Nikki Maruya joined an Environmental Conservation Internship in Costa Rica, for a duration of 8 weeks. Learn more about Nikki’s take on interning in the great outdoors, exploring biodiversity, activities in conservation, and navigating the Spanish language!
What attracted you to this environmental internship in Costa Rica?
I chose to do this particular Intern Abroad HQ conservation program because I wanted to learn about the environmental policy of protected areas, particularly in Costa Rica where more than a fourth of the country is officially protected. I also have always been intrigued and astounded by the amazing biodiversity that thrives in Costa Rica, so being able to learn a little about the biological life here was also a fulfilling element of this internship.
Tell us about your role as a conservation intern in Costa Rica!
My roles as an Environmental Conservation intern in Costa Rica included learning the biological composition of the reserve, maintaining the reserve, and helping to guide environmental tours offered by the local hotel.
My activities included maintaining trails, setting up cameras to monitor the activity/health of wildlife, organizing the videos caught by these cameras, setting up butterfly traps to document species, mounting insects, maintaining hummingbird feeders, taking photographs of flora and fauna, planting trees, and working with a GPS.
In terms of short-term benefits for my internship placement, I think my helping hand with the physical tasks required around the reserve was probably the most important. The most important long-term benefit of my internship, I believe, was the creation of another advocate (me) to promote and create awareness around the ultimate goals of the organization for sustainable eco-tourism and the conservation/protection of species and their natural habitats.
During the internship, I gained a better understanding of the problems faced in Costa Rica in terms of environmental policy. I have learned about general disagreements regarding national parks established around volcanoes, and how too much or too little activity may affect eco-tourism. I have also learned about policy/legal predicaments concerning illegal hunting in protected areas, as well as issues concerning climate change.
What aspects of your internship program surprised you?
First of all, waking up a lot earlier than I am used to was not as bad as I expected it to be! I was also really surprised at how encouraging and engaging my supervisor at the internship placement was - and not to mention very knowledgeable!
My original expectation assumed that I would be working independently and therefore would have to be autonomous in decision-making. This is not the case however; I was accompanied and taught every minute of my working day.
Lastly, I did not know I would witness or get to explore as much of Costa Rica’s vast biological world as I did. The things I had already gotten to see and learn about after just one week were plentiful.
I would advise future interns to be open for what you learn to outweigh what you give, and to listen attentively to all the new information. It is like being in class except for one significant difference: you are outside all the time and constantly active!
How did you find the language barrier during your Costa Rican internship?
I think that a language barrier is unavoidable, to some extent or another, in a multicultural work setting. It can be frustrating when it’s difficult to establish clarity, however, I think it can also foster creativity and more open-mindedness in a situation that particularly requires cultural competence.
I did not notice many barriers that impeded being able to carry out my tasks or acquiring the information that I needed or wanted to know (by asking questions).
My proudest accomplishment was meeting and having meaningful conversations with great, intelligent and diverse people who had valuable knowledge and insights to offer me and doing much of this conversing in Spanish!
What were some of your internship highlights?
Exploring the life of the Costa Rican rainforest after dark was an exhilarating experience. There were countless different noises to be heard at once, from constant croaking to fleeting, high pitched calls, as well as countless forms of life to be seen, from “ogre spiders” to glass tree frogs (which look transparent with the right angles and light conditions).
Overall, this experience taught me about the many issues faced by eco-tourism and conservation. It also taught me about career options I had either never heard of or never considered for myself.
I feel much more empowered to be successful in my field now that I have an experiential reference to pull from. Further, my internship was based on both subjects that I am hoping to incorporate in my future career: Spanish and Environmental Conservation. Because of this, I feel doubly empowered. As a result of having done this internship, I can offer resource management skills, some biological knowledge of Costa Rica, Spanish language skills, and eco-tourism skills.
Internships in Costa rica are available year-round and are offered in conjunction with Intern Abroad HQ’s guided reflection program. You can learn more through our Costa Rica internships through our Q & A blog. Looking for something a bit different? Diverse international wildlife and conservation internships are also available to discover!