Student internship at sustainable community provides wealth of opportunity

Catherine Kalina poses with a girl in Panama City, Panama. Psychology and sociology senior Katie Kalina poses with a child in Panama City, Panama. Kalina completed an internship with Kalu Yala last summer to build a community that emphasizes sustainability. (Photo courtesy of Katie Kalina)

Kalu Yala is not the name of a tropical drink. It's a community that will soon be built in the mountains outside of Panama City, Panama.

Psychology and sociology senior Katie Kalina entered a summer internship with the Kalu Yala program hoping to gain a unique experience that would benefit her in the future.

"One of my goals going in was to learn and get a glimpse of the culture, and it wound up being just as much for me as it was for them," she said.

Before this internship, Kalina studied abroad in Europe, traveling through London, Dublin and Edinburgh, Scotland.

But her experience in Kalu Yala was out of the ordinary in many ways. She worked within the educational outreach program, teaching English at an elementary school level, and picked up some Spanish on the way.

"I learned the value of hot sauce!" Kalina said.

Kate Stewart, president of Kalu Yala Internships, described the internship as "off the beaten path."

"Our interns meet other passionate, like-minded, young people from a wide variety of vocations and backgrounds in an international setting," Stewart said in an email.

The internship program is designed to go beyond the typical overseas experience, giving students a chance to be immersed in a culture as they build it. Students are encouraged to create their own projects and work independently, holding themselves accountable for delivering progress reports to their directors. The program also provides a more structured program in which directors lead students.

"Anyone would benefit from it," Kalina said. "You have to go into it with an open mind and be open to new experiences."

Kalina's mother, Jan Kalina, said she noted the change in her daughter after she returned home from the 10-week internship in Panama.

"Katie was so inspired. She was working with young people who have accomplished so much in their early years of life," Jan said.

The goal of the Kalu Yala project is to build a city that is worked into the natural landscape of the environment. Students who enter the program help prepare land for sustainable agriculture, study the biological impact of building a water system, reach out within the community and engage with the local culture.

"When she entered the program, I hoped she would have some experiences that she hadn't had before," Jan said. "She's sort of adventurous!"

The developing town will work closely with the neighboring community of San Miguel as well as within the business culture of nearby Panama City to create lasting relationships with the cities.

There are opportunities for students to do internships across a wide array of majors, including agricultural studies, animal science, biology, business, health and wellness, education and outdoor recreation.

The city of Kalu Yala is still in the planning stages of being built from the ground up, which will provide a wealth of opportunity for interns of various majors to enter the program and shape the community.

"It definitely was a unique experience, " Kalina said. "An internship like this is something I would say anyone should do."


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