Alumni Spotlight: Maren Eriksen-Russo


Maren is a recent graduate of Truman State University and currently works for her alma mater as a fundraiser and Advancement Officer. In her free time, she loves to workout, drink dangerous amount of coffee, and watch The Office on repeat.

Why did you choose this program?

I chose to intern with Serve The City because I love working in the nonprofit sector, and I was so intrigued by the sheer amount of work that Serve the City Madrid does everyday to help others. Their dedicated group of volunteers and fearless leaders are some of the most amazing people you will ever work with, and they want you to be an equal partner in their work everyday. This program will give you the chance to actually make a difference in a summer internship.

What did your program provider (or university) assist you with, and what did you have to organize on your own?

Our main advisor, Warren, provided us with any and all help we needed. While our program was one of the first initial internships they hosted, it went really well, and we felt supported and safe the entire time we were hosted in Madrid. Anytime we wanted to travel, everyone in the office was happy to give us travel advice, recommendations, and wanted to hear about our weekend trips. While my group did not experience living in the provided housing, I think the next phase of interns will get personalized help their entire stay in Madrid.

What is one piece of advice you'd give to someone going on your program?

Travel as much as you can! Spend every weekend doing something. Whether it be exploring Madrid, traveling south to beautiful Valencia or Sevilla, or taking a quick plane ride to Italy! I wish someone had told me how quick eight weeks would fly by, so try and enjoy every moment you spend in wonderful Spain!

If one of my friends was considering travel, I would say go go go! You will never regret the memories and experiences you make. Interning at Serve the City will also only add wonderful life experience to your time abroad, as you will come back to the States with great non-profit experience and the ability to talk about real changes you made.

If you're nervous about not being fluent in Spanish, don't be! Everyone I met was so understanding of me trying to communicate in Spanish, and they want to help as much as they can. Take the leap and make memories you will never forget. It was totally worth EVERY penny I spent!

What does an average day/week look like as a participant of this program?

In this program, an average week for us looked like this. We would arrive to work in the morning, enjoy chatting with our coworkers, hearing about everyone's night, drinking fresh brewed coffee, and then begin to discuss our task for the day.

Each intern had a small side project we were responsible for throughout our internship, but our main project was a fundraiser that we all constructed as a team. Each team member in our group had something they were working on to make the fundraiser happen.

Some days we would go out for lunch together, spend time grabbing coffee with the whole team, or take small little explorative field trips around the neighborhood. Warren wants everyone to know how important they are to the success of the organization, and your opinion always matters. Some days you might spend five hours working hard on a proposal for a new business idea, and some days you might write a script and film a fundraising video! It's great everyday!

Going into your experience abroad, what was your biggest fear, and how did you overcome it? How did your views on the issue change?

My biggest fear was not being able to feel comfortable enough communicating in Spanish to go out to places on my own. I was so wrong! In my time in Madrid, so many Spanish speakers were more than happy to try and speak English, or use our hands to communicate. I was never made to feel stupid or embarrassed to try and communicate in their native language. Learning how compassionate most people were has made me passionate about becoming fluent in Spanish as I want to be able to travel and help others communicate in order to feel confident.

Should I tip while I'm abroad in Spain?

This was probably the most interesting thing we learned about Spanish culture: don't tip! The first night we went out for dinner, we left a standard 20% American tip. Wow. The waiter laughed and said thank you. But we learned quickly that in Spanish culture, you might leave the extra change from your bill but big tips are not customary, and honestly will make you stick out like a tourist in no time!