Reviews of Internships in South America

With its shores washed by the Caribbean, South Pacific and South Atlantic waters, the continent of South America will have the word 'boredom' erased from your vocabulary. It is the wilder of the Americas with a vast array of internship options as well as adventures to fill your days off. Go straight from the coffee fields of Brazil to the infamous Le Carnival, or explore ancient Machu Picchu on the days in between tending alpaca herds in Peru.

South America is still a very untouched land in terms of mass tourism and has just recently been placed on the hot spot radar for internship programs. Contrary to popular opinion, there is little to no experience required for most positions, making South America a no-brainer choice for anybody, from students, to graduates, to the young professional or curious travelers. Thirteen countries strong, South America is home to astounding natural and cultural wonders with a plethora of available options for planning your perfectly joined tourist and intern experience.

South America's vast mountain range
South America's vast mountain range
  • Main Industries: Agriculture, Fishing, Handicrafts, Natural Resources, and Trade
  • Popular Destinations: Brazil, Argentina, Colombia, Chile, Venezuela and Peru
  • Visa: All South American countries require a valid passport with most also requiring a via, each with varying stipulations; World Travel Guide and BBC are both great sites to visit to find more specific visa requirements.
  • Predominant Languages: Portuguese and Spanish
  • Fun Fact: South America is the only continent in the world to have wild pink dolphins.

South America offers varied opportunities for those with their sight set on interning here. This continent is one of the world's most natural havens, still intricately laced with the cultural influence of its indigenous people, and housing many areas still untouched by the outsiders step. Although many residents are self-sustaining and work solely for themselves and their family, there are still many prospective internships available to the foreign traveler.

Agriculture:

Agriculture constitutes a large sector of South America's economy in both its tropical and its temperate regions. Agriculture products vary from items like a variety of fruits and vegetables, dairy items, meat, livestock, cotton, sugarcane, wool, hides and fish. Livestock production occupies large parts of rural South America, especially cattle ranching; raising beef for export is an important export commodity for Argentina, Uruguay, Paraguay and Colombia.

Among the tropical crops grown for domestic use and for export, coffee is the most important. It is produced mainly in the highlands of Brazil and in central and western Colombia. Fair Trade Coffee Cooperatives, through Global Exchange is a great avenue to venture down as an internship.

Whatever area of agriculture you wish to explore on your internship, and no matter the degree of knowledge you already have, you are sure to return home having learned something new. You will enjoy the benefits reaped from your hard work and see how the South American culture influences the products cultivated from the land.

Community Development:

The decision to intern in the area of community development allows you to create a positive impact in society while connecting to local realities of different communities. Whether you intern in Puerto Toro, Chile, the world's southernmost inhabited community, or in northern South America on the edge of the Panama Canal, your efforts will be appreciated.

You may be involved in campaigns to raise awareness about child workers with your efforts and information targeted at orphanages, schools, hotels, tourism centers, and communication centers. Another branch of community development in South America is to teach how and why basic hygiene is important to local communities. These South American communities are learning how to compost, filter water, and maintain a healthy home through projects that construct ecological refrigerators, cupboards, and cleaner burning stoves, as well as illustrating the benefits of hand washing, proper sewage disposal and general cleanliness. This is a highly valuable initiative to get involved in which will continue to make positive impacts long after your internship is complete.

A local South American town
A local South American town
Eco-Tourism/Environment/Wildlife Conservation:

Nicknamed the "Lungs of the Earth", the Amazon rainforest in South America produces more than 20% of earth's oxygen. The Amazon rainforest, which is miraculously visible from space, covers roughly 2.5 million square miles of the entire continent and is the world's largest remaining natural resource (representing 54% of the total rainforests left on earth). It is no doubt that internships in sustainable living are in high demand.

In general, South America recognizes the value in its resources and has implemented some really beneficial programs to help sustain the environment. Brazil has been a true South American icon as this country has seen local and national efforts in creating quality standards for eco-tourism and sustainable tourism products. Brazil realized the importance of involving the local community in conservation projects and in 1996 set up the Community-based Ecotourism Program, which involved conservation specialists, community leaders, and eco-tourism specialists. This program has supported projects such as the Projeto TAMAR, which is dedicated to the conservation of sea turtles and many other native marine creatures. Brazil has really advanced in the past 20 years and many Brazilian products have won prizes or been finalists in major sustainable tourism awards.

South America's beautiful skies
South America's beautiful skies

Internships aiding in the sustenance of present and future South America are vital. Many areas once destroyed can never be restored. In order to keep South America in its all its natural glory and for humanity to live in harmony with the thousands of species ingrained in the ecosystem, projects focused on eco-tourism, environment, and wildlife conservation are crucial. You do not have to have education or experience to partake in this valuable area; your sincere concern and positive motives will fill the job requirements perfectly.

Healthcare:

The resources found in the rainforest of South America are truly astounding - why not find a healthcare internship in a land where the Amazon rainforest plants have provided, and have the potential to provide major impacts within the medical field. Studies show that 70% of plants found to have anticancer properties thrive only in the rainforest and that 1 out of 4 ingredients in our medicine comes from rainforest plants.

