Madison from Southern Utah University in the USA participated in Intern Abroad HQ’s Women’s Education internship in Costa Rica over the summer. Here’s how interning at a Women’s Center overseas helped Madison develop her confidence, improve her Spanish language skills and set herself up for success as a teacher…
I registered for this internship experience to improve my language and cultural skills. Both have already improved significantly as a result and have helped me become a more culturally respectful, mindful and open minded person.
I lived in a homestay in San Ramón with an incredible family and my assigned internship role was at a women’s advocacy center - I loved it! I taught English classes, aided in support groups and helped manage their store which sold home-made artisan goods. This internship experience changed my life and I’m so excited to be able to share what I learned!
Overall, the qualities developed through this experience will help me to become a more well- rounded applicant for jobs, as well as a more well-rounded human; one who is able to enter a new country with different cultural and social norms and adapt and learn more about herself and the world around her through the process.
Settling into life in Costa Rica
I fell in love with San Ramón, where my internship in Costa Rica was based! I didn’t expect to feel so comfortable with my host family in their house right away, but the minute I stepped through their door, I felt right at home!
Seeing the women interact together in the support groups and watching them laugh and talk in the workplace as well as seeing my host family and their extended family celebrate together often reminded me how connection is so important and how the need for it is the same everywhere!
Being with my host family in Costa Rica, I learned to take it slow, to not have many things scheduled for the day and, as a result, I actually grew to enjoy and value my down time! I also noticed that local people aren’t ever in a rush to get anywhere. They are always walking everywhere and stopping to talk to people they know. It was a refreshing change from the fast pace of my home country!
How interning abroad increased my confidence and independence
This was my first time traveling solo but I was never alone and never felt more supported! Walking around San Ramón on my own, creating new relationships and traveling the country all in a different language seriously boosted my confidence!
My confidence and independence increased significantly while in Costa Rica! My proudest accomplishment during the internship that contributed to my confidence was taking over two additional English classes and handling it with ease.
Through this internship, I offered and refined my bilingual, TEFL, communication and teamwork skills. This experience taught me that I can adapt to any circumstance. While there was an adjustment period, I was on my feet completing tasks, participating in Spanish and gaining professional and interpersonal relationships almost immediately!
My Women’s Education internship role
My internship was hosted by an organization which is one of many key players in the fight for awareness of domestic and sexual violence against women and children in Costa Rica.
My role involved preparing and teaching English lessons, as well as running workshops to a group of 65+ adult women. Other tasks included record keeping and store managing. This helped enhance English language skills across the organization and broaden their clientele.
When setting out, the prospect of teaching was very intimidating! However, after interviewing each student and understanding their reasons for learning English, I realized that I could do it. The privilege I had of getting closer to those women through our classes humbles me even now!
I also had the opportunity to visit women and child resource centers, the local police department, and a social justice center with one of the social workers, handing out flyers regarding a virtual event the organization was hosting. It was an honor to aid in their mission, even in a small way!
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Developing my Spanish language skills
I know that learning how to communicate in Spanish with all kinds of people in many different circumstances will increase my hire-ability and help me reach my goal of becoming fluent in the language. I hope to use these language skills in whatever profession I pursue, so I am grateful for the chance to have had this culturally immersive experience!
To say my Spanish improved would be an understatement. While my vocabulary increased and my understanding improved, my Spanish communication skills improved in a different way. Before, when taking my Spanish courses in college, I was very, very timid. I would only ever speak in small groups, didn’t ever have much to say and would almost never offer a comment in class.
Having had this immersive experience, I wish I could go back and do it all over again! I have found my confidence in the language. I trust that when I speak, I’ll be understood. Talking and actually connecting with the local hosts there was an amazing experience. And, after having found my confidence, I’m eager to put my language skills to use when I return home.
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How my internship abroad helped me become a global citizen
I experienced many shifts in perspective while in Costa Rica. They have been transformative to say the least. The Tico culture taught me so much about life and what I actually value.
Additionally, I was able to compare and contrast cultural ideas and norms between Costa Rican culture and my own. It made me more aware of the privileges I enjoy at home and the opportunities available to me that may not be as readily available to the women there.
My experience has helped me to open my mind to new ideas, ways of doing things, cultural concepts and norms. I feel confident that I could travel to a different country and have the mindset to see, evaluate, notice and appreciate a new culture, things I didn’t think I was able to do before. I believe that these new skills have helped me to become a better world citizen and an even better employee.
My favorite memories from Costa Rica
On my second to last day on the program, the women I had been teaching for a few weeks were giving me hugs, well wishes for my future and had even planned a goodbye party for me. I got to spend time with all these women I grew so close to over the 11 weeks! I felt so much love in my heart for them that after saying goodbye, I cried!
Another favorite memory was when they asked me to write an analysis essay on a song they showed me during class, then proceeded to read it aloud for the whole class. That was a fun experience! Leaving with even deeper relationships with these people really wrapped up the whole experience for me so well. I already miss them so much!
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Feeling more empowered in myself
I feel more empowered to be successful in my life, in whatever field I decide to pursue. Being back in my “comfort-zone” at home has allowed me to see from a clearer perspective just how far out of it I was in Costa Rica. And being on the other side of the experience, I realize how much strength I gained. I feel more confident approaching people to ask for help and sharing my vulnerabilities. I feel more confident in my relationships and in my ability to make new and deep connections. I feel more secure in my sense of self.
Overall, I feel more prepared to navigate life’s everyday challenges because I was able to navigate new, not-so-everyday challenges there. After having overcome so much and experienced so much, I feel like a newer, stronger person, armed with new perspectives, strengths and tools to get me through any obstacle.
If you’re considering interning abroad…
One piece of advice I would share with a future intern who is heading into a culturally diverse setting would be to come in ready to have your expectations and ideas challenged. It is likely that your experience will be different than you imagined and that’s ok!
Regardless of what you come into this experience expecting, how you will adapt and all that you will experience in the meantime will be to your advantage, personally and professionally. Not to mention that you will build stronger connections with the members of your host country!
Packing tips for Costa Rica:
- Pack a nice, sturdy umbrella and a good rain jacket or poncho - you will definitely use them!
- If you’re from the US, buy shampoo, conditioner, sunscreen, bug spray and other similar items in your home country - it is way more expensive in Costa Rica!
- Bring something from your home country/home town to give to your host family - I didn’t think of this until I arrived and wished I had done it!
Must do trips in Costa Rica:
- La Fortuna and Arenal Volcano - a very cool, touristy town with lots to do! The La Fortuna waterfall was one of my favorites in Costa Rica!
- Punta Uva in Limón was BEAUTIFUL! If you have the time, the Caribbean coast is absolutely worth the trip!
- Monteverde - Zip lining and hanging bridges at Selvatura Adventure Park are a must!
- Manuel Antonio - definitely check out the national park! The beaches there were some of the most beautiful beaches I’ve ever visited!
- Volcan Irazu - Cooler mountain temps and ridiculous views made this a trip I’d highly recommend - even the bus ride was beautiful!
How can I get started?
Our step-by-step guide on how it works provides you with more information on how to get started. The process is user friendly and there are two options you can take to get the ball rolling.
If you’re unsure of which internship program is right for you, you can simply check availability to submit an enquiry which will help us to point you in the right direction. If you want to chat over the phone, you can also find our full contact information here.
If you already have an idea of what you want to do, and when you want to do it, you can submit your application. It doesn’t cost anything and won’t take more than 5 minutes. However, your formal expression of interest provides the foundation for us to help you take the next steps.