Ten Years later

Ryan Dvorak (left) and Sami Mardam-Bey ‘06 in Valencia, Spain, in 2006.

An International Internship Program Reflection

By Ryan Dvorak ’08

Ten summers ago I anxiously packed my bags for my very first solo trip abroad, as an International Internship Program (IIP) intern with Manuel Cerdá Pérez Arquitectura in Valencia, Spain. I had six years of classroom Spanish under my belt but little practical opportunity to use the language outside of tutoring for Pa’delante, an ESL program for Princeton residents. I had declared architecture as my major but had yet to begin much of the core course workload. I was what you would best describe as a ‘‘raw’’ hire, but I was energized by the opportunity to stretch myself.

My resolve and language skills were immediately put to the test when the luggage I had so carefully packed never made it to Valencia. The frustration of negotiating airline compensation in Spanish in a pre-smartphone world was quickly supplanted by the excitement of navigating the unknown. I began to look forward to each day because it meant a new challenge, whether it was as mundane as signing up for a gym membership or as arduous as learning AutoCAD in Spanish.

My new boss, Manuel Cerdá Pérez, and his small team of junior architects treated me like family as I acclimated to my new environment. At work, they patiently advised me as I developed my drafting skills. They also insisted that we dine together each day for late breakfasts of pan con tomate, patatas bravas and espresso, and for heavy siesta-inducing paella lunches, where we discussed our architectural visions, my future educational plans and rock ’n roll.

They also encouraged me to travel during my free time to see the works of Spanish architectural greats like Gaudí, Moneo and Calatrava. It was on these excursions with a cast of characters from around the world, whom I had met just weeks or sometimes mere days before, where I developed a love and comfort for living and traveling abroad.

Not only did my internship help me to discover a passion for international travel, but it prompted me to pursue a full-time architecture role outside the United States at a firm in China after graduation. I entered Shanghai without knowing a word of Mandarin, but comfortable with the chaos of expatriate life. Although in a different place and culture, I knew many of the adjustments I would be making were similar to those I had made in Spain. I learned to engross myself in my work, build a strong support network of friends and take time to travel.

I particularly value this global perspective as I enter the second year of my MBA program at Wharton. With classmates from over 70 countries and many more with experience outside of the U.S., it’s often our shared international exposure that draws us closer together.