In January of 2020, I took what I did not realize would be my last big trip for a while. I returned to Madrid for a 10-day visit during my winter break from grad school. I had a great time visiting my old home and was glad to reconnect with a city I love. But I also came with a purpose — to pursue and secure an internship position to finish my master’s in Madrid, receiving a degree in International Education Management.
I had set my sights on doing my internship back in Madrid before I’d even applied for my graduate program at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies in Monterey, California. Leaving Madrid was difficult for me; I had built a life in Spain that I loved and wanted to get back as soon as I could. The opportunity to complete my third and final semester in Madrid was very appealing. I researched where I could do it a full six months before moving back to the US to start my degree. And so, in January of last year, I got on a plane to come back to Spain as a tourist, but also to follow a lead (or, rather, try to create one for myself).
Master’s in Madrid
As luck would have it, the Middlebury School in Spain offered me a position. Many of my predecessors at the Middlebury Institute with an interest in Spain had completed their program internships with the School in Spain. I felt excited to do the same. In our initial meeting, the School Director asked me, “what are your main areas of interest?” I was pleased that my surprising response of “culture, administration, and organization” was well received. We put the process in motion for me to return that summer to complete my internship. I was overjoyed.
Plans Change, Especially in 2020
Unfortunately, 2020 had other plans for all of us and I didn’t get back to Madrid that June. The Middlebury School in Spain did not offer an in-person undergraduate study abroad program last semester and my internship opportunity was subsequently suspended. After a lot of reflection, I decided to take a leave of absence from my degree. I pursued work at home while I waited (and hoped) that the spring semester might turn out differently.
During that time I, fortunately, found work as Dreams Abroad’s first Operations Manager and in my hometown’s tourism office. I also made the most of unexpected and precious time with my family. The months passed, and with them, my anticipation and anxiety about a program decision for the spring semester grew. I found out late in the fall semester that Middlebury would still not run an in-person undergraduate program in Spain. Much to my relief the School in Spain had work for me to do. So I happily prepared the visa paperwork to go to Spain for the third time that year and started packing my bags. I was ready to complete my master’s in Madrid.
Flying into a More Hopeful 2021
Just two days into the new year, I got on a plane to return to Madrid for the first time in over 12 months. When I landed, I learned that the area I was moving to was going into confinement nine hours later. We would stay that way for seven weeks.
Later in my first week back, Spain experienced a record-breaking, historic snowstorm that left streets covered in ice and snow for over a week afterward. Christmas decorations didn’t come down until nearly a month after they usually do. Supermarkets ran out of basic provisions because trucks couldn’t make deliveries and everyone rushed to the stores.
It wasn’t quite the return I had expected, even allowing for the global pandemic. But regardless, I was here. I had made it.
After hoping and waiting for this position for so long, being here to do the work and finish my degree is nothing short of a dream come true. I’ve finally met a goal I’ve had for many years: to work in my chosen field, international education and education abroad management, in-country at an institution I believe does good and important work. I’m here now finishing my master’s in Madrid, doing just that and contributing to that work.
Rounding Out My Master’s in Madrid
To finish my degree, there are a few basic requirements. First, I must spend the semester working at an organization focused on international education. Then, I need to complete five graduate-level projects for that organization that cover the learning objectives of our degree. Finally, I must participate in a remote class. I’ve nearly completed two of my five projects and am starting the third this week, so I feel well on track for the semester’s end.
I’m confident the work I’m doing here now will shape my future career. It will continue to give me the skills and tools I need to be successful. Although my semester back in Madrid looks quite different than I had anticipated, I also know that navigating the world of education abroad in such an uncertain time will undoubtedly prepare me for future hurdles in a way a more “normal” semester never could have. I feel confident that I can take whatever comes my way next, also a bit uncertain at the moment, in stride.
by Emma Schultz