How Working For An NGO In Argentina Strengthened My Spanish Language Abilities

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There are a lot of academic and professional stress factors that go into the big decisions around studying abroad. For me, I worried about how studying abroad would affect getting an internship. That fear got even worse when I realized going to my dream country, Argentina, where the semester lasts from March to July, would mean missing the prime time for an internship before my senior year of college. Yikes!

I could not have been more wrong. Studying with IFSA in Buenos Aires, I chose the Human Rights: Genocide track of study, which granted me an internship along with my studies. Within the Genocide program we took two classes: one in either Human Rights or Gender and another in Research Methodologies. Our internships served as the foundation of the Research Methodologies course and by the e

nd of the semester we completed extended research projects, which included presentations to the IFSA-Buenos Aires staff.

I got to choose from a huge variety of fields and was able to land an internship in sustainability advocacy, which is exactly where I see myself working when I graduate. I started working at FARN, “la fundación ambiental para recursos naturales” or the Environmental Foundation for Natural Resources, as soon as I arrived in Buenos Aires. Walking into the office I remember feeling extremely nervous. Not only would I be working at an international sustainability advocacy foundation, but also, I would be conducting all of my work in Spanish!

My internship was such a great experience because I was learning constantly. I was a complete mute my first few days, mostly out of fear of speaking Spanish in a professional setting, so I spent most of my time writing down just about everything everyone in the office said to me. But that’s what internships are all about! When I first came to Buenos Aires I was already terrified to speak Spanish for six months, but my time at FARN gave me an opportunity to push my Spanish abilities and myself in a different setting. Unlike a normal class atmosphere, I was simultaneously learning and applying that knowledge in real world, professional settings, all while improving my Spanish speaking and writing.

After I had settled into my work, my boss, the director of communications, offered me an incredible project. The organization is working to become an international resource for natural resource advocacy efforts and needed help translating their publicity materials into English. I spent the next twelve weeks translating FARN’s entire website, presentation materials, and PR packets into English. Looking at such dense scientific language, this project helped me dive deeper in to the intricacies of the Spanish language and greatly improved my translation skills. There are a lot of little phrases or cultural references that just don’t translate to English, so it was up to me to interpret and translate these texts in order to make them cohesive, passionate and persuasive to FARN’s international audience.

What’s more, once I returned from Buenos Aires I was recruited for these skills to translate an Argentine autobiography about a family’s journey through and after the Holocaust. I would have never had the qualifications or the confidence to complete this project had I not gained so many valuable skills at FARN. My work in translation really opened my eyes into the incredibly important small details of language and helped me develop a new professional skill I never expected to have.

Being at an organization full of sustainability professionals from all over Latin America also offered me a great opportunity to immerse myself professionally into the Spanish language. Although I was living in a homestay, taking classes at the Buenos Aires universities and integrating myself into the Buenos Aires social life – special thanks to the 2018 World Cup – my internship allowed me to step into the shoes of an Argentine professional. In a fast paced office with a wide lens of expertise including marketing techniques, grant proposals, sustainability consulting and political consulting, I improved my vocabulary, comfort ability and confidence in speaking Spanish with only eight hours of working a week.

My time in Buenos Aires was marked by too many adventures to recount in one blog post, but my time at FARN was certainly some of the most productive time I spent in Argentina. Even though I came in nervous about what I was giving up studying abroad, I left in July extremely proud of what I had gained from studying abroad, particularly through my work at la fundación ambiental para recursos ambientales.

Margaret Riordan is an Environmental Studies major at Hamilton College who studied abroad with IFSA in Buenos Aires, Argentina in the AUP – Human Rights: Genocide program during the Spring of 2018

Article by Margaret Riordan