My internship bringing sustainable solutions to Nicaragua

ColName: Annette Dominguez 

dominguez-photo-1Hometown: Miami, Florida

Major: Sustainability with a certificate in public policy (Global Learning)

Where did you intern and what did you do there? I interned at blueEnergy – an international organization dedicated to sustainable solutions to complex challenges in Bluefields, Nicaragua – for 4 weeks. Our team hosted workshops to help local residents become energy independent by utilizing clean energy, solar power, and creating household gardens for food. We also worked on projects to provide easier access to filtered water.

I stayed for a weekend with local residents, getting a taste of everyday life, as well as Nicaraguan food; I temporarily experienced challenges that most Nicaraguans face regularly, such as electrical outages, bucket showers, no microwave – things that most of us in the United States are accustomed to and make us privileged.

What projects did you work on? I worked in the Climate Change department of blueEnergy. We interviewed people who attended blueEnergy’s biointensive gardening and/or nutrition workshops to get their feedback – Were they able to practice what they learned from the workshops? What challenges did they face while attempting to make some lifestyle changes?

We wanted to learn the impact, if any, our workshops had on the people who attended in hopes of improving them.

How did you get your internship? I learned about it from an FIU email to students, and applied because I saw it as an opportunity to gain experience working for a non-profit organization, both in the office and in the field. I also thought it would be beneficial for me to grow as a person because I’d be challenged mentally, physically and emotionally, and travel to somewhere I had never visited.

How did your internship connect back to your coursework? It is relevant in my current public health and nutrition course, where topics mentioned in the course remind me of the experiences I had in the summer internship. But in general, it was helpful in obtaining a global perspective, especially because I had never traveled outside of the United States.

What was the coolest thing about your internship? I went snorkeling near coral reefs for the first time, camped at one of the Pearls Cay islands, and gazed at the clear night sky. I went on a group hike in harsh conditions – rain, mud and even thunder at one point. And I bathed in a lake. It was an opportunity to escape my comfort zone, and enjoy experiences closer to nature.

What did you like most about your experience? I like that I was challenged because I was in a less privileged environment than the one I’m accustomed to at home. I found myself in situations where I had to be a minimalist, prioritizing the essential things. By visiting new places and trying different activities as well as food, I was exposed to a different culture, which was refreshing, and eye-opening.

What did you learn about yourself? It was my first trip outside of the United States, and alone (without parents, friends, or someone I already knew), and I was able to handle myself. I realized that I can be introverted, but when it came to interviewing people it felt familiar because I was studying journalism originally. 

How did the position increase your professional confidence? This position increased my professional confidence because I was not limited to helping in an office setting, but worked in the field. It’s different learning in a classroom environment where one reads or hears about something rather than actually learning through experiencing or seeing something for oneself. I have been exposed to working in an organization where collaboration and patience is a must, especially because tasks can be delayed and plans changed.

How did you expand your professional network? I see myself either working in an non-profit organization or for a local government; this internship was the perfect opportunity for me to learn how a non-profit organization functions. On top of that, two leaders from blueEnergy are visiting FIU in March for Ashoka U Exchange; keeping in contact with them can help me find potential job opportunities and build connections.

How did it help you prove yourself in the “real-world?” I was challenged to adapt to certain conditions that I may not deal with as often or at all in the United States. I gained an understanding of another culture and opened my mind to other ways of thinking. Sometimes the electricity went out, and I managed with flashlights. I took a couple of bucket showers because water didn’t run, and no two toilets were the same wherever I went. There were no water fountains, and I had to rely on filtered or bottled water, plus there was no air conditioning, so most people own fans. The environment is not up to the developed world standard, but it is humbling, and one realizes that each person experiences different struggles.

What advice do you have for those beginning the internship process? Welcome challenges; you will not regret traveling somewhere different from home. You will grow, learn and make connections – hopefully personally, socially and professionally. You will experience challenges, adventures and will leave with great memories. It’s an opportunity that does not come everyday. In the case of the blueEnergy internship, be prepared in that you should make sure to bring what they suggest; it will all come in handy.