Interning, Volunteering, and Learning Abroad: You Can Do It All

Sep 18, 2017 8:30:00 AM / by Julie Ritz

A CAPA Alumna Interview: Rebecca Knight

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Meet Rebecca Knight, a Speech Pathology and Spanish major at the University of Pittsburgh who studied abroad in Buenos Aires during spring 2017. Below, she talks about what it's like to live in a homestay, what it's like to volunteer in another country, and shares her top 3 tips for anyone heading to Buenos Aires.

CAPA WORLD: Tell us a bit about yourself.
RK: My name is Rebecca! I’m a junior at the University of Pittsburgh studying Speech Pathology and Spanish. This Spring I studied abroad in Buenos Aires, Argentina in order to further my Spanish speaking skills. I’m very involved in the Reformed University Fellowship (RUF) at my university, spend time volunteering, and love to read, travel, and spend time with my friends!

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CW: What was the adjustment process like when you arrived in your host city?
RK: The biggest thing I had to adjust to was the language and the differences between Castellano, which they speak in Argentina, and Spanish. It took some time to learn the new conjugations and get used to the accent, but being completely immersed in the culture and surrounded by the language helped me a lot. My university helped me prepare for culture shock and any other feelings and emotions that are common when studying abroad which helped me adjust more easily. When talking about things that are different in Argentina than in the US, my program director always reminded us, “it’s not better or worse, just different.” Keeping that in mind helped me become more flexible and open to a new culture and better enjoy my time in Buenos Aires!

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CW: Did you live in a homestay? We’d love to hear about your experience. What was the family like? What did they teach you that you may not have discovered if you chose alternative accommodation?
RK: I lived in a homestay during my time abroad and it was an amazing experience that I would highly recommend. My host parents were an older couple with three grown children that all lived close by, so they visited often. I was nervous when I first arrived and didn’t know what to expect, but was immediately included in the family. I was surprised by how quickly my homestay began to really feel like home. I loved spending time with my host parents and their kids and some of my favorite nights were when their grandkids slept over! Living with a host family allowed me to learn so much more about Argentina and its culture. I’m so thankful for the conversations with my host parents every night at dinner, where I was able to discuss and ask questions about politics, history – anything. I feel that if I didn’t live in a homestay, I might have missed out on these conversations and learned less about the culture I was living in. My host family truly became my second family and we’ve kept in touch since I returned to the US!

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CW: Did you travel outside of your host city? Where did you go? How did your new environment compare with your host city environment? What new challenges did you encounter while outside of your host city and how did you overcome them?
RK: Because Argentina is such a large country, the North and the South are completely different and I was lucky enough to travel to both. For spring break, I went down to El Calafate in Patagonia to see some of the largest glaciers in South America – and even hiked across the Perito Moreno Glacier! I also traveled up North to Iguazú, and saw the Iguazú Falls that border Brazil and to Colonia, Uruguay, which is only a short ferry ride away from Buenos Aires. For me, the planning of these trips was challenging. I was suddenly making a lot of big decisions like booking hostels and buying bus and plane tickets and I felt a level of independence that I had never felt before. It was both scary and exciting to plan these trips on my own or with a few friends and not have my parents affirming my every decision and in the end, I felt a greater confidence in myself.

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CW: Tell us a bit about your internship that you completed while studying abroad, your duties and accomplishments. How will this experience help you in your future career?
RK: While abroad, I interned at a foundation called Fundación Dominick that runs a school for hearing and communicative impaired children. I worked part of the time with the foundation doing work for them. I translated their documents, website, and blog from Spanish to English so they can eventually grow and reach more people and researched and applied for grants. The other part of the time, I worked for the school. I worked in various classrooms and assisted teachers, helped out in the cafeteria at lunchtime, and went to the park for gym class with some of the kids. I enjoyed my time at Fundación Dominick because I felt like I was doing useful and important work rather than “busy work.” The foundation needed help applying for grants in English and someone to assist in classrooms, and I was able to arrive and be that help. I also loved that my internship directly applied to what I’m studying. I gained invaluable experience from interacting with kids with hearing disorders and observing how the teachers at the school taught them which will definitely help me in my future career as a Speech-Language Pathologist.

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CW: Did your experience abroad in any way shape your career goals and aspirations? If so, how so?
RK: My experience abroad, and more specifically my internship, solidified my decision to study Speech Pathology and Spanish and eventually work in an educational setting. I have gone back and forth over whether I want to work in the medical or educational field of Speech Pathology but interning at the school and spending time with the students there helped me realize that I have a passion for working with kids! Reflecting on how much my Spanish speaking abilities have improved because of this trip has given me the confidence to continue studying the language and eventually find ways to use that skill in my career.

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CW: What were some of the specific observations you were able to make about Argentinian culture? How did these compare to the culture you’re used to in the US? Any advice for adapting to changes, culture shock or simply navigating the city when you arrive?
RK: One of the first differences between cultures I noticed was the Argentinian attitude toward time. Argentinians have a much more relaxed view on time and it’s pretty much a given that everyone will be “late.” I saw this first when my supervisor at the foundation showed up 30 minutes late to my interview and later when my professors would come to class late every week! It can be hard to adapt to changes, but I think it’s important to be accepting and open to these differences. Before the trip, I wouldn’t have called myself flexible – in fact I would have said the opposite about myself so at times it was frustrating to be living in such a “go with the flow” environment but I’m grateful for the ways it’s changed me.

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CW: What was the food like in Buenos Aires? Did you find any favorite dishes or restaurants? Did you try anything new or unusual that you've never had before?
RK: The food in Buenos Aires is amazing! The city has a large Italian influence so you can find delicious pizzas and pastas at every restaurant. Café culture is also huge in Buenos Aires. There’s a café on every corner and it’s common for people to spend hours sitting, drinking coffee, and catching up with friends. On my list of favorite things I tasted in Buenos Aires is a lemonade with ginger, mint, and basil that I’ve yet to replicate in the US, any and all meat (seriously, it was all delicious), and empanadas! I didn’t eat anything too crazy but did try a few new dishes at my homestay like blood sausage and mashed sweet potatoes.

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CW: Share your top 3 tips for other students heading to Buenos Aires this year!
RK: 1. Explore any chance you get! Buenos Aires is a huge city with an endless amount of things to see, tour, and visit so whether with friends or alone, go out and explore!

2. Make an effort to learn the language. You’re surrounded by people speaking a different language so it’s the perfect place to practice and improve. It can be intimidating and a little (okay, a lot) embarrassing at first, but you’ll regret it if you leave Buenos Aires without speaking the language every chance you get!

3. Learn about the country before you go! No, I did not read the book that my university gave me about the history of Argentina before I went and yes, I did regret it. Argentina has such an interesting history and I wished I had been more educated about its past before I went.

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CW: What changes have you seen in yourself since you began your study abroad program? Are they positive or negative? Why do you think these changes have occurred?
RK: I definitely feel more confident than I was before I began my study abroad program which has been a positive change. I was able to study, work, and live in another country that speaks a different language and overcome all the challenges that arise during that experience. Also, like I mentioned above, I’m a more flexible person which has already helped me at my job and in my relationships. Every day in Buenos Aires was unpredictable and it led me to become more willing and able to go with the flow. I feel more open and accepting of any differences between cultures because my time abroad has taught me that “different” really does mean just that – that it’s not good or bad or better or worse, it’s just different and that’s okay.

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Thanks, Becca!

Learn More about the CAPA Buenos Aires Program

Topics: Buenos Aires, Argentina, Internships Abroad