Summer Internships: Serene Kombargi '24
Name: Serene Kombargi
Class Year: 2024
Major: Anthropology and Political Science
Minor: Latin American, Iberian, and Latina/o Studies and Middle Eastern, Central Asian, and North African Studies
Hometown: Beirut, Lebanon
Internship Organization: IES Santiago - Good Neighbors
Job Title: Communications and Marketing Intern
Location: Santiago, Chile
What's happening at your internship? We would love to hear what kind of work you are doing!
From Mondays to Thursdays, I have been working a hybrid role as a marketing and communications intern in the Santiago branch of Good Neighbors, an international non-profit organization advocating for children’s rights. Our work focuses on three principal themes: the promotion of children's rights, quality of education, and solidarity towards vulnerable populations. The most rewarding components of my internship have been the support I have received from other interns and my supervisor, the opportunity to help with administration tasks in the human resources department, and interacting with Chilean teens in a photography and film workshop for youth hosted by the organization. We are supportive of one another and have a sense of community in the workplace, making it easy to develop one's abilities by asking for extra guidance with certain tasks. I have also created infographics and educational videos and designed activities for children’s workshops. Working at Good Neighbors has allowed me to develop an understanding of what takes place on the inside of a non-profit organization and what kinds of tasks are done to promote human rights advocacy.
Why did you apply for this internship?
My friends and I used to play a game where we would randomly select countries on a map and discuss their features, including culture, language, religion, and geography. I distinctly recall when we looked at Chile. With further research, we learned of the amazing geographical features such as the Andes mountains or “la cordillera de los Andes'' as they are known locally, and of the frequent earthquakes that take place (which I have felt multiple times during my stay!). But perhaps the most captivating component of its description was the mention of Chile’s indigenous, immigrant, and diaspora populations. I am passionate about working with people and helping vulnerable populations, and found that applying for the IES Santiago internship would allow me to do so by working for a human rights organization while simultaneously building connections with people to promote my understanding of Chilean culture and immigration to Chile.
Working at Good Neighbors, a non-profit geared towards children’s rights advocacy, has helped me interact with locals from different backgrounds and of all ages, enabling me to develop a more nuanced understanding of Chilean culture. From having conversations during our lunch breaks with work colleagues, to working with teens in a school located in a vulnerable area of Santiago, I was able to hear a diverse range of stories and experiences from locals. My supervisor was also helpful, informing me of the different “barrios” or neighborhoods to visit to interact with different populations in Santiago.
Furthermore, it just so happens that Chile is home to the largest Palestinian population outside of the Middle East, in addition to other Arabs from the Levant or “Shami” region. I have been fascinated by the Arab diaspora population living in Latin America as I grew up hearing stories of family, friends, or ancestors leaving for Chile and spending the remainder of their lives there. My interest in this topic peaked in my Introduction to Middle Eastern History class last semester with Professor Salikkudin, as we had discussed the large Palestinian, Lebanese, Syrian, Jewish, and German populations that had immigrated to Latin America during the twentieth century.
In fact, I would like to explore Palestinian identity and its resilience in Santiago for my senior anthropology thesis; thus, interacting with Chilestinians (Chileans of Palestinian descent) has been an insightful and exciting experience for me. Fortunately, I have had the opportunity to do so through attending events hosted by IES, communicating with locals, and traveling to different parts of the country. I have attended talks, and activities hosted by Club Palestino, a professional football club and center for Chileans of Palestinian descent to gather and celebrate Palestinian culture and identity. I am grateful for a fellow student from the IES Santiago Spring program who connected me to the Organización Solidaria con Palestina, or Solidarity Organization for Palestine, consisting of a group of university students advocating for Palestinian rights. Moreover, my travels to San Pedro de Atacama and my daily outings in Santiago have also provided me with the great privilege of interacting with indigenous Likan Antai locals and street vendors of the Atacama desert and Peruvian, Venezuelan, and Colombian immigrants working in the region. It is the simple things, like having a shawarma at a Venezuelan-Palestinian restaurant in Patronato after work or finding traditional pasteles labeled as the German word for cake or “kuchen” at a Chilean bakery, that make Santiago such a magical place. The intermingling of different cultures, especially in a country so remote and at the end of the Americas, never ceases to amaze me.
What has been the biggest challenge you have faced at your internship?
The biggest obstacle I have faced has been the language barrier as a non-Spanish speaker in Chile. People really don’t speak English here! Admittedly, it was naive for me to believe that I could get by with ease using my English in Chile. However, I had not anticipated the transition into Spanish or the inability to communicate in English to pose such a hindrance. Chilean Spanish is no walk in the park either: locals speak rapidly, connect words, and often incorporate “chilenismos” into the Spanish language. Commonly used Spanish words are replaced by others. For instance, the word “avocado,” normally “aguacate,” is “palta” in Chilean Spanish. Girlfriend or boyfriend, traditionally “novio” or “novia,” becomes “pololo” or “polola”. I had encountered this on the first day of my internship. During our first marketing meeting, rapid-fire Chilean dialogue filled the room, and I could barely keep track. It felt like my head was under water.
Cultural elements such as the perception of time in Chilean work culture also bothered me slightly in the initial weeks. Accustomed to the “hustle” or “grind” of American work culture, it felt unproductive to take time completing tasks for my supervisor. My workdays felt long in the first week as it felt like I was accomplishing less in a greater span of time.
But with patience, trial, and error, the Spanish became increasingly understandable. I found myself saying “ya po” or “catchai” and being able to communicate and understand basic Spanish. The pace of life began to make sense. More time allowed for more thorough work, and I felt happier submitting better documents, videos and excel sheets. Through it all, our supervisor encouraged us to work in teams and often made two individuals work on each task. Communicating and persevering has made this a rewarding and eye-opening experience.
Was this internship what you expected it to be?
Not at all. No one tells you how hard studying or working abroad can be. It truly is a rollercoaster of emotions, and every new day feels like a paradoxical experience of the previous. One day, you find that you are ecstatic and learning so much about the language, the people, and the culture. You’re able to make new Chilean friends and connect with people from your program. And the next, you may feel that it is impossible to communicate with people. Simply buying a coffee can leave you feeling emotionally drained. Getting accustomed to the office and workplace culture took time, and though it was possible for me to readjust to my new environment, it wasn’t as easy as I had imagined it to be. This was my first time traveling to Latin America, and I experienced great culture shock during my first few days in Santiago. But the people I have met and the experiences I have had are invaluable to me. I am very grateful for this opportunity to experience life abroad, and am grateful for the resources Bryn Mawr has provided me with to prepare me for a challenging and stimulating work environment. Working in a foreign country offers a different perspective on life and our values, and I have found that this insight will equip me with great strength for the remainder of my studies at Bryn Mawr.
Visit the Summer Internship Stories page to read more about student internship experiences.