Dreaming of relaxing in the sun on a beautiful tropical island? Or perhaps you secretly desire to become an accomplished salsa dancer? Well you can do both while working in a dream job, by interning in the idyllic paradise of the Caribbean.
The Caribbean is a geographical region made up of over 7000 islands, cays and islet including the largest islands of Cuba, Jamaica, Hispaniola (shared by Haiti and the Dominican Republic) and Puerto Rico. The region is a mixture of sovereign states, overseas territories and dependencies. The Caribbean region has a range of unique environments, both land and marine that result in internships in environmental conservation, tourism and marketing/PR/media.
Environment and Wildlife Conservation: The Caribbean region is currently rated as one of the world’s top three biodiversity hot-spots. The rich tropical habitat found here is home to large numbers of unique flora and fauna. Since the 1500’s, agricultural practices, the introduction of foreign species, and recent tourism development, has severely degraded terrestrial and marine natural environments. Significant numbers of species are now endangered and regional coral reefs, considered some of the world’s most important marine ecosystems, are under severe threat.
Community Development: Economic stability and achievement varies considerably across the Caribbean. Smaller islands are more vulnerable to volatile economic conditions, declines in trade and the impact of natural disasters from seasonal hurricanes. High rates of poverty and unemployment exist in many areas, with poverty worst in rural areas and amongst the unskilled. Female participation in employment is still relatively low in many countries.
Employment amongst the poor tends to be in low-paid, low-skill jobs. Large squatter communities exist, due to lack of housing availability in Haiti, Trinidad and Tobago, Jamaica and Cuba, exacerbating health and social issues.
Teaching/Education: While primary school attendance and literacy is overall quite good, in some areas where extreme poverty exists, education levels are poor and high unemployment rates exist. To develop sustainable solutions to this type of poverty, NGO and other organizations have programs teaching English language skills. This increases the population’s employment prospects and is an especially important skill for working in business or service areas such as tourism.
Internships are available to teach English to school children and in adult literacy programs. Although there are opportunities to teach music or other specialist areas of knowledge, these are often informal or available in specific locations only e.g. Jamaica.
Health: Basic healthcare is available to much of the population in the Caribbean. Despite much improved rates of life expectancy and infant mortality over the last century, there are still serious issues to address. Life expectancy rates are only at a level equivalent to North America thirty years ago. Healthcare has suffered in recent decades due to reduced government spending, a lack of public healthcare leadership and poor management practices and systems.
Newer health problems such as HIV, obesity and diabetes are now contributing to lowering of life expectancy rates. The frequent reoccurrence of natural disasters also doesn’t help. Dire economic circumstances in areas such as Haiti exacerbate healthcare problems because of woefully inadequate resourcing.
Opportunities are usually available for those 18 years or older or for college students enrolled in a course relevant to the internship. Nearly all internships are unpaid and require you to pay a fee and airfares to the location. The fee often covers accommodation, local travel, training costs, and sometimes food. Fee based internships vary in what they cover, so it is wise to check this out before accepting. Provided accommodation is usually basic and sometimes rustic in rural areas. The accommodation is often homestay or in local quarters shared with other interns.
When and Where to Look for an Internship:
Most internship applications are available through volunteer organizations online and require some processing time ahead of the start date. The internships are often available over the spring or summer period but long-term situations are available too. Would-be interns should plan ahead at least 6-12 months to ensure they get a placement or can organize arrangement for college credits and any references needed.
Cost of Living in the Caribbean:
Where the internship is fee based, this will often cover most expenses. For those paying for private accommodation, they will find that some islands are very expensive e.g. Jamaica and the British Virgin Isles. Fortunately the Dominican Republic, one of the most popular places for internships, also happens to be a lot cheaper.
Other examples of local costs (USD):
- Puerto Rico (San Juan): Rent $400-$500/mth for single apartment; groceries: $300-$400/mth; eating out for dinner $15-20.
- British Virgin Islands: Rent $1000-$1400/mth for single apartment; groceries $400-$500/mth; eating out for lunch: $20-25 or dinner: $40-50.
Work Culture in the Caribbean:
Language: Some internships require only English fluency. Many others though require beginner to intermediate Spanish levels which may equate to 1-2 years of high school level training. If you are likely to work in Haiti or Guadeloupe, French language skills or Creole fluency may be useful as well.
Networking: Could be worthwhile for large NGOs on the bigger islands of Jamaica, Cuba and Hispaniola. It may pay to keep in contact with local NGOs such as Force d'Entraide et de Developpement Integre and Tu Mujer Inc. (for community development); and Grupo Jaragua (for conservation).