The Kalu Yala Institute: Environment & Community Internships in Panama

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At Kalu Yala, we are in the process of building the world's most sustainable modern village nestled in the Panamanian rainforest in an ecologically-responsible way. Within the Institute, programs take place in two venues: creating the town's foundation in Kalu Yala, and developing relationships in our neighboring town of San Miguel. All programs will participate in a outdoor valley-based seminar each Monday on the Foundations of Innovation, Creativity, and Sustainability, and many interdisciplinary and cultural programming with be offered. Many programs will collaborate with and learn from Panamanian contacts in various academic fields and esteemed institutions.

  • Biology: Gain a broad understanding of rainforest systems
  • Business: Plan, fund, and launch a new company in only two months
  • Construction Arts: Become adept at post & beam carpentry and structural masonry
  • Culinary Arts: Work directly with local farms on maintaining a local, seasonal menu
  • Design Thinking: Combine independent thinking with technical skills
  • Engineering: Design, build, and test all the systems necessary to support a thriving population
  • Hospitality: Learn how to manage a visitor experience built around human connection to nature
  • Media Arts: Reinvent the way we tell stories about sustainability and the world as a whole.
  • Outdoor Recreation: Enhance your outdoor skills and knowledge out in the field
  • Political Science: Dive into rural challenges and solutions in Latin America
  • Public Education & Community Development: Develop effective community-organizing tactics
  • Public Health & Wellness: Learn what constitutes the wellbeing of individuals and communities
  • Sustainable Agriculture: Grasp permaculture farm planning & management
  • Sustainable education
  • Off-the-grid living
  • Farm-to-Table meals
  • Design your own project
  • Free Spanish classes

Questions & Answers

10 weeks
The costs change semester to semester, I suggest you email them at [email protected]
Different semesters have different numbers of people applying and so do different programs. Generally the summer semester has the most people wanting to come, but program popularity can vary a lot from one semester to the next. Overall, though, about 1/4-1/3 will be interviewed after applying, and about 1/4-1/3 of people will be accepted and attend.
We don't have independent accreditation, but the majority of people that come and are currently enrolled at an accredited institution get their semester approved for credit through their school. Overall, about 75% of students who are enrolled in a college or university and try to get credit for their semester at Kalu Yala are able to get it qualified. You'll need to speak with your adviser and/or...


based on 29 reviews
  • Impact 9
  • Support 9.3
  • Fun 9.5
  • Value 9.2
  • Safety 8.4
  • Housing 9
  • Support 10
  • Fun 10
  • Value 10
  • Safety 9
Showing 1 - 15 of 29
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Once in a Lifetime Experience

I had a phenomenal time during my semester at Kalu Yala. It's such a unique opportunity to fully immerse yourself in a community that's so passionate, curious and dedicated to sustainability. My 10 weeks were spent working in the Construction Arts program, which was a big shift for a law student from the city.

Living in a tropical rainforest isn't always easy; there are a lot of bugs and the humidity was like nothing I'd experienced before. Ultimately though, the challenges are what bring people together. Friendships are built in an incredibly short period of time. Working off the grid allows for a digital detox, and there's no shortage of swimming holes, hikes or beautiful areas to explore. It's truly blissful being forced to slow down, reflect and reconnect with nature.

So many of the staff excel in their areas of expertise. One of my highlights was getting to learn from such hard-working and innovative teachers. The culture at Kalu Yala is one that encourages creativity and celebrates failure. Many projects are a matter of trial and error; seeing how we can tackle issues in a way that's financially, socially and environmentally responsible. You work hard, but it's a privilege seeing Kalu Yala's vision of a sustainable town coming to fruition.

Yes, I recommend this program
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Be Prepared

Kalu Yala was the best summer of my life. I learned more in that summer than in most of my college career. The focus is to build a community. Each student/intern focuses on one individual (or group) project and a program project. You have free reign to focus on what interests you.

