Alumni Spotlight: Bonnie Burhoe


Bonnie is a 22-year-old female from the Cleveland, Ohio area. She went to school at Kent State University and majored in Recreation, Park, and Tourism Management. While at school she worked at the rec center, primarily at the rock wall and facilitating group programs.

What made this Volunteer/Intern abroad experience unique and special?

Bonnie: This internship experience was unique and special because of the venues, the directors, and the atmosphere (and that’s just scratching the surface!) There are three very different sites: Panama City, San Miguel, and Kalu Yala (the valley). My program took place at Kalu Yala and was a special experience. Something I thought was very beneficial was that all of the interns knew the CEO and most of the higher-ups. They interacted with us and got to know each of us - which I really liked. They encouraged us to voice our concerns and suggest ideas to them. Another reason why I think this internship is well-rounded is because the interns come up with their own projects, do the research and carry out the final plan. This allows everyone to work alongside and help each other throughout the process.

How has this experience impacted your future?

Bonnie: This experience has impacted my future because of the lifestyle we had. We were environmentally aware of our impacts which is something that I want to continue and expand on in my own life. While living in Kalu Yala, we recycled, had two different composts, used biodegradable materials, and tended our garden. This experience helped me professionally because before this experience I wasn’t very good at camping and hiking and the whole summer was spent camping and hiking! I now feel comfortable leading these types of trips. The lifestyle lessons I learned will help me in the field of Parks and Recreation. I found it interesting that I used some of the skills I learned in the classroom out in Kalu Yala.

Tell us about an experience you had that you could not have had at home.

Bonnie: There were a lot of experiences that I don’t think I could have at home. For example, there were tons of very interesting bugs in the valley and getting used to (but not liking) them is one thing I wouldn't have adapted to at home. One of my favorite things about the internship was the community that we built. We ate all our meals together and spent most of our time interacting with each other. Since I don’t have a big family or friend group this is something that I could only wish to have at home. One of the biggest differences was not having electricity. The interns used headlamps at night to see our food, do dishes, and read. I’m used to my TV, computer and cell phone but I really enjoyed, and almost miss, not having those things at my disposal.

What is one piece of advice you'd give future Kalu Yala students?

Bonnie: When I applied to the program there wasn’t much information on the internet about Kalu Yala. Part of me was scared that it was a scam and some friends kept referencing the movie “Taken”. Since then there has been a lot of press about Kalu Yala so the legitimacy of the company is no longer a concern but there isn’t a lot of detail of what people do. I remember thinking back at the reviews I read and thinking all of them were true, that the experience gained isn’t easily put into words. I can say that I’ve been changed but I am unable to give specifics as to why or how. I suggest emailing with previous interns from an area of interest and ask them about their time at Kalu Yala.

Describe your program socially and academically.

Bonnie: I was part of the Outdoor Rec team and I would say that we worked hard and played hard. We were all pretty laid back but very motivated and willing to help each other with their projects. Part of what drove our team was our directors. They were passionate about our ideas and wanted to help us as much as they could. It was hard to stay in a bad mood with everyone around for support but there were plenty of places to go and get space from people. There were a lot of people from various backgrounds, with different skills and interests which led to a lot of great ideas and brainstorming. I feel that people with any type of personality would enjoy this internship. For example, I am more of an introvert and enjoy my alone time. My bed was on a corner so I could always watch what was going on but when I wanted to be social I could come down from the ranchos with everyone.

Did you forget to pack something important? Did you feel as if you were missing something?

Bonnie: I have a bad habit of over packing. There were things that I never took out of my bag. I didn’t use the tent I brought, never wore my sandals or my dresses, and random other things I thought I might use. I don’t think that I over packed but I wish I had just packed differently. A lot of the interns left clothes or shoes there that were ruined or that they didn’t want to bring home. I wish that I had bought a 5 pack of plain, cheap shirts because I brought ones I really liked and they got dirty and stained. This also would have saved room in my backpack. While we were there, one of the other interns rewrote the packing list to be more relevant which was a great idea. Getting in contact with a previous intern will help future participants know what to expect.