Alumni Spotlight: Teresa Stastny


Teresa's passions involve working with entrepreneurs and startups while traveling to places that are often off the beaten path. She studied at Kalu Yala after her sophomore year at the University of Tulsa.

Why did you choose this program?

This program found me. I wasn't actively looking for a summer internship or Study Abroad experience, but when I saw a Facebook ad to live in the jungle and build a sustainable community, I jumped on it. After looking through photos and videos on their website, I knew that Kalu Yala would push me outside my comfort zone, and be an experience like none other. I started following alum and staff on Instagram, and the more I learned about the people at Kalu Yala, the more I knew I would fit in perfectly.

What did your program provider assist you with, and what did you have to organize on your own?

I went to a smaller private university that encourages all students to go abroad. They have hundreds of programs offered, but Kalu Yala was not one of them. I had to work with Kalu Yala staff and the University of Tulsa to appeal this program for class credit. Both sides helped me find the information I needed to complete Kalu Yala as a Study Abroad program.

I had to organize my own flights and phone service, but Kalu Yala arranged transportation from the airport to a hostel, where the interns who flew in early lived for the first weekend.

What is one piece of advice you'd give to someone going on your program?

Leave all expectations at home. Kalu Yala is not your typical, perfectly organized, perfectly planned Study Abroad experience. Kalu Yala is evolving itself, changing every semester.

If you go in with expectations that everything will be perfect, or that everything will be done for you and you get to just relax by the rio, forget it. The only way a startup community works is if everyone helps outs. But don't let this scare you from living at Kalu Yala. Once you are in the community, you want to help.

Some of my favorite mornings were when I was on coffee duty. I would wake up before 5 AM to get the coffee started – and I don't even drink coffee. It was these early mornings when I would fully take in my surroundings; I could feel the jungle waking up just as our town square started to buzz.

What does an average day/week look like as a participant of this program?

Kalu Yala has over 10 programs, and your day will vary depending on the program. Sustainable Ag and Biology spend more time in the farm or hiking than the Business Development team.

Being in the Business Development team, we spent more time brainstorming and problem solving than exploring the environment around us during "class time." My favorite parts of the day were meal times; everyone who was in camp would get together, and eat three times a day. Often, this included music coming from the kitchen and a dance party. After the working day is over, there were always activities to do as a community – from open mic nights to volleyball games, BBQs to planting pineapples.

Going into your experience abroad, what was your biggest fear, and how did you overcome it? How did your views on the issue change?

I didn't have any fears going into Kalu Yala, (although I can't say the same for my parents!) I was ready to start something completely new, and get my hands dirty. By the time I left for Kalu Yala, I was tired of living in the city – disconnected from where our food comes from, and where our waste goes.

I didn't know what to expect so I used that to my advantage – to keep my mind wide open, and learn to appreciate everything for what it was. The good, the bad, everything.

What was your favorite part about the people at Kalu Yala?

A community is nothing without its people. That is nowhere more apparent than at Kalu Yala.

This is the only community I have lived in where everyone was encouraged to be and become exactly who they are and want to be.

When I was at Kalu Yala, I started writing poetry that was very vulnerable and personal. Every other Wednesday, I would get onstage and read it – promptly followed by a funny rap or song remix. I read my poetry to test my limits, and followed it with a funny song or rap to cover up some of that vulnerability. Every time I walked off that stage, I felt love, encouragement, and acceptance that is unparalleled.