Aside from the intrinsic motivation for a resume boost and the feeling of validation that comes with gaining a company email account, internships are an indispensable part of the college experience. Not just for the knowledge, but also for the countless opportunities to adapt, show initiative, and thrive in work culture. I stumbled upon this opportunity at Strands through the University of Texas at Austin, which provides the chance to intern abroad through a provider, CisAbroad. For me, it was natural to gravitate towards the vibrant city of Barcelona for a summer internship, as its known to be an international hub for business and startup worlds.
As I prepared for travel, I was offered a host of advice on what to expect from Barcelona, ranging from ensuring my pockets were secure to taking the time to appreciate landmarks like the Sagrada Familia. What I discovered is that hidden gems were nestled in the cobbled streets, like the tiny Bo De B sandwich shop and Alsur Café, which makes hands-down the best spirulina granola bowls.
Truthfully, I was more excited at the prospect of being in Europe for two months, and would not have anticipated that this internship would be all that it was. I never quite understood the insistent nostalgia people carried after their time abroad, but now I recognize exactly how they feel and why.
Barcelona really is the most memorable and best experience of my life.
As I leave, I’d like to point out my appreciation for the autonomy, work projects, and culture I experienced here at Strands.
I feel valued.
Kicking off my first day, my supervisor Miriam Ballesteros (who is my favorite human in this city) had already extended an invite to the weekly team update meeting and set up a welcome lunch at Rebeka. It took her about two hours to make me feel like I had a place on the team, which is a testament to the delight that she is.
Foreshadowing the culture I would come to love, I had several surprising experiences on that first day. Firstly, the Spanish greeting with two cheek kisses is a bit much for Americans who value their personal space. It then took me some time to navigate my company laptop’s keyboard filled with Spanish symbols, where I couldn’t log into my email without getting the “@” to appear. Nevertheless, within the first eight hours, the people at this company received me with no reservations, going out of their way to know I was welcome anywhere. They made me coffee with foamed milk, patiently explained their Catalan conversations, and published me on their Strands News & Events webpage within the second day.
My supervisor and team challenged me with tasks that included learning HubSpot and a bit of HTML in Wordpress, but gave me full freedom in pacing and creative direction. At times, it felt like I was pushed to complete a task that I had no idea how to start, but what’s an internship that doesn’t stretch your abilities?
The amount of self-autonomy I was given was the perfect balance; I’m fond that they trusted me to stay on top of my work, but were at an arm's length to help. This quality extends to employees from any division of the company.
I make a tangible difference.
Even as an intern, Strands did not hesitate in ensuring my contributions would be substantial. As a FinTech firm that has an agile, startup way of doing things, Strands immediately inserted me into the midst of the action.
As an intern, I have:
- Authored a blog post with a senior data scientist that will be in the Strands Artificial Intelligence white paper
- Taken control of social media to bring in web traffic and leads
- Revised company presentations that go through the CEO
- Published six news articles and three blog posts to the Strands Blog
I’m excited to see what the firm achieves, as Strands partners with influential clients and is hardwired for innovation. Celent recently recognized Strands as an early adopter of AI-focused insights and advice, which convinces me that I will see more of the company in the news going forward.
I hear many perspectives.
The fact that Strands employees originate from diverse parts of the world (Cyprus, Croatia, and Cuba, to name a few) means there’s endless material for entertaining conversation in the kitchen. From travel stories to flea markets, the breadth of what I learn never ceases to amaze me. The machine learning (Nous) team took me in, and on our lunch outings, I had the pleasure of connecting with people whose experiences are vastly different from my own. They urged me out of my shell here at Strands and helped me discover the city and locals in a way I could not have accomplished by myself.
A favorite saying of my mentor at UT is “your network is your net worth”, which I can now attest is applicable globally. Internships transcend the material you learn, as the connections you make are what you carry forward.
Strands is a family.
This past Friday, Strands hosted a summer party at a pristine beach in Costa Brava. Seeing the bond that these people share makes it even more special that they allowed me to be a part of it. CEO Erik Brieva personally recognized Stranders who have worked at the company for 10 or more years. At the most recent biweekly meeting, Brieva passed out two bright yellow giraffe themed backpacks for the newest Strands family additions - stating that this will be the first bag they take to preschool. He mentioned the new employees in all parts of the world, including me, and took the time to acknowledge our contributions.
It's the people that make the company, and this inclusivity makes the work environment at Strands something others should model after.
I cannot stress the importance of experiencing the world through a college lens; this should be when you spend your youth in a way that you can one day share with your kids. I am endlessly grateful to my parents and the CisAbroad on-site internship team for their support in making this experience seamless.
Sadly this summer flew by - I could not have imagined the relationships I would forge and the full joy I would have going into work.
Thank you for transforming an unnerving city into a place where I’m leaving behind a part of myself.
Don’t worry - I will drop back in when Sagrada is complete!