This isn't to say the program was easy or sunshine and rainbows (Panama rains a lot). Building a community is hard messy. But Kalu Yala can be the best experience of your life if you will let it. Use it as an opportunity to practice not having expectations, for living in the moment, for appreciating the big and the small for exactly what they are. Do not do this program if you want to be comfortable. If you expect to be comfortable, or to have an easy semester, you will not make it.

If you are open to an experience and willing to take it for exactly what it is (it will be different to everyone) then apply for Kalu Yala. You owe it to yourself to take the chance and see if you can let go of worry and expectations and simply live your best life.

How can this program be improved?
It is a mindset. It can be improved by growing but it will take time and love to grow it into a self-sustaining community
Yes, I recommend this program
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Finding Myself in the Jungle

Graduation was quickly approaching when I saw an add for Kalu Yala, after much research I decided to apply. I spent 10 weeks studying and creating media in the middle of the jungle. I learned how to make podcasts, photojournalism pieces, and videos- all of which are incredibly helpful for my dream job of conservation photojournalism. I met incredible people who were just as passionate as I was and who supported me through everything. It wasn't easy the whole time but I learned about myself and my strength as well as how to be flexible when situations arise, and to make the most of everything. This internship is something I never thought I would do, but I think it's the best thing I've done in my life so far.

Yes, I recommend this program
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I went to the Jungle when I graduated

I found Kalu Yala randomly on the internet while looking for something to do after graduation. I applied then found myself in Panama September 2017. Kalu Yala is a place where you cannot go into it with many expectations because each person's experience will be different. During my time I was able to learn a lot about myself and my ability to adapt in a harsh jungle environment, I got to learn about environmental impact while jumping off of waterfalls in the afternoon. You learn how to coexist in a place that is open to and ready for ideas to be made real.

How can this program be improved?
I think transparency in the interview process would be beneficial because a lot of my fellow interns expected to be doing something completely different then what we actually did. This was not a bad thing because we all were very happy but I could see how this maybe could cause issues in the future.
Yes, I recommend this program
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The Hero's Journey In the Jungle

The ancient traditions say that the young child must go through some transition period of hardships to transition into an adult, and what better than to delve into a different country, in the jungle, with a wide variety of people. From day one, with the trek in, it was a shaping experience. Physically, KY shaped my calves and body to tone, mentally, KY pushed me to become comfortable living in total natural environment with a disconnect from the internet, with the weekend getaways. This experience is one of a kind, especially since the new academic and education system requires a place like this where the resources are available, and one can just come and make whatever they want with whoever they want. This is a program for the self driven, for the ones who want to be self driven, for the ones who want to do a little bit more and learn a little bit more everyday.

How can this program be improved?
Honestly, in the time frame that it was, it was great. Now a program is never meant to give any tangible return other than knowledge, experience and growth, and it does that very well.
Yes, I recommend this program
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The ten weeks that changed my life!!!!!!! (KY CW, Summer 2017)

I came to Kalu Yala as a Community Wellness student in May of 2017. I left Panama a little over three months later a completely changed human being.
I had selected the CW program because I work in the medical field, will be starting nursing school in 2018, and am incredibly passionate about holistic health. I wasn't sure exactly what to expect, but I came into the program with an open mind and readiness to learn and was not disappointed. In my opinion, CW had some of the best discussions and the hands down coolest guests and field trips of the entire Summer 2017 semester. We covered so much in such a short amount of time and I definitely got everything I wanted to and more out of the program. I also learned so much from other programs and their directors, which was one of my favorite parts of my semester. There's so much overlap and collaboration, it's truly incredible to experience.
Kalu Yala itself is quite simply the most magical place and the most incredible community I've ever been a part of. I woke up every day in the jungle ready to be challenged, inspired, and supported by my peers. I made the best friends I've ever had at Kalu Yala. And I became the best version of myself I've ever been. I transformed mind, body, and spirit and grew into the role of healer, something that has given my life purpose and meaning that will drive my career.
I had done another study abroad/gap semester type program in Central America about a year before coming to Kalu Yala and comparing the two is like night and day. Kalu Yala is easily the best study abroad option I'm aware of, and without a doubt the best investment I've ever made in myself and my future. I would recommend KY to anyone and everyone. It will push you to your absolute limits in the best ways possible and teach you so much about yourself and also the world we inhabit. At Kalu Yala I learned the most valuable lesson of my life so far-- how to live in harmony with the environment and my community. I cannot speak highly enough of KY and the people who have dedicated parts of their lives to working and living there, and making it everything that it is.

