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Grace from Oregon State University completed an internship in Spain last summer with a company performing biotechnology research.  Read about how she broadened her perspectives by working with people from different cultures.

Hablas Español?

It has officially been a week since I started my internship! I have learned so much and it´s going really well so far. My advisor had a family emergency on Monday so I was alone in the lab and had to complete my experiment by myself! That was really nerve wracking and I had people from other laboratories I was able to ask for help. They only speak Spanish so it really pushed me out of my comfort zone to ask questions in Spanish and interpret their answers when I was already confused in the first place. It was definitely a huge learning experience, and David was extremely helpful and willing to help me. Not having my advisor, Marian, in the lab made me second guess my procedures a lot and took me a lot longer to complete them. I had to use a spectrophotometer to measure the concentration of a protein dilution I made, and it ended up taking eight tries before I got it right. It was frustrating, but I was glad that I took the initiative to ask questions and figure it out in the end. Things are going a lot smoother now that I have a better grasp of how things run in the lab. Marian also taught me how to analyze my data to find the binding affinity between the DNA and protein I am studying. It´s awesome being able to see my results right away and determine if my experiment that day was a success or if needs to be repeated the next day. My results have been good and bad, but they are not really consistent so far. I hope to improve as I start doing more experiments and are able to gain a better understanding of the equipment I am working with. But so far it has been a really good start!

This experience has opened me up to handling new equipment in the laboratory, but also matured me as an adult. All the people I work with are older than me, and how I interact with them has to be different than how I interact with people my own age. One of the goals I had for myself coming into this was broaden my perspective in working with people from different cultures and this definitely has happened! I have met people in the research center doing different kinds of research and specializes in something different. Marian is also letting me explore different experiments with her colleagues as well. I shadowed David for a day and he showed me how protein purification is done, and even allowed me to do some of the steps. It was very interesting seeing the process being completed after learning about steps such as ion exchange in previous classes before. I did DNA purification in the laboratory I worked at last summer, and it was interesting to see some of the similarities and differences between that and protein purification. I am glad that I am able to explore beyond my own project, and I get the chance to venture out and broaden my learning experiences here. I hope for the next month of my remaining internship (wow, time is going to too fast!), that I can get more opportunities to take part in different experiments. I also hope to improve more and more on my experiment and achieve more accurate results.

I have constantly been surprised by the openness and kindness of the people in Spain. Anytime I interact with locals, they are always patient in listening to my slow Spanish and stutters when I try to figure out the correct verb conjugation and phrase to use. This had made me more willing to use my Spanish and practice my speaking every day. Although Spain is not THAT different from the US, there are cultural differences here that do add up and sometimes causes me to be a little culture shocked. For example, their eating times are different. Lunch is normally at 2pm or later, and dinner is after 9pm. I never had a strict eating schedule, so it wasn´t hard to adjust to eating at different times, but it was surprising to me when people invited me out for dinner at 9:30pm and ate a full meal, when usually if I ate that late it would be a snack or dessert. Grocery shopping is also something that is done quite often here. It´s not abnormal to go grocery shopping everyday. Their produce standards are also different, and when you go buy fruit/vegetables, you need to wear gloves and weigh out each item on a scale which then gives you a price sticker to place on your bag. The cashiers don´t weigh them out for you, instead they just scan the tag. Cultural differences like these aren´t huge adjustments I had to make, but when little things here and there add up, sometimes I get overwhelmed. But all in all, it has been adjustments that have made me feel more and more like a Spaniard everyday! Another thing that has also made me realize how different my Spanish is compared to native Spaniards, are the words I use in my speech. I learned Latin-American/Mexican Spanish, and some of the words I say aren´t used here at all, and although they can understand me through context, they can tell that I didn´t learn my Spanish here. It is very interesting seeing the difference between the two, and how they can be so different! It is exciting to see the changes I am making in my speaking and how I am more and more integrated into Spanish culture everyday.