While I didn’t fully realize this previously, over the past few weeks of interning at Happy Erasmus Bilbao, I’ve learned that the fields of diplomacy and tourism overlap quite a bit. While studying UMW, I focused on the political and historical aspects of Hispanic and Asian countries. Before arriving in Bilbao, Spain, I hoped to intern at a company related to the fields of law, foreign affairs, history, or politics. However, I was instead assigned to a student travel agency. Even though I did not see a connection between the internship and my studies, I happily accepted the position. As I worked, I began to realize that my internship was unusually relevant to what I had learned at UMW.
In fact, working in an international office required me to work as a pseudo-diplomat for the United States. As the only American working in the office, my coworkers often questioned me about a range of topics relating to the United States. My colleagues were most interested in my opinions regarding the country’s ongoing political situation, as I interned during a particularly polarizing time for our country. I gave them my honest opinion while citing things that I had learned within the classroom. These conversations allowed me to share my knowledge but to also learn about global perspectives regarding the United States.
I utilized my classroom knowledge in my work as well. Most of my duties involved translating travel blogs from Spanish to English. As a Spanish major, I finished my translations quickly and efficiently. My knowledge of Spanish culture itself proved invaluable to completing these translations. Since the travel blogs focused on favorably detailing Spanish cities to attract potential clients, a base knowledge of Spanish history and culture was required to faithfully translate these blogs, as both are intrinsic to Spanish cities.
The internship itself also taught me lessons that I could not learn in a classroom. One of the most important things I learned was how to navigate complex interpersonal relationships with colleagues. For a time, I worked under a colleague that was deliberately unhelpful and condescending, which resulted in my work suffering. During this uncomfortable period, I learned two things: firstly, it is crucial to maintain composure during stressful workplace situations. Even if you are technically in the right, becoming upset can undermine your argument. In fact, it can be seen as unprofessional and even be turned against you. Secondly, I learned that it is necessary to stand up for yourself in the workplace. No matter where you are on the professional hierarchy, you deserve a basic level of respect from your colleagues. If that respect is violated, you have the right to call it out and try to resolve it. Fortunately, my situation was quickly resolved. However, in the future, I will be better equipped to deal with such issues.
My internship greatly boosted my professional confidence and competence. Combing what I learned at both Mary Washington and my internship, I feel prepared to enter the workforce!