An Internship Abroad

By Natalia Zabala, FCLC 2023

Slide from a presentation on Colombia, showing Colombian flag

When I arrived at my study abroad program in Strasbourg, I learned of the community-based internships opportunity offered by my program. Due to my interest in language learning, the internship advisor Ms. Hardenberg found me an internship where I could use my knowledge of French, Spanish and English to help in the learning environment. I agreed to work at the Université Populaire Européenne for two courses, an English class on Wednesday mornings at nine o’clock and a Spanish class on Friday mornings at nine o’clock. The director of the university and my supervisor, Madame Barrière, also asked if I could help with some administrative work. 

I started with the administrative work right away. After a few meetings with Madame Barrière, she outlined my project: to draw up a diagnostic report on the @upestrasbourg Facebook page and on the website to assess electronic accessibility and the effectiveness of virtual engagement. She asked me to prepare the report for a meeting with her and other university administrators. Even with my experience presenting in front of crowds, I was nervous about presenting in French, especially on such a specific topic like virtual engagement. I prepared notes based on my research on how other universities created virtual student engagement as well as my own limited experience. When it came time for the presentation, I was extremely anxious as I stared at the Zoom link. All of a sudden, the meeting started and I started introducing myself and answering questions; I did not have time to be anxious because I had to pay attention to other administrators’ comments on the report. It was the first time after arriving in France that I spoke without thinking at every moment about exactly what I was saying. I was more fluent than I realized!

The English course was taught by Scottish teacher Madame Wagner. In each class, I brought my American perspective and accent to our discussions of topics like the healthcare system. During discussions, Ms. Wagner split the class into two groups to talk, and she sat with one group and I sat with the other to facilitate their discussions. In March, she gave me the opportunity to teach a class, and I chose to present on Mexican cuisine in the United States. I created a visual presentation and corresponding worksheet to lead the conversation, but I found that the questions from the students guided the presentation more than the notes or the work I had prepared. I received positive feedback at the conclusion of the presentation from the students and Mrs. Wagner, who asked if she could use the materials I had prepared for future classes.

 The Spanish class was totally different. All the students in Madame Rodriguez’s course were of a higher level and very lively. The students had a lot of questions about why I speak Spanish and my knowledge of and connections to the Latin American world. Every lesson was an opportunity to speak with the students because they were always eager to converse with me. I thus brought my knowledge of the language as much as my knowledge of culture to this course. Despite my competence in speaking, writing, and reading Spanish (because it is my mother tongue), I had never taken a Spanish class before, so the grammar was difficult even for me! I learned a lot with the students, such as how to use the subjunctive, something that I always did without thinking. I gave my presentation for this course on my very last day in Strasbourg about my home country of Colombia, and the students were excited to hear about the culture and the specificities of the language.         

Overall, my internship was an amazing and positive experience. Every day I learned something important about my knowledge of French, Spanish, and even English. I am grateful to Madame Hardenberg and Madame Barrière for the opportunity, and to Madame Wagner and Madame Rodriguez for welcoming me into their classrooms.