Posted on behalf of Sara Gagnon ’15, who recently returned from a semester on the Skidmore in Spain program:

I owe my great experience interning in Madrid, Spain to the staff on the Skidmore in Spain program, especially Luis Castilla and Chavela Olivares. They helped me find the Club de Madrid, a non-governmental organization that works to promote democracy worldwide through the experience of its membership made up of ex-heads of state and government. Luis and Chavela helped me to translate and prepare my Spanish résumé and were also very supportive—I was terrified about my first Spanish interview but now am extremely happy I did it!

Upon starting, I wasn’t sure how to be comfortable working in a Spanish office, but I was fortunate to work in a place where everyone, regardless of his or her position, is kind and always willing to help. I worked in the Programs department, which consists of four program officers and is headed by a program coordinator. My tasks varied from day to day, and included writing and translating documents and speeches. I was actually given the tasks of translating the first draft of a speech that former president of Spain José Zapatero gave at the UN, as well as a Spanish to English translation of his talking points for a later mission, which I was so excited to do and which proved to be very rewarding work. I spent much of my time researching political systems, current events, leaders, and political climates and examining social media for the program officers. I worked closely with an officer to produce briefing books, which the organization’s members used on their democratic missions. This meant collecting and organizing all logistical information regarding the mission, creating press summaries pertaining to the countries visited and addressed, and physically printing off and assembling the books. I also wrote for the Shared Societies blog, which involved researching and writing stories pertaining to social inclusion. There was an event held in Madrid which I was fortunate enough to attend and take notes on—I was able to meet the ex-president of Latvia and the ex-president of Uruguay, as well as other diplomats, and my boss Amir encouraged me to do some networking. I worked in organizing the event by contacting embassies regarding diplomats’ attendance, which turned out to be the most nerve-racking test (and practice) of my Spanish phone skills I’d ever had.

I loved these tasks because I felt like a part of the Programs department and the Club de Madrid. I wasn’t treated like a typical intern at the bottom of the ladder, who exists only to put information into Excel documents (which I did do on occasion and enjoyed nonetheless), but I was given challenging work and applicable and constructive feedback. My creativity was appreciated and encouraged, which, being a Skidmore student, was really cool. Often my research involved current events, which gave me the opportunity to be doing relevant work that was part of an effort to cause change where change was needed. It was gratifying and fulfilling to do meaningful work, and I learned so much. From the basics of working with a team in an office in a foreign country to the extensive knowledge I gained about international politics and specific countries, I learned so much (literally) every day. I feel more informed and experienced in the field of international politics in many of the world’s regions, which I will use going forward in my studies of Government and Spanish at Skidmore.

Most of all I was inspired by the good work of the people at the Club de Madrid. Their genuineness and commitment to helping people around the world has affirmed for me that I want to do something similar with my life. This internship gave me more than the chance to develop my skills and learn more about both the world and myself. It was an opportunity to be a real part of and give back to the Madrid community that has given so much to me. For that I am grateful.

-Sara Gagnon ’15