Your Dream Job is Waiting: A Guide to our Internship Program
Updated: Feb 10, 2019
If you’re familiar with the program, you’ve surely come across information about our internship program or about specific interns. Since 2013, we’ve utilized a formal internship program to fulfill our dynamic needs in Chile. The word ‘internship’ might call to mind picking up large coffee orders, making photocopies, or filling in spreadsheets, but, fear not, our internship is far removed from those stereotypes. You can find practical information about the internship and the application on our website, but the whole complexity of this dynamic job is a little harder to convey. When I applied for the position, I had a lot of questions about the internship that could not be explained by a job advertisement or Instagram feed, so this post will hopefully clarify some of the finer details.
When does the internship start?
In the past, interns have joined the team at specific dates in January and July, but, as of the past two years, have joined throughout the year. While the specific starting points facilitated group orientations, they did not always accommodate the dynamic needs of those applying. We now accept applications on a rolling basis and allow incoming interns to arrive when it is best for them, as there are plenty of financial and logistical concerns associated with moving to a new country.
How long is the internship?
As is stated on the website, it is a yearlong internship. We expect interns to commit to a full year, as the kids deserve a certain level of continuity in their lives and should be able to rely upon their mentors for an extended period of time. That being said, we have also had study abroad students working as development interns in the office and host volunteers for extended periods of time. If you have any skills or resources that might help us in some way, please reach out.
Where do interns live?
Our internship team currently lives above the office in a five bedroom apartment. As such, our commute consists of a single staircase. The inside of the house is a beautiful shade of Spongebob yellow and is fully equipped for all of our domestic needs. Interns necessarily spend a lot of time working and living together, so you can expect to make lifelong friends and have a strong support group. Having moved abroad on my own in the past, I can assure you, it is a lot easier to have this level of support upon arriving.
What if I have no prior Spanish experience?
Prior Spanish experience is highly recommended, as it will facilitate relationships with our students, but it is not a prerequisite. Chilean Spanish is quite unique regardless of prior experience, so it’s a constant learning process that never stops. To jump into the role smoothly, a working knowledge of Spanish is incredibly beneficial and will ensure that the transition to life in a new country isn’t too overwhelming, but the brain has a miraculous ability to adapt to new surroundings when necessary. While this component of the job has its frustrations, the learning process opens up deeper connections with our students and is thus, incredibly rewarding.
What does the job look like on a weekly basis?
During the summer, we work Monday through Friday, going to the beach 4-5 days a week while students are on summer break. For more information about our summer surf routine, check out https://www.valposurfproject.org/blog/summer-of-surf. To accommodate our students’ school schedules, while maintaining surf programming, we work Tuesday to Saturday throughout the rest of year. On Tuesdays, we meet to discuss the schedule for the week, review the previous week, and discuss specific goals etc. We then clean the office and house a bit, before setting out on our individual work.
During office hours, you can generally find me doing something English language related, whether it’s designing our English curriculum, writing the blog, or chipping away at a grant proposal. Jana, our youngest team member, is generally finding ways to tap into the social media world. She’s responsible for planning and creating our Instagram and Facebook content, and is generally behind the lens during programming. Ethan can be found coordinating our volunteer participation by organizing orientations, scheduling volunteer slots for English and surf classes, and reaching out to local universities and study abroad programs. When not managing this dynamic group, he edits and shoots video content. George, our newest team member, has been a jack of all trades since his arrival, filling in all the gaps that appear during our busy week. He’s still looking for his specific niche and will surely take on new roles when our summer of surf comes to a close.
Wednesdays and Thursdays are a combination of this same office work and teaching English classes in each of our four neighborhoods. Although one or two of us generally leads the classes, we all guide our students through different stations and engage them in conversation throughout the class. All of our interns receive a basic TEFL certificate before their arrival, so prior teaching experience isn’t necessary, but could certainly come in handy. We always try to incorporate some sort of physical activity into the class as well, so being somewhat adept at soccer could provide another avenue for student engagement.
Fridays are the most varied day of the week at Valpo Surf Project. Several of us may be in the water, leading surf sessions with SENAME, Chile’s child services program, or with our groms, the most advanced students in the program. The others may be chipping away at more office work or preparing for our Saturday surf sessions or some other event. It’s a really nice day to mix things up and accomplish whatever work you might not have finished earlier in the week.
Saturdays are, almost always, surf days for us. We invite three of our four neighborhoods to each session and carry out all the work required to run a session, including, but not limited to, packing and driving our vans, coordinating with parents, teaching the technical components of surf, building sandcastles, making sandwiches, and squeezing mustard onto said sandwiches. During sessions, each intern, with the aid of a volunteer or two, is responsible for a specific group of students in and out of the water. This responsibility entails reviewing our water safety rules, positioning students in the water according to ability, pushing students into waves when necessary, and generally engaging our students in the sport. If you’ve ever worked at a summer camp before, you definitely understand the general vibe of these days-- the smell of sunscreen, the taste of ham and cheese sandwiches, the sound of ubiquitous laughter etc.
What is the primary role of an intern?