Healthcare and medical internships in South America are filled with various opportunities for volunteers who are interested in medicine and the well-being of the country's residents. You will have the chance to see medical procedures, help in clinical and hospital work, and gain precious medical knowledge and experience that you may not have been exposed to until the second or third year of medical school.

For basic healthcare internships, prior experience is usually unnecessary. High school students interested in becoming doctors, pre-med and medical school students, those on a gap year experience and doctors are all people who are qualified and wanted for these medical internships in South America.

There are some programs, however, that do require a long term commitment and pre-existing skills. Some great organizations to explore and offer your medical expertise include:

Law and Human Rights:

A human rights internship abroad in South America is a wonderful way to make a difference in other people's lives while getting invaluable international work experience. For individuals on a gap year, studying law or a human rights related area at university, or wanting a career break that will broaden their horizons, a law or human rights internship in South America offers a unique cross-cultural exchange that will enhance your resume and increase your prospects within these highly competitive fields.

Journalism and Media:

A journalism internship abroad in South America is a wonderful way to gain insight into the workings of the international media in a new cultural setting. For individuals on a gap year, studying journalism at university, or wanting a career break that will broaden their horizons, an journalism internship in South America offers a unique cross-cultural exchange that will enhance your resume and increase your prospects within the highly competitive journalism industry. From conducting interviews for Radio Del Valle in Bolivia, to writing for one of Argentina's monthly magazine publications, internships offer the opportunity to put together a unique portfolio of journalistic work. Proficiency in both verbal and written Spanish is extremely helpful and often necessary for most journalism internships in South America.

Peru
Peru

Among the community of backpackers who seek adventure, it is a well-known fact that South America has gained popularity in recent years as one of the new frontiers. It is too tempting to ignore the idea of voyaging to this part of the world where economies are continually seeing growth, resources are plentiful, and the cost of living is low. For those intrigued by this ever growing trend, here are the top five South American countries up for consideration by the budding expat:

Chile:

It is no secret that the country of Chile is boldly opening its doors to entrepreneurial foreigners and interns. Many tasty incentives can be utilized such as tax advantages, a lower cost of living, particularly in Santiago, and the recently launched "Startup Chile" program, which not only offers residency to entrepreneurs relocating to Chile but also monetary capital to those who qualify. Chilean economy is dependent largely on agriculture. If you want to try something a little 'out of the box,' head down to Chile's main agricultural area, the Vale of Chile, to stomp some grapes! The large vineyards in the Vale of Chile are the main source of the industry of wine in this vast country.

Brazil:

Today, Brazilian economy is on the rise. Blessed with vast natural resources, including massive oil reserves and fertile farm land, Brazil is well positioned to continue its ascent and become one of the top economies in the world. A growing expat community and a shortage of skilled labor, provide tremendous opportunities for qualified foreigners to find opportunities in the workforce. If there is a downside at all to exploring work in Brazil, it would be that the country, particularly the metropolis of Rio de Janeiro, is gradually getting more expensive as the Brazilian currency gains more global strength. The economy of Brazil relies on many areas including the growing agricultural, mining, manufacturing and service sectors.

Brazil has become the most powerful country in South America in economic terms and has acquired a strong position in global economy. On a more local note, considering the sheer size and variety of Brazil, there is a great deal of intern positions to consider in terms of environmental conservation and wildlife protection. Point of the matter, this may be the most valuable area to dip into in Brazil as a great deal of the Amazon rainforest sprawls across the land. Possibly now more than ever Brazil is requiring the people's attention to the care of its flora, fauna and all species along the food-chain. We need to protect this area known as 'the lungs of the Earth' and fortunately in protecting its own backyard, the Brazilian government is a proven conservation leader.

Argentina:

Argentina is high on the radar for the potential expat. There is already a large expat community present in Argentina with many thriving in the eloquent city of Buenos Aires. There is a positive to every situation; Buenos Aires doesn't exactly have a booming economy, but because of its mismanagement for decades, this beautiful city has become an extremely cheap place to live and work.

With the growing population of westerners, businesses know that by catering to the expat community, everyone will continue to prosper. Argentina has an abundance of natural resources. An agricultural sector which serves Argentina's exports and a wide-ranging industrial base make up Argentina economy. Similar to its Brazilian neighbor, Argentina boasts numerous opportunities in the field of environmental efforts. Efforts are in place to protect this land in terms of wetlands, marine life, rain forests and attention to climate change. This may be the perfect opportunity to spend your internship for a worthy cause and gain valuable insight.

Colombia:

To those in the know, Colombia is fast becoming a favorite among the backpacking crowd. Fortunately, the country is not overrun with expats as the "Colombian Stigma" has historically kept many travelers away. However, for those willing to overlook outdated information and realize that the country is fast becoming a hub for young professionals, there are some fantastic work and intern opportunities. Furthermore, there are excellent investment yields in the Medellin property market. It may be wise to take notice now as forward thinking expats willing to get in early will reap the largest rewards.

The Colombian economy is largely dependent on the agricultural field based on a plump variety of crops produced here; from potatoes to cotton to sugarcane to bananas. As relevant as all of these products are to the Colombian economy, the cream of the crop is the coffee bean. Instead of starting your morning work day with a cup of coffee, why not start it smack in the middle of a coffee plantation in a little place known as 'The Coffee Land".