Yes, I recommend this program
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Health and Wellness Internship

My time spent at Kalu Yala was the best of my life. I don't think words will ever be able to describe the knowledge I gained here, and the personal growth I experienced. Kalu Yala challenged me intellectually, physically, emotionally, and spiritually in the best way it could possible do. I gained knowledge about my future career as a psychologist while simultaneously learning about a Panamanian way of life. The program was informative and challenged by existing belief system on modern day medicine, mental health, and much more. The group of individuals I was with also increased the experience; each filled with new passion and kindness. The support of the community at Kalu Yala really topped off the experience due to their endless love and patience. I couldn't be more thankful for this experience.

How can this program be improved?
The wifi was the main issue work wise, although that is to be expected when living in the jungle. Each trial I experience made me better as a whole, so I have no qualms.
Yes, I recommend this program

In-Depth Kalu Yala Review (Business & Entrepreneurship Intern Summer 2017)

I love Kalu Yala. This internship was an incredible experience and easily one of the best and most impressionable experiences of my life. That being said nothing is perfect, and to expect Kalu Yala to be a perfect community perfectly mingled with nature would simply be untrue. There are many problems with Kalu Yala, but come on, if you're applying to build an experimental town in the jungle, how can you possibly expect the place to be 10/10 perfect?

Program effectiveness: (Business program)
The business program is what you make of it. It has the potential to be amazingly good for your business acumen or it has the potential to be almost pointless. If you use your time wisely you will learn a lot about small business management and be able to play a part in the businesses around you. Programs are divided into two major components: Director-led projects and independent projects. The first feels a lot more like a traditional internship where you get assigned tasks and you have to work in teams to get that completed (thankfully, no mandatory need to grab coffee for anyone). This is where you can learn how mundane business tasks are important to a business and this is probably what you can put on your resume for future employers. Your independent project is much more for you. The way the program lays out your independent project is very good for entrepreneurial development. It forces you to seek help where you would need it and provides you with business principles you will need in any business. This is very good for practical applications in future jobs, critical thinking, and problem-solving. Once again, how much you learn on a professional level is completely based on how much time you're going to invest in thinking about the projects put before you and how much you actively invest in your projects. Personally I found it very difficult to put some of the things I learned onto my resume, but it was very helpful in interviews and actual on the job applications.

Infrastructure of Kalu Yala is lacking in terms of modern first world comforts. Logistics are often confusing and technology (wifi, electricity, etc.) is unreliable. But you're in the middle of the jungle. Don't apply if you aren't willing to step away from technology a couple times a week (I for one, desired a break with technology). Also, some things will seem very rudimentary (like the "laundry" system, or the compost toilets), but hey if it works it works. They've hired a lot of staff to help you in anyway that you need it, whether it be physically, spiritually, or if you need help with your project. Staff is very willing to help and are a great resource. However, executive management and short-term decisions of Kalu Yala is questionable at times. You will question the decisions or short-term trajectories of Kalu Yala and how it will affect the community. However that is a problem in every quick growing start-up and every organization trying to change the world for the better. You just have to trust the company and do your part to make it better. Oh and Panama is expensive for a Central American country. They use the US Dollar and there are SO many things you will want to buy - especially in the jungle, so be prepared for that.

Health & Safety:
There aren't any major health or safety concerns that should worry you too much, however when you get here, you'll feel like there are problems. Jungle stuff will happen. Infections, rashes, bug bites, jungle rot are going to happen to some people in your community, but really, it's not that bad and staff will deal with it, even if it feels like they aren't - and there will be times where it feels like they aren't.

