggest takeaway from interning abroad was I wanted to assist students have similar experiences and help them incorporate it into their goals for their global lifestyle.