Englishman Abroad: Play… An Internship is for Life, Not Just for Business

Don’t be fooled into thinking your time as an intern should be work-work-work. It’s true you’re here to learn, grow and develop but a big part of that is what you experience outside of work. Play time is important too.

For me the choice of where I’d do the internship was as much about the place and people as it was about the organisation.  Context is key.  You get context for what you learn, and as a consequence learn more, especially (though not exclusively) as an international intern.

So traveling to the Canary Islands gives a chance to sample Spanish life and culture, but with a difference; Spanish language but with a difference; island life but with a difference – see a theme here?  An internship should offer something different, at work and at play.

An obvious start to your leisure experience wherever you go is to try out different food and drink – in moderation.  And I say in moderation because, quite apart from the after-effects of over-indulgence, it’s seldom cheap to eat out in the long run.  But check out the margins, go beyond the tourist trail, look for locals, and you’ll find cheaper offerings every bit as good and quite possibly more authentic.

Downstairs in the fishmarket at El Mercado de Nuestra Señora de África.

Then, and I strongly recommend this as a bit of a foodie, make sure you have at least the basic cooking skills before you go and check out the food shops – artisan bakeries, specialist cheese shops and food markets, all of which are really accessible. Here I’ve found, as expected, fruit that tastes like it should; fresh shellfish cooked straight from the market stall; craft beers and simple pinchos at a beer festival; traditional breads and cold meats, to take back and enjoy at the apartment and mojos ( a red or green pepper sauce served with bread as an appetiser.  And that’s all before I start cooking myself!

The coffee has a character of its own – a cortado leche y leche, for example, is a short black coffee served with milk and condensed milk for extra sweetness.  More on coffee variations later. The local beer is good here for the conditions – Dorada is typically between one a few euros a pint (una jarra), amnd you soon get to know where and when the price varies!  That aside when what turned out to be a stein of lager in a street-side restaurant set me back the equivalent of £10 I wasn’t complimentary and I’ll not be going back – lesson learned: check out the prices first if in doubt. On the other hand, find a great restaurant like El Molino Blanco in San Eugenio and it’s worth every penny for a special treat.

A word of caution on the ‘locally produced alcoholic drinks’ front. If it’s happy hour and you’re thinking cocktails or gin and tonic, be prepared (from experience) for a disappointment with poor copies of spirits you might be used to. But if it’s a local drink made from what grows naturally where you are, then give that a try.  On Mallorca, hierbas is made from native herbs as the name suggests, while Licor 43 is the (ask your parents) Heinz 57 spirit in this regard on Tenerife – 43 local ingredients.

If, like here, the prickly pear cactus is commonplace, give produce made with that a try – in Malta they make something a bit like sloe gin with it and I’ve yet to discover what they make with it here. In the mountains they add Licor 43 to a cortado leche y leche and call it barraquito, allegedly named after its inventor (Barraco), but I’d like to think the alternative translation of barraco as ‘shed’ works better, meaning that your barraquito (or little shed) offers a little protection against the mountain conditions!  In Scotland it would be your ‘wee bothy’. And finally there’s a banana liqueur Cobana made here, with huge banana plantations something you can’t avoid seeing as you travel around. And traveling around the island is a must if you want to try different local variations… of anything and everything.

Further afield for cool bathing

If food and drink aren’t on your leisure list, then on Tenerife surely the beaches are.  I’ve lost count, in the month or so I’ve been here, of the number of visits to the beach.  At weekends/days off and after work – the beach after work, that’s unheard of in Cheltenham let’s face it! The water quality here is brilliant (I’ve seen only a single red flag up the coast from here), and everywhere else is clean and clear, even if the sand in places is from the Sahara! The more natural the better – I’ve already found my favourite spot, only twenty minutes away by bus. If it’s more convenience you’re looking for, you’ll need to rub shoulders with the other tourists, but I’m happy with a bag, sandwich and beer/Fanta!

And where there’s water there’s probably watersports and adventure sports. Here I’ve had the chance to have a go at a bit of surfing as a novice, and if I wanted (if!) there’s parascending, SCUBA and freediving too. Maybe not just now for me…

Strictly talented and entertaining

Either through work (as in my case), looking out of the bus window (ditto), or just through Mr Google it’s worth trying to find out about local venues. Here I’ve been able to see world class Argentine Tango and Spain’s top illusion and escapology show, Mago Sun both at the fantastic Vulcan Hall in Los Cristianos. There’s a full programme here all year round from household names to new shows on tour and local acts. Not what I expected at all, and a great extra to the whole experience.

And look who’s on the way…

On the subject of ‘extras’, though, I have managed to resist the temptations of another venue – the Mystique ‘Liberal Swingers Club’ and ‘Velvet Lap Dancing’. So far… I don’t believe it has a political affiliation, I don’t think I can take my laptop despite the advert, and I’m sure Jeremy Vine wouldn’t be seen dead there. Classy name though.

Siam Park after closing time.

Theme parks and shops aren’t really for me, which is a pity because I could easily bankrupt myself given the number of water parks and animal parks around here, let alone luxury/outlet stores, most of which seem to offer free buses.  The Natural Park is perhaps a bit of a stretch without my own transport but I’m checking out the buses to see if I can get to the top of the island’s main volcano, El Teide, which so far I’ve seen but from a distance.

Public transport here is cheap, pretty frequent and reliable, despite what locals have advised me – I guess when you’re used to the independence of having a car …   So getting around the island by bus has been a godsend at weekends and evenings – helping to avoid the onset of cabin fever. Last week I went an hour up the coast for a couple of euros, previously less than 7€ got me to the capital Santa Cruz, and this past weekend stretched to a hotel stay in La Laguna and exploring the northern coast a little, with the whole round trip costing a little under 15€. A hotel stay for me was a must after a certain amount of sleep deprivation thanks to my housemates, but there are bargains to be had.

La Orotava in the north

The north of the island is where most of the rain falls. It’s hilly and much greener, there are historic towns like La Laguna and La Orotava to visit as I did this past weekend. And, wherever you go, be ready to find surprises like a fiesta you didn’t realise was happening; a shop selling local produce, crafts, the weird and wonderful; or a museum giving you insight into the people and the place.

I’m also finding that people-watching and public transport are opportunities to tune in your ears to the local language and find out what’s going on while you take in some of the scenery!  Win-win.

The point is that wherever you are it’s good to get out, get around and get away occasionally.  You may have travelled thousands of miles to stay where you are, so don’t just stay put. What’s another few miles or kilometres, or a couple of hours’ travel, set against expanding your horizons – literally and figuratively. Even a simple wander, a different way each day when you arrive, will dig up surprises for you. It’s yet another way to get context, get perspective and get more for your experience to take away when your internship is over. 

Overtime might pay but it doesn’t make up for missed opportunity to experience what’s around you.

Published by John Humphreys

Education and leisure industry professional with over 30 years' experience and a focus on delivering international experiences and employability development.

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