The Kalu Yala Institute: Environment & Community Internships in Panama

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About

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
Highlights
  • Sustainable education
  • Off-the-grid living
  • Farm-to-Table meals
  • Design your own project
  • Free Spanish classes

Related Programs

Questions & Answers

10 weeks

The costs change semester to semester, I suggest you email them at hello@kaluyala.com

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.

Reviews

9.86 Rating
based on 29 reviews
  • 9-10 rating 100%
  • 7-8 rating 0%
  • 5-6 rating 0%
  • 3-4 rating 0%
  • 1-2 rating 0%
  • 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 - 8 of 29
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Bethany
10/10
Yes, I recommend this program

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.

Default avatar
Teresa
10/10
Yes, I recommend this program

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.

What would you improve about this program?
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
Read my full story
Default avatar
Brooke
10/10
Yes, I recommend this program

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.

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Rebecca
10/10
Yes, I recommend this program

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.

What would you improve about this program?
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.
Default avatar
Nilesh
10/10
Yes, I recommend this program

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.

What would you improve about this program?
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.
Default avatar
Elizabeth
10/10
Yes, I recommend this program

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.

Default avatar
kim
10/10
Yes, I recommend this program

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.

What would you improve about this program?
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.
Jack
10/10
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:
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).