The country of Ecuador may be small, but within its borders lays an incredibly diverse landscape of mountains, volcanoes, jungles, and beaches. It is home to the famous Galápagos Islands and the Amazon rainforest. Among the cobbled streets of its cities is evidence of Ecuador’s rich history, merging indigenous and colonial cultures to create its own unique identity. For anyone seeking outdoor adventure and pristine natural beauty, Ecuador is the ideal destination.Photo credits: Simon Matzinger.
Ecuador is a nation rife with natural resources, yet still striving toward overall prosperity and equality. For obvious reasons, interns looking to work in nature will find countless opportunities, but there are many opportunities for those looking to work in the social sector as well. Ecuador is home to many NGOs dedicated to improving communities and the lives of the people in them.
Community Development: As a developing nation and one with large economic disparities, Ecuador’s smaller, rural communities are still struck by poverty and a lack of resources and education. Because of this, there are many opportunities for interns wishing to work in the field of community development. Interns are able to work directly with groups and individuals to empower them and provide them with the skills needed to effect change in their communities.
Eco-tourism/Environment/Wildlife Conservation: With some of the most diverse and complex eco-systems in the world, Ecuador is the perfect place for interns looking to pursue a career in ecology or environmental studies. Whether you are interested in tourism or conservation, mountains, oceans or jungles, there is something here for everyone. Some of the most popular destinations include the Galápagos Islands, for its unique evolutionary history, and the Oriente region of Ecuador, for its virtually untouched and unexplored tropical forests.
Human Rights: Human rights have been a major issue in Ecuador for many years. Police and government corruption, indigenous persecution and tight restrictions of freedom of speech are among some of the larger issues. There are many opportunities with NGO’s and within indigenous communities to make a real and lasting difference.
Before arriving in Ecuador, it’s important to get a good understanding of the country’s history, culture and landscape. Read guidebooks and Ecuadorian newspapers to get some context on these things. Research the city you plan to go to and the organization or company you plan to intern with thoroughly beforehand to be sure you’re getting an experience that is just right for you.
When and Where to Look for an Internship
Looking for an internship and making all the arrangements for your stay can be very overwhelming at times. Many interns decide to use an internship placement program to avoid some of the stress and uncertainty. These programs will not only help you find an internship in your desired field, but also usually offer an orientation upon arrival, pick up and drop off from the airport, cultural excursions, accommodations, and language classes. Most placement programs require a fee for their services, but many interns find that it is worth the extra investment.
Internship opportunities in Ecuador vary in duration, however most organizations ask for a one to three month minimum commitment, in order to allow time for the intern to become acclimated to a new city, culture and the job.
Because the elevation and climate in Ecuador changes drastically from place to place, it is hard to generalize the best time to visit. Where you’re planning your internship may determine when you will want to visit. Weather in the highlands, lowlands and coastal areas differ greatly. Check out Lonely Planet to see more on the high and low seasons for each region.
Etiquette: Workplace etiquette in Ecuador is not so different from that of other places. It is best to dress professionally and address all new acquaintances by their title (Mr, Mrs, etc). Women should dress conservatively as not to draw unwanted attention.
Ecuadorians typically converse with one another much more closely than North Americans. Don’t be alarmed or offended by this proximity while talking to natives.
Also, be aware that Ecuadorians find it rude to yawn during conversation, as it is perceived as boredom and disinterest.
Language: It is beneficial to have a basic knowledge of the Spanish language before beginning your internship, however it is not necessary. Most placement programs offer or can help you find intensive Spanish courses. It is a good idea to utilize these resources, regardless of your proficiency level. You will find it difficult to get around without at least a basic understanding of the language. English is not widely spoken here. Aside from business professionals or those working in the tourism industry, most Ecuadorians know little to no English.
There are many internship opportunities for both Spanish speakers and non-speakers. Depending on the type of work being done, professional internships will often require more advanced Spanish skills.
Work and Labor Laws in Ecuador
Ecuadorian labor laws do not extend to unpaid interns. If this is a concern, it may be wise to outline the expectations and responsibilities of your position with your employer before arriving. Paid positions are much harder to obtain and require an Ecuadorian work visa.