Paraguay:

Paraguay may seem like the black sheep on this list as leaving the comforts of western society to move to a third world country may sound absurd to many. For the brave interns looking to live cheaply and potentially start their own business on a shoestring budget, or freelancers willing to work remotely, this place is ripe with opportunity. An added bonus is that obtaining residency here is not difficult at all. Landlocked Paraguay is rich in agricultural land, has a large freshwater supply and boasts the largest hydroelectric facility on earth. There is definitely comfort in knowing that in an era with commodity prices and energy costs rising sharply, Paraguay is well equipped moving forward and non dependent on other nations for many essential amenities. There is not a large expat community here, but this may be your chance to break ground!

Paraguay has a market economy characterized by a large informal sector. A large portion of the population is not involved in the formal economy, instead existing as subsistence farmers. Additionally, the economy owes a lot to the activities of thousands of micro-enterprises and urban street vendors. For those willing to roll up their sleeves and do some manual labor, Paraguay boasts intern options in both the areas of agriculture and traditional artisan craft.

When and Where to Look for an Internship:

Internships are a wonderful choice while traveling as it may help determine if you have an interest in a particular career, create a network of contacts, or gain school credit. There is not a general point in the year to start looking for an internship as it all depends on the industry you are interested in. If you are looking for a position in Agriculture, for example, be sure to apply prior to and be available during the time of busy harvest and picking season.

Cost of Living in South America:

Internships are typically an unpaid position and consists of an exchange of services for experience between the intern and his or her employer. Although rare, it is possible to find paid internships most commonly in the medical field and for those with prior experience and education. Some interns also find permanent, paid employment with the companies in which they interned. This is actually quite common as it is a benefit to the employer to have an experienced intern that needs little or no training once full-time regular employment begins.

Sunset in South America
Sunset in South America

The cost of living in South America can range roughly from 650.00 - 1000.00 USD, dependent on which country you are based in and the lifestyle you lead. For those with a lower budget, explore the options of Bolivia, Colombia, Ecuador and Peru; there are many locations to call home in Argentine, Brazil, Chile and Uruguay for those with a higher budget and more disposable funds.

Travel throughout South America can be costly as the land is so large; traveling from one area to the next will take multiple hours therefore costing you more. A smart way to stretch your dollar and still see as much of this splendid continent as possible is to explore one area fully before moving on to the next. Do not plan on jumping all over the place as journeying back and forth and doubling back will also double your expense.

A few other surefire ways to save here and there include choosing homestays rather than rental accommodations, buying from local markets, rather than commercialized companies, take local transportation, or trade your skills for daily necessities (ie: tutor a family's children in exchange for a place to sleep or occasional meals).

Culture and Etiquette:
  • Language: In 1500 there were an estimated 6 to 9 million Amazon natives. By 1900 the number has gone down to one million left in Brazil. Today, the number is believed to be of around 250,000 Amazon natives, comprising 215 ethnic groups with 170 different languages. Portuguese is the most spoken language in South America, followed by Spanish, which is the official language of most countries. Each country has its own official language largely influenced by the colonization of earlier days; for example Dutch is the official language of Suriname. English is widely known cross South America making it fairly easy travel for those uneducated in more than one language. Your internship options may be more diverse if you have some background in either Portuguese or Spanish.
  • South American Culture
    South American Culture
  • Time: In all South American countries, the attitude toward time is less rigid than among North Americans and a 30-minute delay should not be a surprise. In fact, among close associates, it is recommended that, when setting times for appointments, ask "la hora inglesa, o la hora espanol?" This means "the English hour" (meaning promptly at the time specified) or "the Latin hour" (meaning at 30 minutes late).
  • Business Interactions: Latinos, in general, are a very warm and friendly people and enjoy casual?conversation before getting down to business. This casual conversation is aimed at getting to know you personally as the interest is more in you, the person, rather than you as a representative of some faceless corporation. Personal space is of no concern during social or business conversation. Expect to stand close together, casual touching and, of course, the "abrazo", or embrace, among good friends. Do not be startled to have a Latin businessman hold your elbow while conversing, or walk down the street arm-in-arm.
Why Intern in South America?

No matter which industry you choose to internship in, it will be a choice well made. South America is a land rich in possibilities, lessons, and experiences; a true gem within our seemingly fast paced world. The laid back nature of this continent is perfect for the student, graduate or young professional who is seeking insight into their own personal and/or professional life. Your experience here will not be limited to your time spent on the job for what is most enjoyable about a journey through South America is the unexpected. So with an open mind and a voyager's sense of exploration, start your own journey to South America, where adventure is waiting.


Contributed by Ashley Persson

Ashley is an aspiring author currently braving the elements in Saskatchewan, Canada. She lives and breathes all aspects of culture, constantly looking for new avenues leading to great experiences. Along with some of her own world exploring, Ashley knows the ins-and-outs of travel through her tourism and marketing background. Meet her on her website: Life University

Photo Credit: Botafogo Bay, Brazil

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