Intern Experience: Caroline’s Environmental Internship in Costa Rica

Rachel Vandegrift

As she finished her junior year at Temple University, Caroline knew she wanted to broaden her professional horizons through an international internship.

Passionate about her majors in Media Studies & Production and Environmental Studies, Caroline was looking for an opportunity to focus on creative media production and communication, while also educating herself and others on environmental and social justice issues.

With previous experience volunteering, podcasting, conducting documentary work, and other leadership opportunities, she knew an internship in San José was the perfect next step to advance her career.

Read about Caroline’s life-changing, "Pura Vida" experience interning in Costa Rica!

Why I decided to intern abroad

When Caroline visited Temple University’s Global Opportunities office, she learned she could get credit for her major and intern full-time in the summer. She instantly knew it was what she had to do!

Her passion for the environment, desire to leave the U.S. for the first time, and ambition to challenge herself in a new experience, all led her to choose interning in San José, Costa Rica.

According to Caroline, San José, Costa Rica is the perfect place for “thrill seekers, nature lovers, and anyone in between.” The country’s biodiversity and stunning natural landscapes have something for everyone. Plus, the reasonable cost of living in San José makes it a great destination for budget-conscious travelers.

San José, Costa Rica

Friends and family

Caroline’s internship was also her first time traveling internationally. Although everyone was surprised she chose to go to Central America, Caroline’s family and friends were very supportive of her decision:

“When I told people I was going abroad, I think they were all expecting I would go to a popular European city, so most people were pretty surprised I chose San José, Costa Rica!”

San José, Costa Rica may not be a destination on everyone’s bucket list, but it should be! Combining a mix of a laid back culture, a vibrant city lifestyle, and plenty of opportunities to escape the city and adventure into nature, San José has something for everyone.

“Costa Rica is so beautiful and filled with outrageous biodiversity, which is why so many people come here to see the mountains and beaches! I made sure to see both the Caribbean and the Pacific coasts since both are so different. I also got to do a good amount of hiking in some parks and reserves. In addition, the planned GE group activities allowed us all to see different towns and cities in Costa Rica, which was cool!”

My environmental internship

Caroline completed her environmental internship with the Centro Científico Tropical (Tropical Science Center) in San José. Established in 1962, this nonprofit, non-governmental organization:

  • Does climate and environmental research, making contributions to important decisions affecting natural resources in the tropics, 
  • Manages nature reservations, protected land areas, and National Parks, and
  • Runs educational programs about contemporary environmental issues and creates direct action at the community level.

Caroline interned with the communications team within the organization: she interviewed CCT employees and edited the footage to create a “CCT in 90 Seconds” video series. By conducting interviews in Spanish, she was able to develop her language skills, which made the end product more rewarding!

Environmental Internship

A day in my life abroad

Once interns settle in their new home, they get into a routine of going to their internship, exploring the city, and spending time with other interns on the program.

Each morning, Caroline lived the “Pura Vida” or “Simple Life” motto of San José by taking a short walk to her internship. Once there, she interviewed her colleagues, edited videos, and published them on the Tropical Science Center website. Using her creative skills, she also assisted her supervisor with brainstorming new graphic design projects.

The presence of nature in San José is no joke. Caroline learned this when she discovered a cat and four turtles living in the patio outside her office! After taking a break to visit the animals, she finished her daily tasks, and left for downtown San José. After a short bus ride, she met up with a friend for coffee and pastries in the city center.

To show off her unique perspective on life in Costa Rica, she “took over” the Global Experiences Snapchat for a day: “I was excited to do it because San José needs a lot of representation and promotion because it’s a new, unique location!” Check it out (and meet the turtles!) below:


Professional skills I gained

Communicating with coworkers in a bilingual office space can pose challenges and also bring great benefits. Caroline was able to strike a “happy medium” between working independently and acknowledging when to ask coworkers for help:

“I feel more comfortable with being uncomfortable now, which is a really important aspect of growing up and getting out into the job market. Growing and learning about oneself is definitely something that happens overtime, so I think I will feel the impact of this trip in ways that have yet to be uncovered.”

Besides developing self awareness and confidence, she was able to develop other skills like video editing, conducting interviews, and speaking Spanish.

My coworkers and office experience

Caroline was somewhat surprised with the differences she saw at her San José office, compared to the work culture in the United States:

“Here in Costa Rica, the culture is very collective. I could see this difference because for breakfast and lunch in the office, everyone comes together and eats at a big table. In the U.S, it's very normal to just eat on-the-go and not fully participate in sharing quality meals with other people. They want to see me really be part of the team.”

Through her internship, Caroline solidified that she wants to continue working with organizations that focus on the development and well-being of local communities. She is now more confident in using her experience to work with nonprofits and NGOs that educate communities through creative media campaigns.

Overall, Caroline’s internship with the Tropical Science Center was a great balance between both her interests in media and the environment!

Caroline's Internship Team

Adapting to a different culture

Adapting to a new style of life can bring challenges to even the most experienced travelers. After some initial culture shock in the first week of the program, Caroline learned to embrace the quirks and differences of Costa Rican culture:

“Ever since, I have been really enjoying my time here and feel validated in my choice. San José isn’t a city like Barcelona or Paris where there’s glamour and excitement right away. I honestly am so thankful I chose this location because it is so authentic and you get a taste of the culture right away. It has been so humbling and such a rich educational and personal experience.”

With a positive attitude and the right tools, everyone can successfully overcome cultural shock and learn to appreciate both the challenges and excitement of living abroad.

Advice to future interns

Caroline’s internship in Costa Rica gave her a chance to use the skills she learned in the classroom and create goals for her professional future. It also gave her the perfect opportunity to reflect on her internal self:

“Interning abroad will advance your personal self-clarity and professional goals. It is not your average study abroad experience, it is challenging and very rewarding! As someone who has never had an internship nor been abroad before, this experience was well beyond my comfort zone. However, sticking to your aspirations and pushing boundaries almost always yields a fulfillment unlike any other!"

San José, Costa Rica

It’s your turn!

Caroline had a once in a lifetime experience interning in San José. She not only had a hands-on internship in her field, but she had an authentic and unique cultural experience that was personally transformative.

So, what are you waiting for? Embark on your own unique international internship experience today!

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