It surprises me how this program continues to receive largely very positive reviews. Certainly, if everything had gone according to plan with my program experience, I might feel more magnanimous towards Adelante– despite the program’s thorough mediocrity in any case, really. In the end, my three months in Barcelona were just decent enough. The “Miami of the Mediterranean” is a hard place to get bored with, but well before I had even arrived in Spain, Adelante dropped the ball. Adelante Abroad bills itself as “a very strong, successful program right now,” but for me, it was actually more like a recklessly inattentive internship mill, hiding behind a fairly deceptive website. My main mistake was initially applying for a six-month program in Barcelona. It turns out that applying for an Adelante program longer than the 90-day Schengen Area allowance, which usually requires a visa, can send you on an exhausting and expensive journey into some shady bureaucratic territory. And Adelante is definitely not going to be there to guide you through it, whatever they may claim to the contrary.
Schengen Area countries require Americans to obtain a longer-term visa for stays of more than ninety days. Adelante was woefully irresponsible in how it prepared me to apply for a visa. It is true that for a variety of reasons, Adelante must ultimately leave the visa responsibility to the applicant, but this does not excuse Adelante from the gross negligence they displayed in failing to guide me, a paying client, through the process. Everything was going well until Adelante got back to me with my program dates; I was to spend 189 days in Spain. This proposed length of time was obviously inconvenient, as visas for longer than 180 days require a more comprehensive background check, including a medical analysis and an FBI criminal history report. Of course, I had to research this on my own; Adelante seemed clueless and unaware that the inclusion of just nine extra days would require significantly more effort and money on my part. And though I had applied well ahead of Adelante’s deadline, I found myself having to scramble to acquire all the necessary documents in time for my last-minute appointment at the Spanish Consulate in San Francisco. In total, I spent slightly over $1,000 in costs related to my visa application; much of this went to fees associated with obtaining FBI clearance.
I drove hundreds of miles to San Francisco and walked into the Consulate of Spain on the day of my appointment. I was met with an ice-cold reception. My visa officer spoke in a haughty tone, and requested additional documentation above and beyond what I was led to believe was necessary (this documentation was not listed as necessary anywhere on the consulate’s website). Apparently in the eyes of Spain, I was some hardcore criminal intent on causing trouble in Barcelona until I proved myself otherwise, despite my perfectly clean FBI record. I never figured out why they did not like me; maybe they simply did not like the way I looked. A chat with the visa officer’s supervisor yielded the same aggressive suspiciousness (he was friendly at first, but after going downstairs to pick up my application file and speak with the visa officer, he came back with a real doozy of an attitude). There was little I could do to change this; as representatives of a foreign government, visa officers are pretty much free to exercise whatever discretion they want when it comes to issuing visas. And while this situation was obviously bad, Adelante’s response was equally disappointing. Yes, maybe the consulate was determined to keep me out of Spain for more than three months, but Adelante did not even lift a finger to assist me, their client. It did not help that Adelante messed up my introduction letter to the consulate; they carelessly mislabeled me as an “architecture” student. The visa officer told me that they would process my application once I had submitted my “Convenio.” I was somewhat familiar with this term; in the course of my visa research, I had learned to equate “Convenio” with Adelante’s “Memorandum of Understanding” (MOU), a contract between the intern and the company. The consulate wanted this document as extra proof that I would actually be an intern (and not a criminal) in Spain. On the phone, Adelante feigned ignorance. They claimed that the MOU was merely an “internal document,” and that mine was not ready, as they had not even set me up with an employer yet. Later in Spain, when I actually received my MOU, it was also labeled “Convenio,” and had all the appearances of being a real legal document. So much for the Adelante Director’s unconvincing defense over the phone: “‘Convenio?’ What does that even mean? I’m so sorry, Jarrett. You’ll just have go to Spain without a visa!”
Faced with arrogant obstruction from the consulate, lazy incompetence from Adelante, and with just weeks to go before my flight to Europe, I made the difficult decision to abort my visa application and shorten my program to less than ninety days. Once again, I had lost $1,000 in failed pursuit of this visa, and I had moved to a shorter-term Adelante program, which is charged at a much higher monthly rate. I did not think I was paying several thousand dollars for Adelante to basically say: “Okay man, let us know when you get the visa. Good luck! You’ll need it! LOL.” Adelante’s emphasis on the “independent traveler” is a subtle way of shirking responsibility when things go wrong. It became clear to me why sleeker internship companies do not even usually offer programs for more than three months– it is simply irresponsible to send unprepared applicants blindly into the bureaucratic hell that can be the visa application process. And after going through this disaster, my shortened internship experience did little to relieve my disappointment with Adelante. As other reviewers have noted, the actual internships that Adelante arranges can be unsatisfying at times. Adelante sent me links to the websites of glamorous hotels, and told me that I would go through a rigorous training process at one of them. In reality, I spent a lot of my days just cleaning rooms and waking people up at a simple hostel. I met another Adelante intern in Barcelona who actually called it “false advertising.” As for lodging, I was placed in an old apartment with no air conditioning and dysfunctional Wi-Fi. It was definitely not a truly horrible situation, but it certainly did little to change my impression of Adelante as a fairly lackluster internship company. My contact at Adelante did reliably check in with me over email, but these short and generic messages seemed like a cheap way of creating the illusion of real customer service.
I suppose you get what you pay for. My Spanish skills did improve, and I did gain work experience. Considering Adelante’s affordable, bargain basement prices, I might have been basically satisfied with my barebones internship and lodging experience in Barcelona, were it not for the fact that Adelante’s clumsiness regarding bureaucratic realities cost me a great deal of extra time and money. And although I cannot forgive the Spanish Consulate for its bizarre and inexplicable suspicion of me, I was absolutely unimpressed with Adelante’s weak and evasive response to that challenge. So, I must place equal blame for this episode with the consulate, and with Adelante for failing to look after me as a client. Probably the best aspect of the program was the vibrant city of Barcelona itself, but obviously Adelante is not the only internship company that can take you there. Going forward, I would strongly caution American applicants against opting for a longer-term Adelante program, as these may require a visa, and Adelante may just abandon you, should trouble arise in your visa application process. Shorter programs, however, do not have the same low per-month rate that attracted me to Adelante over its competitors in the first place. To improve its service, Adelante needs to put more effort into assisting its clients through the visa application process, and to be more prepared when its clients encounter a hostile bureaucracy. Adelante should also warn prospective clients about the unpredictable risks, costs, and significant efforts involved in the visa application process.