Posted by: calloftheandes | July 10, 2015

Summer Intern Experience: Adjusting from the Classroom to the Ecuadorian Jungle

Working on spring protection in Iwia

Working on spring protection in Iwia

Story and photos by Rachel Kunker

Six college students thrown into a room—all from different backgrounds—began orientation in late May for a 10-week internship in Ecuador. Together, they are learning what it means to apply engineering on the mission field, bringing people physical water in addition to teaching them community health and development and the love of Christ.

Serving with Reach Beyond, the interns arrived with an attitude of not knowing what to expect but planning to apply the education they have received, eager to see how engineering/medicine and missions would look like together.

As orientation began and their minds were challenged in new ways, the students began to understand that this was not something for which they could prepare. The books they had read simply didn’t teach them how to perform in the context of this developing country.

Although concepts and knowledge were present, the practical application was largely absent in their formal college experience. The interns, for example, began to learn what it means to protect a spring and then go out and apply what they reviewed in the Ecuadorian jungle.

“It’s the difference between being taught something and replicating that versus actual real-world problems that are no longer hypothetical,” explained John, one of the engineering interns shortly after learning how to weld.

The students have been challenged to think in ways unlike anything they’ve experienced before as they learn to consider the obstacles of life and the challenges associated with working hands on. They’ve also been challenged to step out and do certain tasks for the first time.

Jerome Navarro and Jacque Zook working on a pipe.

Jerome Navarro and Jacque Zook working on a pipe at the jungle community of Wayusentsa.

“This experience has given me the opportunity to receive a fuller education,” noted Tim Wolfe regarding his experiences thus far in his internship. “In engineering, neither theory nor practicality can survive without the other, and I believe that the practical experience of this internship complements a university education in such a way as to equip me in both of these areas of the engineering field.”

“I’ve never done this before,” agreed Jacque Zook, paralleling the thoughts of other interns. None had been prepared for what they have been asked to do, but that reveals the importance of actually stepping out to perform those specific tasks. They’re learning everything from helping plan a clean water project to hoisting a water tower.

Part of the beauty in never being fully prepared is learning humility and flexibility. With the vagaries associated with this different culture and climate, it’s impossible to be completely prepared. Flights may be canceled due to rain; parts may not arrive. Interns may fly out to the jungle, or they might not. Either way, they find themselves having to be as prepared as they can be.

Once they get to the jungle, the interns found they must be ready for all types of obstacles and challenges. Community members may not be at work because it’s the day they play fútbol (soccer). The small spring streaming water from the earth they are trying to unearth might disappear at any second. The clean water system recently put in could potentially be destroyed by reckless children. All types of obstacles can and will appear.

This mentality has enabled interns to realize that no, they cannot be fully prepared, but they can still learn. “I like being able to apply the theoretical knowledge I have learned during school in a hands-on environment,” noted Jerome Navarro, another intern.

Medical intern Connor Johnson has also displayed flexibility in his responsibilities, presenting some valuable health talks and using his Spanish to teach in various communities. From one day to the next, plans have changed so he’s needed to go with the flow, taking advantage of opportunities when they present themselves.

Learning is a process, and it’s a process that six interns are excited to embark on together as they discover not what it means to be prepared but that it’s OK when plans go awry and flexibility is a necessity. They’re learning what it means to do and redo time and time again.

The interns are also learning the difference between a collegiate education and using their minds in conjunction with their hands as they assist in community development and medical projects for Ecuador’s remote jungle communities.

Rachel Kunker (pictured with new friends at Wayuzuentsa) is an intercultural studies major at Nyack College in New York, N.Y.

Rachel Kunker (pictured with new friends at Wayusentsa) is an intercultural studies major at Nyack College in New York, N.Y.


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