Internship in Spain with Neck & Neck Summer 2017

 

  1. For my STEP Signature Project, I did an internship in Madrid, Spain through the Fisher College of Business’s Summer Global Internship Program. I was an intern in the Buying and Production Department of Neck & Neck, a children’s clothing company based in Madrid. My tasks included analyzing sales reports of recent seasons to evaluate the profitability of various styles, examining shipment samples and corresponding with suppliers to help prepare the Winter 2017 Collection, and utilizing Microsoft Excel and Navision to perform cost comparison and analyses of styles and products.

 

  1. Before completing my STEP signature project, I assumed that the extent to which countries overseas are affected by American culture was not very significant. However after a short time living in Spain, I realized that this was not the case. While in the workplace and throughout daily life, I was often asked questions regarding American politics and the recent presidential election. I learned that major and even minor events that occurred in American society were covered by Spanish news networks. I was also surprised to learn that American music was very popular in Spain, and even preferred over Spanish music by some Spaniards. In fact, every day at the Neck & Neck office my coworkers would turn the radio to a station that mainly played American music. Before going abroad, I probably would not have thought much about Spanish or European politics or listened to Spanish music. However, after seeing the impacts of American culture on Spain, and just from living overseas, I’ve become interested in staying informed about Spanish culture and have learned that it’s important to be aware of what’s going on around the world. Nowadays I frequently read El País, an online Spanish newspaper, in order to stay informed about what’s going on in Madrid and other Spanish cities. Also, I’ve become interested in Spanish music known as Reggaeton, which is a blend of Hip Hop and Pop.

In addition to changing my assumptions, this experience transformed the way I understand myself. Before last summer, I was apprehensive about working abroad. I thought I was not prepared to work in an environment with a different language and culture and that it would be too difficult. At the time, I had not taken any Spanish classes since high school, and I had not interned or worked in another country before. However, by the end of the program my views had completely changed. Although slightly challenging at first, overcoming a language barrier and adapting to Spanish culture was an extremely rewarding experience. Every day during my commute to work, I would read news articles in Spanish on my phone. By the end of the internship my Spanish was good enough to have basic conversations, and I was able to read it well. I also have a newfound interest in international business. With countries around the world getting more interconnected day by day, I’ve realized that it would be very useful to be bilingual or at least be familiar with another language in the workforce. Having this skill would help me stand out when applying for jobs and would broaden my career opportunities. I’m thinking about finding a career where I can work with Spanish speaking colleagues and clients, and travel/work in Spanish speaking countries.

 

  1. My colleagues from my department at Neck & Neck helped change my assumptions. Because there were only two other people in my department, we became close throughout the internship. They’d sometimes talk about politics with me and I was surprised to learn that they knew a lot about what was going on in America and with the recent election. They helped expose me to Spanish current events as well. A major event going on in Spain right now is Barcelona/the Catalan region trying to secede from Spain. This is a controversial topic as Madrid citizens and Barcelona citizens have very different opinions about the issue. Before coming to Spain I had brief knowledge of the issue, but it was interesting to see the perspective and learn more about the topic from a native Spaniard. Another aspect of my assumptions that changed was about the effect of American culture on Spanish music. Carmen, a girl from the design team at Neck & Neck who I frequently worked with, introduced me to Reggaeton. This style of music is a blend of Hip Hop and Pop and was inspired by American and Puerto Rican culture. Reggaeton is popular with millennials in Spain and I was surprised to find out that a lot of Reggaeton artists are actually from America.

As mentioned above, this experience helped show me that with hard work I can overcome a language barrier. However, I can attribute a lot of my success to the help of the WeFind Group (WFG). They are a company that works with Ohio State who helped place us at our internships and coordinated the program while in Spain. They were an extremely helpful resource in preparing us for Spanish culture before and during the program. For instance, they introduced us to Duolingo. This is a mobile app that provides exercises to help you learn how to read and speak a variety of languages. This was a vital resource in helping me learn Spanish and I used it a few weeks before the program started and throughout the internship. I would have not even known about the app if not for the WeFind Group. Additionally, WFG provided us the opportunity to practice our Spanish early on by working with Debora, one of the program coordinators who worked out of Madrid. Last spring semester, we had Skype calls with Debora where she tested our Spanish level and then had mock conversations and did exercises with us based on our ability. This was a very useful resource that helped make me comfortable speaking Spanish early on. Furthermore, other interactions that helped me while abroad include practicing my Spanish speaking skills everyday by having conversations with natives. I would speak with different colleagues around the office at work and with people I met at the building where I lived. My friends from the program and I got to know Carlos, a native of Spain who lived in our building and was a student at a nearby university. Often times after work we’d have a chance to practice speaking Spanish with him. He also showed us around Madrid’s markets, town squares and landmarks where we became even more exposed to the Spanish language and culture.

A big part of my transformational experience was adapting to Spanish culture. Before the program started I had never really thought too hard about the work culture in Spain, but I had always assumed it was pretty identical to working in the U.S. Spain is a modern society with many innovative and growing industries. However there are some key differences when compared to the U.S. Spain is a very family oriented culture, and it was definitely visible at Neck & Neck. Every day we would all eat lunch together around two large tables in a room known as La Cocina (the kitchen). This gave me the chance to get to know the other employees on a more personal level and was also another opportunity to practice speaking Spanish. Another aspect of Spanish culture that I became accustomed to was that the work culture is more relaxed than in the US. Like many companies in Spain during the summer, Neck & Neck had “summer hours” in which they’d start a little later and close a few hours early. Although many people probably view a shorter work day as a good thing, summer hours presented some challenges. Because I was at the office for less time each day, I had to adjust my work pace to ensure that I was getting my work done on time and meeting deadlines. I also took two subways and a bus to get to work each day and therefore I had to adjust my commute. Moreover, another part of Spanish culture that I had to adjust to was siestas. Traditional to Spain, siestas are a mid-afternoon break in which businesses close for a few hours. However, today this practice is mainly followed by small, local businesses and shops. Although Neck & Neck didn’t have siestas, I was still affected by them. Groceries stores, cafes, and barber shops that I often went to closed for siesta and so I had to plan accordingly.

 

 

  1. The transformation I experienced from my STEP Signature Project was beneficial in many ways. For instance, I am trying to pursue a career in the fashion industry, specifically in buying and merchandising. With the industry being prevalent in Los Angeles and other areas of Southern California where Spanish is widely spoken, knowing the language would be advantageous. Additionally, I may be interested in working for Zara, a clothing company based out of Spain. Having lived/worked in Madrid and having exposure to Spanish language and culture, I now possess skills that would make me success
    ful in a job with Zara. Furthermore, the fashion industry is a fast-paced environment where being adaptable and overcoming challenges are key. By doing this program, future employers will see that I have diverse experiences and the skills to overcome obstacles in the workplace and succeed in an environment that I am not accustomed to.

Lastly, after college I hope to be able to go back to Spain and backpack around Europe. Now having a strong interest in Spanish language, culture, food, and music, I am excited to go back and learn even more. Living in Spain has also inspired me to want to learn about the cultures of other countries such as Italy, France, and Portugal. I’m continuing to practice my Spanish so that I can hopefully be fluent. Knowing Spanish will be useful when traveling to these countries because the language is similar and many Europeans speak Spanish even outside of Spain. I also want to continue keeping up with major current events in Spain and across Europe so that when I go back I can have meaningful conversations with native speakers. Doing this program for my STEP Signature Project was truly a once in a lifetime experience. This program was one of the highlights of my college career and I definitely recommend it to anyone who is considering interning abroad.

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