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Trinity’s flagship faculty-led program introduces students to Spanish life and culture
by Carlos Anchondo '14
Summer 2015 marked the 10th anniversary of the Trinity University Madrid Summer Program, where students spend six weeks in Spain’s capital city. Students earn six hours of course credit through an internship, or práctica, and a course on the economy and culture of Spain taught by Trinity faculty. Only Spanish is spoken at the internship and complementary course.
Two nights per week students attend class at the International Institute, a school in downtown Madrid dating back to 1871. Course topics include the European Union, the Spanish economy, the current Spanish financial crisis, and Spanish history and culture. Four and a half days each week students are interns at banks, magazines, schools, nonprofits, private businesses, and in a variety of other fields.
Bladimir Ruiz, associate professor of Spanish, has guided the program as director since 2009. Ruiz calls the program a “unique” opportunity for all Trinity students who desire to develop their professional expertise in a foreign country using a second language.
“For me, the whole idea has been to make this program a Trinity program,” Ruiz says. “It is not just a modern languages program or a business program, but a Trinity program designed to serve any student majoring in any field.”
Richard Burr, professor of business administration, co-founded the program in 2005 after it was decided that students concentrating in international business would be required to participate in an international internship. Burr and Jorge Gonzalez, a former Trinity professor of economics, located a Madrid-based contractor that specialized in student internships, and the program never looked back.
Four years later, Trinity decided to change contractors and selected Syracuse University, which operates its own study abroad program in Madrid. The program has grown from nine participants in its inaugural year to a constant 20 or 21 students today.
Burr says that some students are initially intimidated by the prospect of speaking Spanish in a work environment or may have never left the United States, but all return with “a much greater understanding of Spanish culture” and quickly realize how gentle Spaniards are about foreigners learning Spanish.
“We have had 162 students attend the program and no one has ever complained or said it was a bad experience,” Burr says. “Students bond beautifully over the six weeks and a lot of lifelong friendships are made.”
Edgar Marquez ’17, a business administration major from Mission, Texas, interned at Triodos Bank in 2015. Marquez worked in the finance department alongside company accountants and the treasurer. He says his favorite part of the internship was being treated as an actual employee with real responsibilities. A native speaker, Marquez says he improved his own Spanish by learning industry terminology.
“The internship opened my eyes to the realities of a business and what it means to be a professional,” Marquez says. “This job helped me to mature and start seriously thinking about what I want to do with my life.”
Madison Wallender ’13 interned at the international consulting firm Camacho y Seijas when she was in Madrid in 2012. An international business major from Spring Branch, Texas, she is now a business development assistant with H‑E‑B. At Camacho y Seijas, Wallender conducted research on international importing and exporting, something she says comes in handy at H‑E‑B where she advises on items H‑E‑B imports from overseas.
For Wallender, the program helped build confidence and made her a more independent woman. She says the most rewarding aspect of her internship were the relationships she formed with the company’s co-owners.
“I am still friends with the owners, who even visited me while they were in the U.S.,” Wallender says. “I took them to Fredericksburg to see Texas wine country and that was really neat.”
Aside from the internship and course components, students also participate in cultural activities, from plays, tapas crawls, and the ballet to movies, wine tastings, and the famed Madrid nightlife. All students live with host families, pre-screened by Syracuse and Trinity.
On weekends, Ruiz and one other Trinity faculty member, normally a business or economics professor, travel with students to cities like Toledo, Segovia, and the historical royal residence El Escorial. The group stays overnight, a feature Ruiz added to facilitate student bonding and to introduce them to life outside of Madrid. Students have one free weekend to travel independently within continental Spain.
Cost for the program is equivalent to two courses at Trinity. Each year scholarships are granted through the Mexico, the Americas, and Spain (MAS) program, the Trinity administration, and private scholarships from the Rainier, Hollingsworth, and Burr families.
One reason that Ruiz is so passionate about the program is the progress that students make, both professionally and emotionally, in just six weeks. He describes the confidence and poise students exhibit at presentations at the program’s conclusion where students, completely in Spanish, talk about their experiences and the lessons they have learned.
“What you see is a more mature, professional person who is conveying many things at once,” Ruiz says. “You see a student who has been tested on a daily basis and has learned to adapt, to negotiate, and what you see at the end is almost magical.”
Carlos Anchondo is a writer and editor for marketing communications and a member of the Trinity class of 2014. He can be found on Twitter at @cjanchondo or at email@example.com.