Students get “real-world” experience during global internships

Filed Under: EARTH Stories
Date: March 16th, 2012

What makes EARTH graduates different? EARTH’s hands-on approach gives its alumni the real-world experience, confidence and global perspective to get involved in the development processes of their communities immediately after graduation. And the third-year internship is one way EARTH offers students the opportunity to gain this experience in applying their knowledge in real world environments and businesses.

During their third year at EARTH, all students must leave campus for 15 weeks to engage in a real workplace through an internship with a livestock or forestry producer, a cooperative, an NGO with a focus on agricultural development, or a university that offers research opportunities in related areas.

For Alejandra Carvajal, manager of International Cooperation, the internship is, “a thermometer for students to measure their strengths and weaknesses personally and professionally.”

Returning home or going abroad

After three and half years at EARTH, many students strongly desire to return to their home community. Doing so offers an opportunity to build relationships with contacts who could potentially open up career opportunities for students following graduation. In the 2012 class, approximately 30 percent of students decided to return or remain in their home countries.

But some 60 percent of students decided to go to a new country (neither their country of origin nor Costa Rica) for their internships for a variety of personal and professional reasons

Learning to make soap in Ethiopia

Raquel Rodríguez (‘12, Costa Rica) just returned from Ethiopia. She did her internship at Project Mercy, a non-governmental organization (NGO) that promotes education, health care, and other holistic community development projects.

Raquel’s eyes light up when she talks about her experiences there. She describes how before she chose the internship, she considered working with buffalos. Nevertheless, after some time, she realized she was more interested in working with children and communities.

In June 2011, she met Marta and Demeke, founders of Mercy Project, during their trip to EARTH. She was moved by the project’s cause and decided she wanted to do her internship with the organization. There were two drawbacks, though: her English was not very good, and she could not go by herself because of safety concerns. But these initial concerns didn’t keep her from leaving with fellow student Luis Fernando Campos (’12, Costa Rica).

Her main assignment was to develop a recipe for soap and natural jam. The purpose: to create the right recipe with the local materials available and complete a feasibility study in order to transfer the information to a women’s association, which would eventually sell the products in the United States.

Before leaving Costa Rica, Raquel was instructed in soap production. However, when she arrived to Ethiopia, she found herself in a situation that made her work very difficult. Without a proper laboratory in which to make the soap she and her colleagues had to adapt the process to the materials available. Also, because they initially could not find the essential oils needed to fragrance the soaps, they had to experiment with medicinal plants for several months. (Luckily, they later found a essential oils supplier.) In addition, the animal fat available was very dirty and different from the one used in Costa Rica, so they had to develop a process to clean it . In the end they managed to successfully adapt to these conditions.

For these reasons, Raquel believes that the most valuable lesson learned during her internship was to cherish the circumstances in which she grew up and the one in which she lives now. Exposed to a different culture, with complex social and economic problems, Raquel learned to adjust to another environment and complete projects in spite of difficulties. Such valuable knowledge will benefit Raquel in the future whenever she faces unfamiliar and complex situations such as those found in Ethiopia

Reuniting with family in the United States

Besides his professional goals, Everardo Juárez (’12, Costa Rica) had a strong personal interest that influenced his decision when applying for an internship. Everardo hadn’t seen his mother since he was six years old. She lives in the United States and that is one of the reasons he wanted to do his internship there. He also wanted to learn something that the University was not able to provide him. That’s why he chose Tillers International, an NGO working in international rural development that specializes in farming with oxen (animal traction) as an economical alternative to expensive machinery.

That’s how, apart from appreciating the chance to spend time with his family, ; Everardo gained an understanding of a technology that could help many farmers in his country. In fact, he plans to do another internship with Tillers International after graduating from EARTH, to learn how to install this animal traction system in a developing country. After this experience, Everardo expects to have enough skills and knowledge to apply animal traction to benefit the poorest in his country.

Student Nokubonga enjoying her internship

Returning home

“I always wanted to go back to South Africa for the internship, because I want to work there after I graduate from EARTH. That is why I thought is was not a good idea to do it somewhere else; otherwise, after graduating I would have no contacts and work opportunities,” explains Nokubonga Mweli (‘12, South Africa)

She did her internship in Durban, the city where she grew up. She worked for The Wilderness Leadership School, an NGO dedicated to providing a pure wilderness experience for people of all backgrounds who have a special interest in education.

Nokubonga was in charge of searching and expanding the local market, because most of their clients were foreign. In this job, she had to learn new things like how to use social media to effectively reach out to the public and to amplify her knowledge of marketing.

She believes that the internship opened a lot of doors for her, especially by connecting her with several people who after her graduation may be able to link her to the labor market. Beyond work experience, going back to her country was about starting a path to her future after EARTH.

Internships are a source of knowledge where the students face the challenges of the real workplace. However, Professor Nico Evers, director of the International Academic Relations is quick to point out that the host also learns from the student.

“The student also plays a role as an EARTH ambassador, applying EARTH values, mission and technical knowledge to his host,” comments Nico Evers. In other words, it is a win-win situation.

Nokubonga understands very well her role as an “EARTH ambassador,” adding, “It’s also important for us to share everything we know with other people… helping someone in teaching them something as simple as planting corn can save his life and the life of others around him. We are leaders of change; that doesn’t mean we are going to change the world as it is, but if we can change the life of one person, we have already changed something, and that is the impact we must make.”