Q & A: International Agriculture Student's Internship in Ecuador
Joanna Smith, an international relations major, fulfilled the internship requirement for the International Agriculture Certificate by spending eight weeks in Ecuador at the La Hesperia Biological Station. She shares how her experiences have influenced her perspectives on global agriculture.
How did you find out about the International Agricultural Certificate program and why did it interest you?
I was looking through the bulletin and stumbled on the information for the International Agricultural Certificate. I realized I already had met a lot of the requirements for the program and also had taken Dr. Maria Navarro’s International Agriculture Development course, which piqued my interest in the role agriculture plays in sustainability, political rights and women’s rights all over the world.
How did you decide on your internship destination?
I’m fluent in Spanish and my other major is Latin American Studies so I preferred to be somewhere in Central or South America. Vicki McMaken, OGP associate director, had a number of connections in Ecuador and Cuba. I was interested in conservation and biodiversity practices, so La Hesperia Biological Station in Ecuador seemed like a perfect fit for what I was seeking.
What did you do at La Hesperia?
They had just begun work on a medicinal plant garden so my initial responsibilities involved joining the other volunteers in weeding and helping take care of the plants. We also worked on a vegetable garden on the property that was responsible for sustaining the kitchen at La Hesperia and had days where we used machetes to clear trails that were used for hiking by visitors and tourists. We also had weekly lectures around the station and learned a lot about the indigenous plants of Ecuador and the various conservation efforts currently being undertaken and the difficulties associated with them.
Did you take on any individual responsibilities aside from the group activities?
I had never been around animals meant for agriculture so I asked to learn more about working with the cows and chickens at the station. It became my daily responsibility to feed and wash the cows, feed the chickens and make sure everything was running smoothly in the barn. I was really surprised by the cows, I noticed how differently they all behaved and that they had really big personalities, so that was an experience I really enjoyed. That was my favorite part of the whole internship.
You have wonderful pictures from other parts of South America, where else did you visit?
I traveled around the rest of Ecuador. I also visited the insanely beautiful Galápagos for a week, and met up with a friend in Lima and traveled around southern Peru.
How did this internship abroad affect your view of the world?
The best way to know what you are really interested in is to experience it and decide whether to cross it off the list or keep going in that direction. The La Hesperia internship made me realize that getting involved in conservation, sustainability and biodiversity organizations might be the direction I want my career to head toward. Also, the experience of being alone in the conservation station on rainy days, clearing trails in the forest with machetes, looking after the animals, and acquiring botanical knowledge of Ecuador helped me to better know myself, Latin America, and the world from a naturalist’s perspective. I also came to understand how very simple activities can influence the agricultural supply of a community, country and the world at large.
What would you say to people who are currently considering an internship abroad?
If you have an interest in international agriculture or relations… Go for it! It can really influence your perspective on everything and help shape your career path. If you’re not quite sure of what you want to do, the International Agriculture Certificate program directors are available and eager to help find a program that aligns with your interests and goals.