While the previous answer might lead you to believe that office work constitutes our primary roles, community outreach is the most important part of the job. There is obviously a lot to do in the office in order to improve and maintain our high quality programming, but the connection with our communities takes precedence over all of that. As interns, we are each responsible for maintaining communication with one of our four neighborhoods. We are responsible for calling and messaging parents about the programming schedule, updating parents about student progress, and generally reaching out about any concerns or questions we might have. This may sound particularly tricky if your Spanish is not entirely up to speed, but should be seen as an incentive and opportunity for language growth and a vehicle for fuller cultural immersion. Parents understand our limitations and just want to know that we are there for them and their children in the most supportive and caring way possible.
What will I learn?
This is probably both the most obvious question to ask and the hardest to answer. The overall learning experience can differ from intern to intern, but, there are some universal skills that everybody learns during the internship period.
No matter your previous experience with Spanish, you will learn more while you’re here. There is no way around the constantly evolving process of learning conversational Chilean Spanish, as it is the primary language in the office, our daily lives, and, most importantly, our work with our students. You will pick up on the local accent, slang, and idiosyncrasies, that are, even to other countries in South America, quite unique (to put it lightly). While some interns use the internship to polish an already high level, others may use the time to learn both the basics of the language and the more advanced nuances as they progress throughout the year. Proficiency in a foreign language is becoming more and more useful in our shrinking world, so the importance of this skill cannot be understated.
In a similar vein, you will learn to drive while you’re here. What? I’ve already been driving for ten years. Specifically, you will learn how to drive stick, as our vans, and most vehicles in Chile, are manual transmission. Even if you’ve already driven your parents’ manual transmission Subaru for years, you haven’t driven in the labyrinth that is Valparaiso. There are steep hills, narrow alleyways, speeding buses, and pedestrians at every twist and turn of the city, so you will acquire driving skills that you never thought you needed. Additionally, the responsibility of doing so with a van full of children will take your general awareness to the next level. As we say here at VSP, if you can drive a large manual transmission van, stacked with ten boards and full of exuberant children, in Valparaiso, you can drive anywhere. Say that ten times fast!
In less specific terms, you will learn to work in an international office environment. This experience is different for each individual but entails learning the ins and outs of Chilean work culture, working in multiple languages, and bridging the gap between different styles of communication. We are a small team, so, as would be the case in a startup environment, we do our best to utilize each of our unique skill sets, while wearing many hats, so to speak. Our team works super hard to make sure that our development (fundraising, communications etc.) goals and programming (surfing, English, workshops, environmental stewardship) goals are working together in a symbiotic way that best serves our current students and will allow us to reach more in the future.
If you are actively pursuing any of these skills, there is no better opportunity. If not, there are innumerable ways in which interns grow personally. Living abroad provides a beautiful opportunity to escape the routines and preconceptions of life at home in order to see the world and yourself through a new lens. It’s impossible to quantify or calculate the impact that venturing into the unknown can have on your life, so I would encourage anybody with any curiosity to consider the opportunity.
What is there to do in Valparaiso?
Valparaiso and the surrounding region provide myriad opportunities for recreation. As is obvious from a quick Google search, Valparaiso is home to a large community of artists, who have tattooed the city in an endless number of murals and other forms of street art. Both Valpo and neighboring Viña del Mar, as a larger urban area, are home to: art museums and workshops, live music, bars and restaurants, nightlife, political and community groups, athletic teams etc. If urban recreation is not your cup of tea, there’s an impossible array of hiking, climbing, surfing, skiing, and camping opportunities throughout Chile and in the immediate area. There’s truly something for everybody.
Is there potential for growth within the company?
In the past, several interns have stayed in Valparaiso to work as paid fellows for a year or more. These fellows have taken on a variety or roles within the organization in both programming and development, and have allowed us to create even stronger bonds with our students and their communities. While there are logistical and financial constraints to this process, it is not uncommon for us to have several fellows in addition to our group of interns. Additionally, several past interns have stayed in Valparaiso on their own and continue to contribute to the organization as volunteers when they can. Although most interns leave Valparaiso after the year, the VSP community continues to be a crucial aspect of their lives, as they regularly check-in, attend fundraising events, or offer support.
Will I be able to travel?
As interns, we have two vacation days per month that can be used at any time during the year. Thus, we each have 24 days to travel wherever we wish, within and without Chile.
Most importantly, will I be getting tubed on the reg?
For those of you most attracted to the surf component of the job, I can assure you, we surf as much as we can. At the end of a surf class, we might grab boards to catch a wave or two, but do most of our surfing on days off. Luckily, we have a full quiver of boards, two vans, and a room full of wetsuits to take advantage of when the time comes. Conditions can be fickle, but there’s a wide range of waves nearby, so we’re always tapped into the surf report and go whenever we can. I can’t promise glassy barrels on a weekly basis, but I can promise a lot of time in the water and relatively uncrowded waves. Strangely enough, most of our interns have come to us with very little surf experience, but have left with a strong dedication to the sport and the culture that surrounds it.
Interested in joining our team? Apply here -- https://www.valposurfproject.org/internship-program.