Alumni Spotlight: Alexa Verink


Alexa Verink is currently finishing up her last year at the University of Pittsburgh where she studies international business and marketing but unofficially majors in studying abroad and learning new languages.

During the summer of 2012, she went through Intrax Internships Abroad to complete a marketing research internship in Madrid, Spain. She likes to pretend that she’s actually from a Spanish-speaking country and hopes that her career will someday lead her to a job and a home in South America.

Why did you decide to intern with Intrax in Spain?

My previous travel experience included a 2-week program in Chile that focused on international business practices, then I studied abroad in Argentina for 6 months.

Interning abroad seemed like the logical next step. Because all of my time abroad was in South America, I thought it would be doubly beneficial to live in Europe to be able to compare and contrast the Spanish-speaking cultures of both continents. Intrax had good connections with firms who needed marketing interns and made the process simple for me to accomplish what I set out to do.

Describe your day to day activities as an intern.

Because I was one of only two interns in the Madrid office of my company, I was working on my own project all summer, which gave me a lot of responsibility right away. Daily activities involved keeping in touch with our headquarters in France about the advancement of my benchmarking study, corresponding with the company's offices in other countries, and conducting interviews to gather the information I needed.

Of course, I wasn't working every minute the day! I went out for long lunches with my coworkers every day and got to talk with people in all departments of the company to get a feel for what they did.

How has this experience impacted your future?

On a personal level, this opportunity gave me a sense of what living and working in a foreign country would actually be like. It was the first time that I was in the same situation as all of the locals and could understand what life as an expat entails. Thankfully, I proved to myself that I could handle it! I think that alone will be a big leverage point when looking for jobs at international companies, especially if I'm pushing to get assignments abroad. Working in Spain also gave me a new set of Spanish vocabulary that allows me to function in a business setting, which is extremely marketable. Now that I'm back at school, I can see how the program opened my mind and broadened my perspective. The work I do in my Global Management classes makes more sense because I have my own context in which to process the information, and having acquired other hard business skills during my internship, I am better able to connect all of the things I have learned over the years to see the "big picture".

Highlights: The highlight of my working time in Madrid was seeing how my communication skills improved over the course of the internship. I worked all summer on a project that involved talking with people in my company’s offices worldwide, so a lot of translation, interpretation, and reinterpretation were necessary. I was never bored even while discussing everyday things with my coworkers because we came from such different cultures with contrasting opinions and perspectives to go along with them.

For the trip as a whole, the highlight was being able to travel to other parts of Spain and Europe so quickly. I visited a friend in Paris, went to Lisbon for a weekend, and got to see several other areas of Spain. My work schedule took up a lot of time that most study abroad students spend traveling, but the close proximity of the European countries allows you to experience extremely different cultures without wasting too much time traveling a far distance. Madrid itself is so full of life and things to do that you could spend your entire summer there without doing the same thing twice or even seeing the whole city.

Morning: I usually got up around 7am. (Yes, interning abroad involves waking up with the rest of the working people.) After a quick breakfast at home, always involving the Spanish favorite – instant coffee – I walked a couple of blocks to the nearest metro station. My morning commute involved a labyrinth of escalators and two different trains but only took about half an hour. In the morning, the metro was always full of well-dressed business-people going to work. The majority got off at the same stop as me, Campo de las Naciones, where many office buildings are located. After strolling past Parque de Juan Carlos I and the more intimidating, large companies would walk up the path to my office (about 20 minutes late, which is normal for Spain), and then the greeting process began. Everyone warmly greets everyone, no matter what. Saying “buenos días” and grabbing coffee took up time, but was a good way to connect with my coworkers and ease into the actual work that lay ahead of me each day.

Afternoon: In my office, people took a lunch break during two different shifts – one group ate from 1:15-2:30 pm and the other at 2:30-3:45 pm. I ate with the people who sat nearest to me, who went at the later time. Waiting for “Spanish lunchtime” at 2:30 pm definitely took some getting used to. It was always a leisurely meal involving several courses, lots of conversation, and a slow walk back in order to enjoy the constant sunshine. For the last couple hours of the day, I was usually organizing data into spreadsheets, on the phone interviewing sales managers from the offices in other countries, or double-checking the interviews that I had scheduled for later in the week. Our workday ended promptly at 6:00 pm. Not many people hung back to do extra work like Americans sometimes tend to do, so I followed everyone out the door to head home!

Evening: Within an hour of arriving home, the rest of my roommates would show up from work, and we would all catch up and talk about what happened during the day while making dinner and relaxing. Two nights a week, we had Spanish class in a different part of the city. If it weren't a class night, a friend and I would go to an organized language exchange, usually at a bar, to fit in some more Spanish conversation practice or meet up with other people we had met around Madrid. Sometimes it was a challenge to get back out of the house after getting home from being at work all day, but I had to remind myself that I was only going to be in Spain for a few months and had to take advantage of every moment!