any students looking for summer plans often find themselves stuck between two choices: finding an internship in hopes of gaining real world experience, or traveling abroad and experiencing another country and culture. However, for junior Nick Ahrens, an Economics and Business major, the choice was easy. He found a summer program that catered to his desire to both travel abroad and gain valuable work experience. Ahrens spent the summer after his sophomore year in Panama, participating in the Business Program of Kalu Yala Independent Study Abroad and Entrepreneurial Internships.
“Kalu Yala combined the all-important business experience that a college student like me needs with a chance to experience another country,” said Aherns. “KY knocked out two birds with one stone. It’s different than other programs because it isn’t necessarily a study abroad program or a work-away program. It fills the gap between both of them.”
Kalu Yala Internships is a relatively new program, having just started in the summer of 2010. It allows students to gain valuable work experience while assisting with the building and development of Kalu Yala, a sustainable community that will be built in the mountains about 45 minutes outside Panama City, Panama.
“Kalu Yala is founded on the core tenants of culture, new urbanism architecture, organic food, wellness, recreation, education, preservation, and conservation of the natural environment,” states the program’s website. Physical construction of the Kalu Yala community is planned to begin in July 2014 and is expected to fully utilize local businesses over global ones. Interns spend their time in one of three sites, each with a different concentration. They can spend their semester creating the town’s foundation in Kalu Yala, build relationships in the neighboring town of San Miguel, or working on business logistics in Panama City.
Each semester lasts 11 weeks, and typically interns are current seniors or recent college graduates. Since the company’s beginning in 2010, Kalu Yala Internships has had interns from 43 states, 16 countries, and 123 universities. “The diversity of the people we attract is a huge bonus,” said Kate Stewart, President of Kalu Yala Independent Study Abroad and Entrepreneurial Internships.
Kalu Yala’s programs are based on a “four-and-four” method created by the company. “Our entire company is based around making sure the student is engaged with hands-on learning,” Stewart said. In the morning, interns spend four hours working on director-led projects; in the afternoon, interns can work on a four-hour entrepreneurial project of their choosing. Interns often focus their projects in fields like business, community outreach and education, health and wellness, biology, forestry, outdoor recreation, and agriculture.
As an intern on the business semester, Aherns had responsibilities in addition to working on two main projects. His first task was to design a sales and marketing plan for cottage-style homes being built in the Panamanian highlands. The second was to design a press relations event for an adventure tourism company in conjunction with Kalu Yala.
While Aherns felt fortunate to spend the summer abroad, he came away with mixed feelings toward Kalu Yala. “Because the company is still in the beginning visionary stages, there is not enough substance and operation to give students the type of learning they expect with an internship,” he said. “However, it was great experiencing and hanging out with the locals of the various barrios we visited.”