UW News

April 25, 2022

La primera: Communication major Paula Thiele breaks in new ‘¡Spain Works!’ internship

UW News

Paula Thiele

UW communication major Paula Thiele sits for an interview with a Spanish news outlet in the León, Spain, mayor’s office.Courtesy of Paula Thiele

A journey years in the making came to fruition this winter quarter when Paula Thiele walked into the mayor’s office, took a seat at her desk and became the first University of Washington intern in León, Spain.

Thiele, a communication major who will graduate this spring, became the inaugural scholar to participate in the UW’s new Scholarship for Immersive Internships in León, dubbed “¡Spain Works!” — a partnership between the UW León Center, UW Study Abroad and the UW Career & Internship Center.

“I helped develop the idea of doing a practical internship abroad here in León, and my goal was to be the first student of many,” Thiele said. “It feels amazing to know that due to my efforts, together with those of the Communication Department’s faculty and UW, other students can follow in my footsteps and have amazing work experiences like I have.”

UW Provost Emeritus Jerry Baldasty, also an emeritus professor in communication who joined the UW faculty in 1978 and maintains strong connections with the UW León Center, said he and other faculty recognized the transformative education made possible through cultural immersion. He worked with partners at the Centro de Idiomas at the Universidad de León — a key partner to UW León — which arranges homestays for UW students and provides Spanish language instruction.

“It’s a combination of work experience and cultural immersion,” Baldasty said. “UW interns work at an internship site in León. They live with a local Spanish family and take Spanish courses at the Centro de Idiomas. Our interns not only live in another culture, they learn what it’s like to work in another culture.”

Thiele worked in the communication department at the mayor’s office (the Ayuntamiento de León), focusing on media relations and social media. Her projects included developing social media content, heading the translation of important historical articles on the city’s website and monitoring events such as press conferences.

Paula Thiele looks out from the Castillo de León.

Paula Thiele looks out from the Castillo de León.Courtesy of Paula Thiele

“This internship is fully connected to the Communication Department at UW and several of the classes I took throughout my major,” Thiele said, specifically noting classes such as interpersonal communication, media ethics, communication and technology, and ethnography studies. “This internship helped apply and further what I have learned in those classes, giving me real-life communication skills I will take to my future jobs in this same field.”

An internship abroad requires a set of skills students need to quickly develop, such as familiarizing themselves with the culture and language, adjusting to the job market and work expectations in the new country, and understanding how to carry out meaningful work in a new environment. Since the students become immersed in the Spanish culture, schedule and lifestyle, they become more flexible, adaptable and organized, needing to not only carry out their job but make sure it fits into this new context.

“León, Spain, has long been welcoming to UW students, and we are excited to expand our partnership through this new internship program,” said Briana Randall, executive director of the UW Career & Internship Center. “The benefits of international internships are vast and, with the support and structure provided by the UW León Center, interns will gain work experience and cross-cultural competencies, both of which will help set them up for career success.”

The new program hopes to grow but needs additional funding and support to do so. Randall said there is a commitment for two internships in Winter 2023, and she is hoping to have funding for three. Baldasty said the program prioritizes student access, meaning any student should be able to participate regardless of their financial status. Donor-supported scholarships cover the cost of transportation, housing and most UW fees for each UW intern, and fundraising efforts are underway for future interns.

Support “¡Spain Works!”
Learn more about what you can do to support future interns in Spain.

“We could not be happier with the way that Paula, our first intern, has embraced this opportunity,” Baldasty said. “We were confident she would do well, but she’s far exceeded our hopes, representing UW to people in León — and especially the mayor’s office. We are off to a great start!”

Thiele was featured earlier this month in a Leonoticias news article and video, in which León Mayor José Antonio Diez expressed excitement about the partnership with the UW and prospects for future interns not only in the mayor’s communication office, but in other fields and throughout the city.

Baldasty said he is meeting with potential partners in León to identify additional internship sites, particularly in the areas of communication, cybersecurity, social media, NGOs, government, and business and technology.

For her part, Thiele seems just as excited about the prospects for future generations of students as she is about her own experience in León. She wants those considering such an opportunity to know it isn’t as intimidating as it may seem.

“It is, in all honesty, the best thing I’ve done,” she said. “Learning and adapting is quick, and the benefits can be reaped long after the internship is over. It is an amazing experience to become more open-minded and see the job market through a different lens. It is simple to apply for, and the faculty will support you through every step of the way.”

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For more information, contact Victor Balta at balta@uw.edu