Monday, April 2nd, 2018...1:20 pm

IEM Spotlight: Pilar Diaz de la Rubia

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Pilar at her desk at the Middlebury School in Spain.

Pilar Diaz de la Rubia is a third semester International Education Management student completing her practicum with the Middlebury Schools Abroad in Madrid, Spain.  She is working on two projects: the Sede Prim and the International Education Management Spain Leapfrog Initiative.

Tell me a little about your background and how you came to Middlebury Institute (MIIS).

I’ve been extremely fortunate to have grown up surrounded by two cultures: Spanish and American. My dad is from Spain and therefore it has always been a huge part of my life; from family trips in the summers, to studying abroad, to moving there to teach English, I’ve always sought out ways to further my connection to that part of my culture. Since the very start of my first semester at MIIS, all I talked about was getting back to Spain…ask anyone in my cohort, or even my professors!

In terms of my journey to MIIS: in college I studied linguistics, but I always knew in the back of my mind that I had a strong interest in education. That’s why when I graduated, I ended up moving to Madrid to become an English teacher. I loved every moment of it, however, I knew something was still missing. I moved back to California with a strong desire to continue pursuing some form of international education and, ended up reaching out to a friend who was in her first semester of the International Education Management (IEM) program at MIIS. After she told me a bit about the program my interest was immediately sparked and I went to visit. Honestly, one of the main reasons I ended up applying was because of the 1 hour I spent in David Wick’s Marketing and Recruitment class. The fact that the students were working hands-on, applying the materials they were learning with real clients, and designing projects for people all over the world left me awestruck. That, and Professor Wick’s amazing teaching of course! I left my visit to MIIS that day feeling like there was nothing that was going to stop me from pursuing International Education Management, and it has been the best decision I’ve made in my professional career thus far.

How did you find your practicum?

My practicum search was definitely a whirlwind. From the summer after my 1st semester until about 2-3 weeks before the end of my 2nd semester I had a verbally confirmed practicum position with a Spanish University in Madrid. I was about to draft the Terms Of Reference (TOR) when I got an email from my practicum advisor, Chris McShane. The email said that there was an extremely unique opportunity to work simultaneously at the Middlebury School in Spain (Sede Prim) with their study abroad programs, and remotely with Professor Paige Butler on launching a Leapfrog Initiative project. Even though I was in the final stages of confirming a practicum position, I knew I had to at least look into this opportunity, and I couldn’t be happier that I did. The hardest part of the process was having to tell my original placement that I wasn’t going to be able to join them the next semester, but, if I hadn’t taken the chance, I wouldn’t be in the incredible position I am today.

Group picture of Pilar with students on a weekend trip to the city of Cáceres

What does a normal work-day look like for you?

A normal workday… that’s a tough one! Due to the time difference between Spain and California I typically work on projects for the Sede Prim during the mornings, and those for the Leapfrog Initiative in the afternoons to facilitate meetings and email communication. At the Sede Prim my desk is the first thing you see when you walk into the building, so I get to greet all of the students and most mornings I get to talk to them about their classes and their weekend adventures! If I’m not talking to students then I’m working on projects, either for practicum or for the office. For example, one of my weekly tasks is to help our amazing cultural coordinator find events in the cities for our students to enjoy.

Honestly, the hardest part of my day is having to transition between my two practicum positions because if I’m on a roll, I tend to want to keep working on that specific thing. To break up my day, I eat lunch with my colleagues, change desks to a more private area, and switch gears! Having two practicum positions means juggling a lot of projects and schedules, but, I can definitely say my time management skills are improving (special thanks to my practicum group for all their advice)!

What projects are you working on? What specific tasks are you in charge of doing?

The most recent project I have worked on for the Sede Prim has actually been in partnership with MIIS and the recruitment office. Together, with my supervisor here in Madrid and Jill Stoffers, I helped organize and deliver a recruitment session about new scholarships to English teaching assistants here in Madrid. Since the presentation I have been working on creating a document about the execution and results of the sessions as well as plans for future sessions. It was a really fun project and I look forward to the final session I’ll be giving at the end of May.