Daily Life:
I loved daily life here, maybe too much. Like I loved it so much that I just didn't know how to adjust back to the States. You won't have another experience where you are so deeply in tune with nature and like-minded people. However the jungle life is not for everyone. Small things like 8 different flies trying to commit suicide on your leg at once is going to get to you. Things will mold, and you will always be dirty (don't bring white clothes). There are times where you think people aren't as professional as they should be (that's an issue to some, and a plus to others). You're going to be upset by the trash accumulated around camp. But at the same time, you're going to learn to love rain, love dipping in the river, love planting trees, hiking and exploring the world, playing soccer with locals, sleeping in a hammock, and eating the most delicious vegetarian food you've ever had. And the people, oh the people. They will instill in you a sense of love, connection, and confidence that you'll crave for a long time. And I'm sure it wasn't just my semester where amazing people came together. The type of people this place attracts are seriously just extremely conscious, lovable, talented people.

I wanted to post an in-depth, unbiased review because I really wish I had one when I was researching this place. Viceland & reddit told me this place was a scam, while online reviews were all too good to be true. It was confusing and it almost made me not go. But I am so glad I went. If you feel an urge to come to Kalu Yala, do it. You won't regret it, just don't come in with expectations that this place will be perfect - it won't be. Kalu Yala wasn't everything I dreamed it would be, but it became the place of my dreams (seriously, when I got back, I couldn't stop dreaming of Kalu Yala for 3 weeks).

Yes, I recommend this program

Kalu Yala Internship Review

I had a spectacular time during my 2.5 months at Kalu Yala. I loved the fact that i got the chance to learn from everyone there, not just the people in leadership postions. Everyone was so kind and welcoming when we first got into the jungle. From then on, I felt like I was a sponge trying to absorb every possible thing i could from my fellow interns, other staff members, and especially the amazing Jon Trimarco (my ag director)

I learned the basics of permaculture principles not only in the topics but everywhere. I learned how to apply permaculture to all aspects of life, not just farming or gardening. I learned how to compost and build my own compost system. I learned the basics of tropical agriculture. I got to teach elementary school kids the basics of tropical farming :) I learned about Black Soldier Flies and how the can break down a compost pile much quicker than anything else and can then be used as chicken or fish feed; extremely nutritious and sustainable feed :) the ag team as a whole were catalysts in regenerating an old cattle pasture back into its natural state of rainforest. We all worked to breed iguanas in a place where iguanas are going extinct. We showed others that hard, manual labor can be fun and rewarding. and this is all just what we did as an agriculture team. The other programs were simotaneously working their magic in other parts of this amazing village which will someday be a town

How can this program be improved?
transparency! executives at KY have nothing to hide so they need to really shine a light on what it is that they are doing and hide nothing. tell everyone that it is still in the early stages of development for a town!
Yes, I recommend this program
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Transformative Experience in the Panamanian Jungle

If you are looking for a digital detox, to re-connect to the natural world, to redevelop your relationships to food and waste management, to meet passionate people who will inspire you in more ways than you think possible, this is the experience for you.
This is a special place that allows people to explore, create and share what they have to offer. The experience will teach you a lot about yourself if you allow it to. The more you put it, the more you get out.

Yes, I recommend this program
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Fantastic Opportunity

My experience at Kalu Yala was amazing. Every single day was a learning experience from both my directors and my peers. As a business intern, not only was I able to learn about business through a more socially- and environmentally-conscious scope, but also about permaculture, sustainable food systems, and communicating sustainability through a variety of media outlets, among a plethora of other subjects. I was even given enough support to co-launch a start-up company with a fellow intern and was able learn so much from an entrepreneurial environment. I would do Kalu Yala all over again if I could.

Yes, I recommend this program
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Amazing life experience

I went to Kalu Yala after college because I love central america and it was relevant to what I wanted to do after college. I would say to budget more so that you can travel around the country on weekends, breaks, before and after. Kalu Yala gave me an opportunity to take responsibility for my professional work and personal development while working. This was a beautiful place, with an interesting dialogue.

