Saludos desde España—greetings from Spain!
My name is Laura, and I’m an English and Spanish double major from Maui, Hawai’i. I have always had a passion for literature, especially Spanish literature. I already knew upon arriving at Wellesley that I wanted to double major in those two fields, but I had a harder time figuring out which of the two I wanted to primarily pursue after graduation. In the last year though, it’s become pretty clear thanks to my time at Wellesley and abroad: Spanish is the one for me, and I have dreams of becoming a Spanish professor and teaching literature (hopefully at Wellesley one day!). This summer, I’m absolutely delighted to be Wellesley’s first intern at the Universidad Internacional Menéndez Pelayo (UIMP—pronounced like “wimp” in Spanish) in Santander, Spain. When I heard that Wellesley was creating a new Global Engagement Internship with the UIMP, I was thrilled by the opportunity and applied right away. I was already in Spain for a semester abroad in Córdoba with Wellesley’s PRESHCO program, and I knew that I didn’t want to leave in May. I was in love with Spain, and having made it all the way there from my home in Hawai’i literally halfway across the world, I wanted to prolong my stay as long as possible, and especially if it meant that I could take part in such a fantastic new internship. With my love of Spanish and my aspirations to work in academia, interning at the Cultural Activities department in a renowned graduate university would be incredible opportunity to immerse myself in the academic world of Spain.
When I arrived in Santander, I was a bit confused: it was raining, and rained straight for my first three days. Where was I—Spain, or the United Kingdom? I knew Santander was up north and didn’t have the hottest summers, which I appreciated after the extreme heat of southern Spain, but this new place looked nothing like my sunny Córdoba. On Monday, however, the sun came out, and my jaw dropped as I walked from the residential campus to the actual palace on a peninsula where I’d be working. The sea was as blue as back home, and entering the towering palace on the water felt like a dream. It was the team’s first day back from their other offices in Madrid, so my first week was quiet as I got an orientation of events as the office was set up. By my second week, the office was bustling—more of my coworkers started to arrive and things went from quiet to non-stop.
There isn’t really a “normal” day at the UIMP. I’ve been in charge of designing the weekly newsletter, sending it to printers and distributing it, recording attendance for events, creating program handouts, and occasionally helping out with the academic courses, and that was just inside the office. Outside, I attend three to four evening events a week, helping set up and break down everything from Literary Tuesday talks to classical music concerts. My schedule varies a lot—sometimes I’ll work a 10 am-6 pm day at the office, or I’ll only work until lunch, take the afternoon off, and spend from 8 pm until midnight at the later events. Of course, there are always breaks for a café con leche and tortilla de patata downstairs with my fantastic coworkers, who have taken me in as one of their own, despite me being younger than anyone else and the very first intern at the UIMP from the United States. People around the palace are slightly confused by a twenty-two year old Spanish major from Boston/Maui, and I’ve started to joke that I want a coffee every time I get the question “Wait, you’re from Hawai’i? What on earth are you doing here in Spain?” since it takes some caffeine to explain the situation.
Working in such a prestigious academic environment has also given me the opportunity to meet some pretty incredible people, including actors, to writers, and even an astronaut. I’ve been able to get tickets to great events, from a contemporary dance performance to a dramatic monologue by Spanish actress Ana Fernández, who I got to meet backstage. As a writer, it’s been especially exciting for me to meet quite a few authors and poets who have come to present, and even have some signed books! My time at the UIMP has definitely cemented my desire to work in the academic world, and has given me the confidence that I can easily live and work, all in Spanish.
There were little challenges that I wasn’t anticipating, for instance, how to write the “@” symbol on a Spanish keyboard. After ten minutes of pressing all manner of key combinations and searching online, I finally had to ask. I’ve now gotten so used to the different placement of letters and symbols on a Spanish keyboard that I’ve started messing up on my laptop! I was also surprised just how very casual interactions can be here. The custom in Spain is to greet everyone with a kiss on each cheek, which I expected with friends, but was a bit taken aback to greet my boss, professors, and university officials this way—no one shakes hands here! Despite the challenges and cultural differences, I feel like I fit in very well here: after spending a semester in Córdoba and a summer in Santander, I’ve picked up a lot of little things, like exactly the right casual phrasing to order food at the bar and new slang words, all things that make me feel very at home in Spain.
My time in Santander hasn’t been all work and no play, however—after closing up the events, my coworkers and I go grab a typically late Spanish dinner with a glass of some excellent wine or Spanish cider from the region. The tapas, here called “pinchos,” are delicious—served on a wedge of toasted bread, they can be anything from seafood, to meat, to very strong cheeses. I’ve definitely broadened my culinary horizons and gotten a lot more adventurous during my time in Spain, especially with the more unfamiliar pinchos, though there are a few things I’m still not brave enough to try (sorry, little fried anchovies with faces). The weekends also leave plenty of time for exploration of the region’s beautiful beaches and forests, as well as trips to the nearby Basque cities San Sebastian and Bilbao. It’s been very refreshing to embrace the relaxed pace of life here and slow down for a bit, instead of rushing from place to place and event to event as I’m always doing in Wellesley. The Spanish know how to enjoy the little things and make the most of their time with friends, which is something I want to bring back with me for when my semester gets stressful.
Writing this, I’m getting ready to wrap up my nearly seven months in Spain and my nine weeks in Santander, and I’m very sad to be leaving such a wonderful experience, but I’m also excited to bring my new skills and appreciation for the little moments back to Wellesley. I know without a doubt that I’ll be back in Spain very soon—I know it’s going to be a big part of my future!