For my time abroad, my main focus has been completing an international internship through my program provider CEA. This aspect of my time abroad has single handedly been one of the most rewarding and challenging parts of my time abroad. Prior to leaving for Spain, I completed an internship selection process with CEA that involved several interviews and questionnaires among other things. Following all of this, I was matched with the Barcelona organization Associació Educativa Itaca. This is a non-profit group that is based in the L’Hospitalet neighborhood of the city and they specialize in helping children and families who are at higher risk of social exclusion. The L’Hospitalet neighborhood is one of the lower income neighborhoods of Barcelona and also holds the highest percentage of immigrant residents. As an intern, my job is to uphold the values of the organization while assisting in daily tasks involving the participants. I was placed with the 10-12 year old group and my daily work has ranged from helping with homework to leading activities to help the kids learn English.
This internship and all the people I’ve met there have taught me more about Barcelona than I could have ever discovered on my own, and for that I am infinitely grateful. With that being said, this opportunity has had its fair share of challenges as well. For starters, all of the children I work with do not speak English and the majority of the people I work with only speak a small amount. I went into my time abroad with a basic level of Spanish, but I quickly saw how much learning I had to do. I suppose they say the best way to learn is to be thrown into the midst of it, but they don’t warn you of how frustrating that can be. Especially on the days where you aren’t feeling quite yourself or feel a little sick, there is nothing quite as exasperating as not being able to convey what you want to say accurately. Now that I am over halfway through my internship, I have definitely found my footing with the language barrier, but there are still some bumps in the road occasionally. Just the other day I found myself having to break up a disagreement between several kids over who got to use the soccer ball. Trying to reason with kids who are in the midst of a fight is no easy task, but when you add in a language barrier it can become nearly impossible. Nonetheless, I was able to maintain my composure and utilize what I did know how to say in Spanish and I successfully diffused the situation. I think the biggest lesson I have taken away from learning a new language is that perfection is an impossible standard, as long as you put in the effort then people will get what your trying to say and most of the time they won’t care if you mess up a verb or the gender of a word.
On a lighter note, I have had some truly heartwarming and unforgettable moments through this internship. Only a week or so into the program, my supervisors asked me if I felt comfortable organizing and leading an activity to help the kids practice their English. I was initially very intimidated by this, but I realized it was a great chance for me to work on my leadership skills and strengthen my relationship with my group. I ended up putting together a jeopardy style game since that was one I remember fondly from when I was their age. The whole thing was a huge success and many of the kids came up to me afterwards to tell me how much fun they had. Another one of my favorite memories from this experience happened on a day where several of the groups combined for a day at the park. I ended up spending some time with the 6-7 year old group doing arts and crafts. They were fascinated by me being from the United States and had question after question to ask about me. I have several tattoos and they were intrigued by them, and one of the little girls asked if she could color one in with washable marker. I was more than happy to let her and before I knew it I had five kids crowded around me doodling all across my arms in rainbow colors. At the end of the day I had complete sleeves and I couldn’t have been happier. It has been such a joy to get to know the kids at the organization and hear the different stories. I have been met with nothing but open arms from all of them and I hope I have brought as much joy into their lives as they have me.