How can this program be improved?
More formal lecturing and more formal instruction.
Yes, I recommend this program
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If they come they will build it.

The best way to change the world is to change YOUR world. And Kalu Yala is a great place to start. It is building the world it wants to live in and will help you shape your vision of the future.
At it's core, Kalu Yala "believes that the answers to most of the worlds challenges already exist and only need to be brought together in one place to demonstrate their truths".
In order to do that, it greets interns and, much like children with limitless imagination, they are guided through a 10-week real-world sandbox experience.
If you are looking for a new way to learn, if you agree that you can often learn more by putting yourself to the test, by building it yourself, by failing and reevaluating and trying it again, then you will greatly benefit from your experience here.

This might give you an idea: Sit down and try writing up a list of what a town needs in order to thrive. Then figure out how to go about making these happen and all the difficulties and questions involved in doing so. Then go over all of these steps and make sure they are as sustainable as possible. Food, living spaces, bathrooms, water, technology, transportation... It's not easy. But it's what we are doing here and the learning experience that you will get out of it will change the way you see the world, the way you approach difficulties and the way you overcome obstacles.

Kalu Yala puts to the test everything I believe in when striving for an alternative and healthier way of life. Have no expectations, don't take anything for granted.
Be open to challenge everything you know about community living & education.
Buy the ticket, take the ride!

How can this program be improved?
Like any other company or community, there are a number of things that could be improved. But instead of listing them here, I can say that Kalu Yala works very hard at continually assessing it's shortcomings, evaluating it's progress and the efficiency of it's initiatives. It works on a trial and error basis, prototyping student and administrative ideas, and changing things along the way. Every semester is different based on what worked and what failed in the past. Kalu Yala has the humility to say: "we tried, it failed miserably, we asked why, everyone gave their opinion, and based on that we are now trying something different. Let's talk about how we can make it better! "
Yes, I recommend this program
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Life Goals

My major in college was Recreation and Sports Management and my minor was sustainability. I came to Kalu Yala to be in the outdoor recreation program- so tell me this wasn't the perfect internship for me?! I came down unassuming about anything except that I would be living in the jungle during rainy season. I was greeted by many hugs and people genuinely happy for me to be there. From the very moment I got to Kalu Yala I could feel the authentic community around me. A community of people who wanted to learn, to incite change, to be a part of something bigger than themselves, and to be themselves. I spent the semester hiking, swimming, surfing, climbing, getting to know humans from all different backgrounds and schools of thought, and learned things that I will spend the rest of my life unpacking. At the end of the semester I did a short video interview with one of the other students as part of their project and they asked me what the hardest thing about being here was and I was at a loss for words. Sure some parts were difficult but I expected that so in hindsight they weren't "the hardest thing"- they were a learning moments.
Before Kalu Yala friends and family would ask me what I wanted to do when I graduated and I would shrug and reply with, "I'm not sure, I just want to play outside!" Kalu Yala (or something like it) became my goal and what I wanted to do. And I found that here.
10/10 would recommend.

How can this program be improved?
Well there's a lot of things. It's a place trying to become a sustainable town. Improving is a goal on a daily basis and it's what the staff and interns are there working towards.
Yes, I recommend this program
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The internship that changed my life... Health and Wellness with Kalu Yala

Taking an internship with the Kalu Yala Health and Wellness team in rural Panama is probably my best decision to date. Living and working in a small community in the countryside taught me new approaches to community building and gave me a much greater, more nuanced understanding of development. The Health and Wellness program challenged me to expand my vision, dismantle my preconceived notions about my role in the community, and push myself to flourish far outside my comfort zone. I wish everyone could have the kind of humbling and radically empowering experience that Kalu Yala gave me!

Yes, I recommend this program

About Kalu Yala

The Kalu Yala Institute offers an alternative study abroad program with a distinct focus on learning-by-doing. You will live, study, and design projects within a burgeoning, sustainable modern town nestled in the tropical Panamanian jungle.

At Kalu...