Finding internship opportunities can be very difficult, especially as an undergraduate ecologist focused on international work.
I am an American student with a narrowed focus on tropical ecology and an even narrower focus on human-wildlife conflict/interactions. When you search through the grand array of opportunities that throw the promise of a rewarding experience, it's highly discouraging to click on the website only to discover a 3-month experience costs more than $25,000.
Employers will tell you gaining experience is necessary to get hired, having the field skills is unnegotiable, and that you will be left behind without them. As an aspiring ecologist with an international focus, this makes this process even more difficult. I am here to tell you that this expectation is improbable and impossible for the common college student who already is burdened with tuition bills and general living costs.
After searching for a few months, I discovered Para La Tierra, a Paraguayan non-profit geared towards “conserving fragile habitats in Paraguay through scientific research, community engagement, and environmental education”. Upon initial discovery, I believed it to be a scam given its reasonable price and my previous assumption that all abroad internships would cost you a fortune. After realizing that this indeed was not a scam but rather an organization that didn’t seek to suck every last penny out of college students, I applied and was accepted. While the price for this opportunity was reasonable, my motto is you should never have to pay to get experience. Whether or not the organization or company pays you is a different scenario.
What I mean is you should never have to pay out of pocket. So I began looking for ways to fund this trip, research, and internship to Paraguay. I applied to many grants and scholarships, however, the one that supported the full tuition of my three-month stay with Para La Tierra was The Garden Club of America. Knowing there will be external costs for this trip such as airfare and hotel stays, I funded the rest of the money by selling macrame bracelets as a fundraiser. This was done over a year in preparation given that the internship was canceled by a year in delay due to the pandemic. Previously, I had only four months to prepare if the pandemic did not occur. In having this extra time, I was able to plan, fundraise, and seek funding to ensure this research expedition did not cost me a dime.
Also, never forget that your time matters. What you decide to dedicate your time, money, or skills to matters. In any internship opportunity that comes your way, recall it takes time to fill out the application and if you are accepted it takes time to complete the internship. You will find the best rewards when you invest yourself deeply in a select few opportunities rather than many opportunities with a fraction of the effort or passion. If you are soon to wrap up your undergraduate experience, do not be discouraged! I am optimistic in the idea that many employers understand that international work takes money. Many local or national opportunities can give you an equally important experience with the skills you need to exceed in international fieldwork. If you need help, tips, or more advice on navigating the ecological job network please feel free to reach me via Instagram @livin.ecological. Keep an open eye and mind!
Title: Weed, Soy & Climate Change Are Destroying Paraguay’s Forest
Description: Shows a brief look into the work of Rebecca Smith Primatologist and National Geographic Explorer with Para La Tierra.
Para La Tierra: Volunteerism & Internship in South America