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Overseas challenges prepares business student for career

May 28, 2020
A woman sits on a wall overlooking a city
A woman sits on a wall overlooking a city

KOKOMO, Ind. – Imagine starting an internship in a country you are visiting for the first time, with people who don’t speak your language, in an industry new to you. 

After meeting that challenge during nearly three months in Spain, Alison Cartwright says she’s prepared for her first job in her anticipated career field of sales. She graduated from Indiana University Kokomo with a Bachelor of Science in Business in May.

Cartwright, from Lapel, planned to spend the final semester of her college career in Barcelona, but came home in mid-March because of the Covid-19 pandemic. Despite having to cut the experience short, she says she grew as a person by going.

“The biggest thing when it comes to studying abroad is the fear of the unknown,” she said. “That would have been the biggest thing that held me back. I told myself, ‘The bigger the fear, the bigger reward you will have.’ Once we were there, the program leaders did a great job connecting us with our host families in the city, and letting us know what to do to have the best time. There’s really nothing to be afraid of.”

Cartwright participated in a program through IU Bloomington, taking classes at International Education of Students, which offered instruction both in English and Spanish and organized internships. She lived with a host family and worked as an intern at a downtown apartment complex.

She was thankful that Christine Taff, senior lecturer in Spanish, allowed her to sit in on classes during the fall semester to brush up on language skills she hadn’t used since her first year at IU Kokomo, because the people she lived and worked with either spoke Spanish or the Catalan dialect.

“I wasn’t fluent going in, because I had only taken one Spanish class in the last three years,” she said. “It was something I feel like I picked up quickly. You don’t really have a choice because a lot of people don’t speak English, and you just have to figure it out.”

The experience taught her about the importance of relationships and communication. For example, at her internship her co-workers were interested in getting to know her, not just on completing their work.

“The people there are more focused on who you are as a person, and how you’re doing, and building genuine connections,” Cartwright said. “That’s one of the biggest things I’ve taken away, to take time to build relationships, as opposed to just getting done what needs to be done.”

She also enjoyed exploring Barcelona, making it a mission to get lost every day while walking or taking public transportation to work or class. With easy travel available around Europe, she also went to London, Paris, and locations around Spain.

As the coronavirus began to spread across Europe, she said her program directors did a good job keeping students up to date with information. Her host father was a doctor, and monitored the situation in neighboring Italy. He feared Spain would be harder hit than Italy, and, when Spanish officials began discussing closing the borders, he encouraged her to go home.

Cartwright quarantined at home for two weeks after her return, in case she had been exposed, and finished her classes online. She hopes to return to Barcelona at some point and has an invitation from her host family to stay with them again.

“We still message each other,” she said. “They really haven’t left the house. Spain was a lot stricter with their lockdown than we have been.”

Now, Cartwright is especially interested in pharmaceutical sales, adding that this experience has prepared her for whatever challenges lie ahead.

“If I can do a job in a field I’ve never done before, in a whole new country where people speak a different language, I can do anything in America,” she said.

Indiana University Kokomo celebrates 75 years as north central Indiana’s choice for higher education.

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