A Summer Internship in Spain Creates Lasting Friendships While Assisting Women in Need

A young woman in a red vest and with long dark hair holds a toddler with an ice cream in her mouth.
Gabriela Manzanares: ‘I never expected us to connect so well, and it's reassuring to know that we will maintain contact even after the internship.’

Gabriela Manzanares spent two months of her summer break visiting a facility where pregnant women and single mothers, many of them immigrants, came to acquire food and clothing for their children. The George Mason University rising senior’s job several days a week was to assist Maria Victoria Calle Rodriguez, a lawyer for a nonprofit, as she helped the women navigate the sometimes-confusing legalities and customs they would encounter in establishing new lives in a new country with their young families.

The country was Spain.

Manzanares, a student in the Schar School of Policy and Government’s government and international politics program, spent June and July in Madrid, as an intern at the nonprofit Fundación Madrina—the Godmother Foundation.

It was the Stafford, Virginia, native’s first visit to Europe, and she found the internship rewarding and enriching in more ways than one.

“A lot of the women come from different countries, like Peru and Venezuela, and they’re seeking asylum,” she said. “They need help with bringing their children from another country and really don’t know how. [Lawyer] Victoria will read documents to them to help them understand their legal rights.”

While the work was meaningful to her and the women they helped, Manzanares found herself overcoming her initial shyness around strangers in a foreign country and learning to speak “Spanish Spanish and not the Central American Spanish that I speak,” she said, noting that her parents are from El Salvador. It wasn’t long before she was comfortable in her new surroundings with new friends.

“Victoria helped me open up,” she said. Soon, she said, was “close with everybody….I was most surprised by the excellent rapport I developed with my boss, Victoria. I never expected us to connect so well, and it's reassuring to know that we will maintain contact even after the internship.”

The work she performed for the foundation—for which she earned six credits toward her degree—increased her interest in joining the legal profession, with a serious eye on law school and/or in a law aspect of an intelligence agency after earning her BA with the Schar School. “The best thing about the internship was the hands-on experience I gained in the legal field while immersing myself in a new culture,” she said.

Mason and the Schar School are uniquely positioned to place students in significant internship roles throughout the year at institutions around the region, the country, and the world. Internships are important opportunities to experience “the real world” of the workplace beyond the classroom and they increase job prospects and earning potential with future employers. Manzanares’ experience in Madrid no doubt will contribute to her gaining acceptance to the law school of her choice.

And while she was gone for two months interning in Spain, did she miss anything from home? The food? Her family? Her classmates?

“My dog,” she said with a laugh. “I miss my dog so much, I’m not even kidding. His name is Lion. He’s a mastiff.”