Student to Student
An Internship in Spain with IAESTE
Technical Experience and Cultural Immersion
By Chad Brewer
Bustling central Madrid.
While many adventure-seeking college students spent a summer exploring Europe with a backpack and travel guide, I delved into Spanish society last summer armed with a technical background and a computer. During the week I worked as an aerospace engineering intern. On the weekends I discovered Spain by visiting the Roman aqueducts in Segovia, sampling authentic paella in Valencia, and bonding with the madrileños I met at bars, movie theaters, and swimming pools.
My internship was sponsored by the International Association for the Exchange of Students for Technical Experience (IAESTE), an international network that coordinates on-the-job training for students in technical fields. IAESTE offers paid internships-usually for 8 to12 weeks during the summer-in industry, research institutes and universities, consulting firms, labs, and other work environments.
IAESTE United States was created in the wake of World War II when the Massachusetts Institute of Technology looked for ways in which its students could join the international cooperative undertaking to rebuild war-torn Europe. More than 350,000 students in over 80 countries have participated in the IAESTE student exchange program that has branches worldwide.
I was introduced to IAESTE by one of my professors, who spoke enthusiastically about the personal and professional experience I would receive abroad and how it would be helpful in an increasingly global marketplace. I submitted an application and six months later I was on my way to Spain.
Like all IAESTE participants, I earned a salary that covered my living expenses during the internship. However, I was responsible for my own airfare, incidental expenses, and insurance. The internships are about experience, not about high pay, so it is best to look at your investment in terms of career enhancement.
The IAESTE office in the host country always arranges lodging and reception for the incoming student. In my case, IAESTE Spain found me a flat where I lived with several IAESTE students and had a few more as next door neighbors. For someone who is visiting a country for the first time, the support that the IAESTE network provides can be a great benefit. I lived in a flat with nine rooms. At any given time, we had a mix of Irish, Welsh, Germans, French, Italians, Mexicans, Portuguese, Greeks, Belgians, and Spaniards living in the flat. It was wonderful to spend time with individuals from such a wide variety of cultures.
I worked in the aerospace engineering department of SENER Ingeniería y Sistemas S.A., an engineering company located outside Madrid involved in fields ranging from civil engineering to shipbuilding. My work was the optimization of airfoils, which means that I worked with an algorithm to achieve the best possible reaction force on objects such as space shuttle wings. I liked my work not only because it was interesting and challenging but more so because my boss, a part-time professor at a local university, was someone from whom I could learn a great deal.
The mood of the office was very relaxed-typically Spanish from what I could tell-and the people were all very pleasant. While some IAESTE internships have a foreign language requirement, my boss and most of the other workers in the office spoke excellent English, so I didn't actually use my Spanish very much on the job.
I think that this experience, which has enriched me both personally and professionally, will prove to be one of the best investments I ever made. One of my aerospace engineering professors took his first trip abroad as an IAESTE intern 30 years ago and has been abroad every year since. He has run the Engineering Study Abroad program at Texas A&M. He says his IAESTE experience changed his life, and he feels that IAESTE has much to offer all young engineers.
To qualify for an IAESTE internship you must be enrolled full time in a technical field of study at an accredited U.S. college or university, at junior-level standing or above by the time you begin the internship, and be between the ages of 19-30. For more information visit the IAESTE website.