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Internships Abroad: Fall in Love with Mobility!

My favorite English word is “mobility” - “movilidad” in Spanish. Why? Because to me mobility is a synonym of freedom. And freedom or liberty is one of the fundamental virtues for every Pole. It is for me, anyway.

I grew up under communism. My first travel abroad - I was 17 years old; my first mobile phone - I was 22; my first flight - I was 23. My second life started in 2004 when Poland joined the European Union. Since then I can’t complain, although I stick with our old Polish tradition and complain a little bit every day. It helps me to not lose my identity in this global world

In this article I want to share my experience of living and working abroad almost for free (sorry guys from Western Europe - partly you paid for it) with you. As an EU citizen I consider myself lucky because we are being offered many educational possibilities. Among them, for example, is the Lifelong Learning Programme (LLP) which was designed to enable people to take part in stimulating learning experiences at any stage of their life, as well as to develop education and training across Europe.

Get Moving

Let’s do a test. Open any magazine and see what they recommend. If you want to lose a weight – they would say “move yourself from the couch”. If you are bored with your apartment – why wouldn’t you move your furniture? So what about your professional development – wouldn’t it be a good idea to consider a mobility project as a way to achieve your goals?

I took this opportunity. It wasn’t my first long term stay abroad. A few years ago I took part in one-year European voluntary project. That’s why I chose to work abroad while planning my professional development. I knew that I wanted to learn from the best and improve Spanish at the same time, so my next step was obvious. I got an internship in Spain and my adventure began! My mobility project “Make a step forward” was funded with support from the European Commission under the Lifelong Learning Programme. If you are looking for low cost possibilities to live abroad, find a sponsor.

Rewards of Internships Abroad

Undoubtedly, I was able to learn a lot. Sometimes the interns complain that all they had to do was make coffee. I was never bored. And every day I got to know more best practices (and some bad ones too). Professional development guaranteed.

The second advantage was working experience exchange. That’s the real strength of each mobility project. Firstly, I got to know their way of doing things and share my point of view. Secondly, I could compare Spanish companies and their culture with Polish ones. I can’t wait passing all this knowledge on at my workplace in Poland.

During my work time I was supported by my supervisor but was also offered real autonomy. They trusted me and I did my job as well as I could. It was a place where you were allowed to make mistakes, which helped make you feel secure and take pleasure in your work.

I would like to dispel the myth that Spaniards don’t like to work. I used to live in Catalonia, this time I lived in Madrid, and both times I could see real commitment and great professionalism in my Spanish colleagues. This also made for good interpersonal relationships. I met great people at the office. They cared for me, motivated me, and praised my Spanish. The daily encouragement from my colleagues made me feel less stressed.

Everything Can Be a Lesson

There were some challenges as well:

  • Adapting to a new work environment. I have to admit that my work schedule was the biggest challenge for me. I used to work flexibly. In Spain I had a timetable from Monday to Friday with regular working hours. I needed time to adapt to the different way of working. And to “siesta-time”.
  • Tiredness. Yes, this refers to a real passion of (almost) each Spaniard for eating out and going out. Carpe diem. But also to another fact - I was really tired because I translated Spanish-Polish/Polish –Spanish 24/7. Regardless what time I went to sleep, I felt exhausted each morning, like my brain couldn’t recover. This might be something that passes after a few years of living there, but 6 months weren’t enough for me.
  • Personal space. Spanish people like to be close and usually leave less space than northern Europeans when meeting someone. It is usual to touch the other person (shoulder, arm) and, where there are women in the group, it is not uncommon to kiss each other (twice). Personally, I love this tip someone gave me: “If the Spanish person opposite you tries to give you a kiss, do not refuse it, but you should not be the one to initiate the kiss.” These interpersonal behaviors were bothering me in the beginning, now I think it creates this “easy-going” atmosphere which makes the adaptation process go smoothly. 

Anyway, the obstacles weren’t so significant and I really enjoyed living in Spain. For me, this mobility project was the best university that I studied at, which let me develop professionally and personally during these 6 months. Hasta la vista!

Anna Szmigiel currently lives and works in her hometown of Warsaw, but from time to time she likes to venture abroad, mostly to Spain, to taste all flavors of life - both literally (local cuisine) and metaphorically (local culture).