Patricia came to the International Office one day and asked possibilities to work abroad. Who could tell her in that moment that she would go to Camberra to experience one of the best periods in her life! The international office gave her this opportunity.
Read about Patricia, one of our Advertising and Public Relations students.
Hello, Patricia! You participated in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Cooperation internship programme, which in your case, has been at the Spanish Embassy in Canberra (Australia). We´d like you to tell us about your experience there.
What have you gained from this experience; both professionally and personally?
Professionally…to know first-hand what happens in the world of the Embassy. It has been a real experience to know what happens on a day-to-day basis. As well as that, I really have to thank them, because from day one they let us participate in everything, they sent us work, etc. We weren´t interns for making coffees or photocopying (which I had been a little anxious about). You´re going to the other side of the world and you worry that it won´t be what you hoped it would be. But, thankfully, it was brilliant!
What was your role in the Embassy, exactly?
Well, in this embassy specifically, there were several departments:
– The ambassador´s secretary, who dealt with the schedules.
– Diplomatic and international relations.
– Education which, although it was within the Embassy, had its own hierarchy and was like an independent department.
Depending on whoever needed help, we were rotated. In the International Relations department there were always meetings with EU representatives to deal with various matters. We accompanied the Minister, and you meet other interns from other countries who are doing the same thing. Although we didn´t actively participate, we still had the opportunity to be there and see what was happening, to take notes and make reports.
You carried out your internship from October to January, but you were offered the opportunity to stay on. Why did you decide not to continue?
At first I wanted to stay and I started all the procedures, but in the end I decided to come home, because the conditions were going to be the same. It´s an internship which, unfortunately, isn´t paid and it´s difficult being in a country so expensive and far away without having any income. Simply because life in Australia is so expensive, they gave us all the facilities for us to stay. And we are very grateful to the Embassy for that, because we were treated so well: we were given work to do, we were treated like extra staff members, and we were offered the possibility to renew our contracts…
Generally, how has this placement influenced you as a person?
I think that on a personal level, travelling and living in another country really changes your mentality: you learn to make do by yourself and to solve problems. In this case, when you´re in a country so far away (where you can´t get anywhere quickly because you need planes and travelling time, with a huge time difference)…you end up getting to know the new country, making friends and meeting amazing people, becoming familiar with new cultures, perspectives, ways of life. I think all this is always positive, and you´ll always gain something from it. I was already aware of it after my Erasmus studies in Belgium, but now I notice it even more.
On the other hand, it helps you have more flexibility to do things that you didn´t even know you liked before.
Are there many students in Australia from other nationalities?
Yes, and over there they offer a type of Visa called a Working Holiday Visa too, (which they also have in all the EU countries, except Greece and Spain, unfortunately), so you have a year to work as well as study. As a matter of fact, the youth hostels are all full!
Tell me what aspects struck you most about Australian culture. Did you notice a big difference to Spanish culture?
I think they´re quite similar to us, despite the distance. The thing that might have struck me most was their patriotism; I wasn´t expecting it. Before I left, my knowledge of Australia was quite limited; I didn´t know any more than anybody else anyway. So that did surprise me quite a bit, because it´s interesting that despite being such a young country, the patriotism is very deeply set.
Their character struck me as well: very open, very likable…it was really easy to adapt. They´re used to people coming from abroad, above all from Asia, but from Europe too. Because of this, it´s very difficult to meet Spanish people here, which isn´t the case in other countries.
What was your level of English like when you went? Did you manage alright? Have you noticed a significant improvement since your stay there?
It wasn´t exactly high…but I could get by. I was at B2 level just before I went and now I hope to get my Advanced level.
It was difficult getting used to the accent at first, because it´s really strange. There are some people you can understand; it depends on the region (I guess it´s the same in Spain). In the end you wind up doing the accent too.
Of course, an experience like this is always good for improving your level of language. It´s one of the biggest advantages of being abroad, and although the Embassy people talk to you in Spanish, you always have to make a calls outside work, and then you´re practising at home and with friends etc. It´s normal that you improve.
What do you think of Australia in professional terms? Do you think there are more opportunities for work placements and development there?
I think that right now, Australia is a country with a lot of work opportunities, but it´s difficult to get into. If I had been able to, I would have stayed out there working, but it´s complicated. There is work, but you need a visa to get the jobs, and it´s difficult to get a visa with a work permit. You´re always chasing your tail.
There are certain professions, like doctors, nurses, engineers etc. that in a country like Australia (which is still growing) have a great chance of a business sponsoring them. However, with others like media and journalism, the work is there but there aren´t as many opportunities. In reality, the rate of unemployment is very low and they´re amazed at what´s happening in Spain, for example.
Would you advise people to look for work abroad, facing the difficulty of finding jobs in our country?
Yes, I think so, because if there aren´t any possibilities here and there won´t be any in the immediate future…I think the best thing to do is to look for opportunities where you´ll find them. But I want to say that there isn´t any point in just going for the sake of going, without having found anything or prepared anything. If you´re going abroad, you have to have everything sorted and researched, because there will always be surprises along the way. You always see it in the media; they paint this beautiful picture, and you assume that it´s reality.
When we worked in the Embassy, we received emails from people (sometimes families), who had come to try their luck in Australia and who had ended up in extreme situations. They needed our help, but we couldn´t do anything for them.
I mean… I want to stress that it´s important to be aware of how things are, and that there may be possibilities out there, but it isn´t a life of luxury.
In general, what perceptions do the Australians have of Spanish people?
They have a very superficial vision of us…they often associate us with South Americans. They know that things aren´t going very well for us.
Do you think we live up to whatever is required of any Australian professional?
Yes. In order to integrate into their working world, I think the requirements have to be the same.
What would you say to students or graduates who are looking for work opportunities right now?
For anyone who´s hesitating, I would really encourage them to look abroad, because they have the opportunity to take part in programmes like this; they have to make the most of it. Plus, on a personal level, the experience is fantastic. I guess the sacrifice is worth the pain. It shouldn´t put you off, but you have to be realistic about what you´re going to.
In my case, which was four months (and I finished Advertising last year) I did three Journalism courses. It didn´t do any harm to add a little extra to my studies. But in general, I think you can do both. These opportunities won´t be there in the future; it´s only for university students.
Would you like to add anything else? Anything you haven´t mentioned so far?
I would have to say that I think the internships should be paid.
We´ve seen people from many countries, interns from other embassies (the EU, Belgium…) and they had financial help, and sometimes they were even provided with accommodation. When you go to far-off countries like Australia, for example, where even a plane ticket can cost €1,500 and the cost of living is sky-high…they really should consider it. Rent is so high, too. I paid €800 per month for a tiny room. A house would have been about €4000-€5000!
However, I would say that despite the fact that the others got paid, they complained that they didn´t get to participate in the Embassy work as much as we did.