For FIU student Ana Correa, this was the summer of exploration.
After taking a few classes in international relations, Correa found herself wondering if she was still passionate enough about advertising to make it a career. When she least expected it, a chance email from the Office of Global Learning Initiatives helped set up Correa with an opportunity to make sure.
“This was going to be a little taste of something I maybe wanted to do in the long run,” Correa said.
The message introduced Correa to the San Francisco-based nonprofit group blueEnergy, which offers college students internships that put them to work on sanitation or sustainable energy projects, or addressing issues caused by climate change in the seaside town of Bluefields in Nicaragua.
It would be unlike any other study abroad or alternative break Correa had experienced. She would be away from home for five weeks, and with limited access to phone and Internet; she would be almost completely cut off from friends and family.
“In the first week and a half, I was doubting if this was going to be what I wanted to do,” Correa said. “It was really tiring and there was a bit of culture shock at first. There was a lot to take in.”
Not that she let on, according to Mathias Craig, blueEnergy’s global executive director.
“For Ana specifically, you could tell right away she was totally into it,” Craig said. “She was eyes wide open and engaged in every activity.”
Craig, who became a mentor for Correa, noticed how she took the initiative in working on blueEnergy’s climate change adaptation group, which was tasked with helping local residents make home gardens to grow fruits and vegetables that could withstand changing temperatures, water shortages or floods.
“When you think of malnutrition, you think of people who are thin and underweight,” Correa said. “The problem is that they’re not getting enough proper nutrition, which is reflected in their height and development throughout their late childhood and early teen years.”
For five weeks, Correa surveyed residents about their existing gardens, analyzed what crops were most common and determined their nutritional value.
Other interns will show them techniques on how to plant different fruits and vegetables to see what’s hearty enough to survive and to see whether any of the traditional methods of planting still work.
If only Mother Nature was predictable.
“Probably the biggest change they’re facing is shifting rain,” Craig said. “We’re seeing more water falling per rain event, leading to erosion and killing crops. There are more dramatic rain events further apart so you get longer dry spells. Seasonality is shifting in unpredictable ways.”
Now, the bean crop that would have been planted during the perfect time of year stands to either die from drought or flood, Craid said.
“All of a sudden you’re dependent on that bean crop,” he said “It’s not a luxury.”
During her internship, Correa also had the opportunity to stay with a local resident for three days. She ate local dishes and experienced the challenges they face on a daily basis.
“The main difference is they have to get water from a well during the rainy season and we had bucket showers – but it wasn’t bad at all,” Correa said. “There was no air conditioning for the most part, and although they might live in a small wooden house, everyone had a flatscreen television and watched Caso Cerrado.”
Correa’s host also made a traditional dish called “rundon,” a stew made with cassava, plantains, boiled banana, coconut milk and breadfruit.
But perhaps the most important things Correa and the other interns learned this summer was how non-profits are able to overcome challenges to make a long-term difference, and to develop skills needed to succeed in the workplace.
“You have to develop skills of empathy, to listen, to understand, and to work with multicultural teams,” Craig said. “Today you have to develop a different way of working and different way of thinking. You can’t get ready for that in the classroom.”
Now back in Miami, Correa – who is one of nearly 5,000 FIU students participating in an internship this year – has changed her major.
“I would love to go back eventually and see the outcomes of the projects that we started this summer,” said Correa, now an international relations major. “At the end of the day it wasn’t about my comfort. It was really hard to leave and I know this is something I want to do in the long term.”