The projects I’ve been working on for Leapfrog Initiative with Paige Butler have been just as exciting and have really allowed me to apply and further develop all of the skills and best practices I learned throughout the IEM program. Since we are creating a program from the ground up (which is even more exciting than I could have imagined!) I’ve been working on projects such as: a competitor analysis, a gap analysis, a financial plan, target market research, informant interviews, and a business plan for our presentation to the board that is coming up in May.

What professional networking opportunities have you had while in Spain?

Thanks to the Leapfrog Initiative I am going to be reaching out to and connecting with professionals in the field in Spain to conduct informational interviews. Besides helping us immensely moving forward with this project, these interviews are providing me with incredible professional networking opportunities. I am going to be able to meet multiple people and cultivate great connections that will be indispensable as I continue to navigate the field in Spain. I am so grateful to have these opportunities thanks to both Paige Butler and the Sede Prim staff.

What is something that surprises you about the work culture in Spain?

Since I was already familiar with the work-culture in Spain, there haven’t been too many things that have surprised me! However, something that I have appreciated has been the communication style between my colleagues. Every Monday we have a team meeting and the first part is normally spent talking about either things happening in our lives or current events. Of course we have to get through all of our meeting points (and we do!), but if something comes up and we divert a bit away from our main topics, it’s okay, or as the Spanish say, “no pasa nada!” I love that there is a balance between completing tasks and forming stronger personal connections; it makes for an amazing work-environment!

What has been the most challenging part of your practicum so far? How did you overcome it or are you still working through it?

The most challenging part of my practicum has been time-management, mostly regarding how I divide my time between my two positions and the various projects. I’m still learning how to juggle everything as effectively as possible, but I have had such amazing support from both the team in California as well as from my team here in Madrid. I’m definitely getting the hang of it!

What professional resources (conferences, professors, mentors etc?) have been most useful to you (before and during practicum)? Why?

I think everyone will agree with me in saying that all of the professors in the IEM program are the main reason we are able to be as successful as we are both during the program and beyond. I am so grateful to all of their support, the courses I took from them, and the professional skills I learned. During this practicum I’ve realized how relevant everything I learned in staff management is to navigating my office culture, specifically in terms of communication skills and team management. I’ve also gotten to see how important marketing and recruitment skills are to all aspects of international education: from looking at competitors to promoting materials to students. Of course, to do all of this successfully, you must know how to use excel… so, pay attention and take advantage of the budgeting course!

What are your plans after practicum? What advice do you have for someone looking for a job during their practicum?

As of right now, I don’t have a specific plan job-wise after practicum, but my goal is to remain in Spain, and I’m working on it! My colleagues here have been amazing and always pass along any job opportunities that come up through their networks. I will definitely be using those connections as well as the connections I make through the Leapfrog project interviews. It’s all about professional networks and personal connections!

Anything else you would like to share? (tips, advice, etc.)

Pilar attending a fashion show with colleagues and students.

If there was one main piece of advice that I would give students who are looking for practicum it would be to make sure to always read emails that the faculty send out about opportunities, even if you already have something almost secured! You never know what might come up and if it might fit in better with your professional and personal goals. If I hadn’t read the email from Chris McShane, I wouldn’t be where I am now, and I wouldn’t have been exposed to some of these amazing opportunities.

Finally, my advice for during practicum is to jump right in and ask questions! My very first week, which was the week leading up to new student orientation, I consistently asked what I could do to help, worked on any small projects I was given, and observed as much as I could. The best thing you can do is get to know your colleagues and show them that you are there to learn and to support their organization in as many ways as you can! You have the knowledge, skills and attitudes to be more than successful, don’t be afraid to show it!

Thank you, Pilar! We wish you the best in the future!


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