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Helping save the rainforest one student at a time

  • Ashley Cedeno ’19
    Copyright 2018. All rights reserved.
August 09, 2018

Hello! My name is Ashley Cedeno ’19 and I am from a small, south-Chicago suburb called Blue Island. I will be a senior this fall semester and am majoring in social work, with a double minor in Spanish and political science. This summer, I’m interning at Maderas Rainforest Conservancy (MRC), a non-profit organization located in Costa Rica dedicated to saving the rainforest through community outreach, educational programs, and teaching opportunities. At MRC, I am the field coordinator and translator. There are many field courses that take place at MRC throughout the year; students from all over the world have attended this field school to study a variety of subjects, including primatology, botany, bats, entomology, and a veterinary course, among others.

One of my goals for this internship was to become more knowledgeable of Costa Rican history and the dynamic relationships it has with other countries. Another goal was also to be open to new and different experiences, especially since I am in a completely different country. Throughout my time here, I’ve been able to immerse myself in Costa Rican culture, all the while learning about new ones from the students that come from various parts of the world.

At the beginning of this internship, I truly did not know what to expect. I knew that the doors of possibilities were endless and I came with an open mind, especially since I was going to be immersed in a different culture for three months. Since I’ve started, my appreciation for this job has only grown and every day I feel privileged to be a part of such a wonderful organization. My perception of this internship has changed in that I’m more aware of the positive impact that it has on the environment and lives of people through the education it provides.

Fortunately, I have not come across any disappointments in my internship. Although I have had only good experiences, one challenge that I experienced was some fear and lack of confidence when it came to being responsible for the well-being of many college students and traveling on my own with them for long periods of time. Over time, as I traveled with more groups, I began to memorize certain routes and become friendly with certain bus divers, and slowly but surely, got rid of my fear and became confident. I now look back and think that my fear of being held responsible was pretty silly, and that all it took was for me to gain that experience and get out of my comfort zone. My personal growth is one of the things that has surprised me the most so far.

I feel that as the only bilingual staff member besides my supervisor, I have contributed plenty to this organization. I have provided the means for the staff to communicate with the students and professors through my excellent ability at Spanish translation. Throughout the past two months, I have helped all the courses run smoothly and successfully, from helping translate lectures to making sure students arrive and depart safely to and from the airport. Other contributions include facilitating communication with staff and bring problems to their attention in order to get students’ needs met in various ways. My interpersonal communication and interpersonal conflict mediation has aided the staff members, students and the organization as a whole. This job requires willingness to work with different personality types, and work with all types of problems faced in a tough work environment.

My supervisor constantly tells me how grateful she is to have me here. When I asked her what I’ve done to make her life easier, she laughed and said, “What haven’t you done?” I believe that I bring a positive attitude that persists even in the difficult living conditions demanded by my work environment. Living in the middle of the rainforest, with little to no internet and very minimal luxuries (and only cold showers), I’ve provided a pleasant and friendly approach and demeanor that allows people to approach me with various needs, that I then take care of or report to staff. My supervisor has so many things going on, and she appreciates my ability to properly coordinate and facilitate the students’ stay here at MRC. She has felt comfortable enough to leave me in charge of the field station for weeks at a time, while she travels back to the states to handle other business that pertains to conserving the rainforest. My responsibilities include picking up students, confirming hotels and transportation, translating lectures, and organizing events at the station. Doing this allows my supervisor to focus on other major projects. According to her, I’ve been, “a blessing sent from above.”

If I’m being completely honest, there is nothing routine or boring about my internship. Every day is completely different and I find myself doing new and exciting things. The only repetitive aspect is having to pick up each student group from the main city and travel 3 hours to get to the field station, take them back to the airport after their session is over, and travel with them when they take trips outside the station. But even then, every trip is unique and requires me to perform different tasks. Since I started my internship in May, there have been a total of six courses, each ranging from two weeks to one month in length, with some of them overlapping. Since everyone lives on site, I am required to be available 24 hours a day, seven days a week. For some, this could be a little boring and excessive, but I’ve truly been enjoying my time here and I love being able to help people with anything they may need. As coordinator, I have different tasks every day to confirm trips, transportation for the groups, as well as maintain communication with alumni and professors. As translator, I always have to be available to translate between the Spanish-speaking staff and the English-speaking students, as well as translate when traveling to and from the airport and making sure they arrive to each destination safely. Every day is a new challenge, and I truly love this experience and how it is pushing me to adapt to very new and unique circumstances.

I believe that my strongest attributes as an intern would be my constant willingness to help. I always maintain a kind and helpful attitude, which is very important in dealing with different situations and people. I also remain consistent and maintain that positive attitude, even with the unpredictability that this job holds, or when it can become frustrating. This job requires a lot of time and constant willingness to always help in any and all situations, and I have proven to both my supervisor and myself that I indeed fulfill this characteristic. My positive attitude helps professors and students enjoy being in Costa Rica and allow them to get a full experience even though we are in a secluded rainforest.

The only thing that comes to mind when I think of how I can improve is to take on more responsibility when it came to community outreach programs earlier on in my internship. My time here is coming to an end soon, and my supervisor and I are currently working on education initiatives and are planning on bringing children from the local grade school to the rainforest for a field-trip to show them different wildlife and teach them about conservation and how important the rainforest is and all the animals in it. Although I do wish I could have started this initiative earlier, I am glad that it is a new program that I was able to start with my supervisor and that I will be able to see flourish in my last couple of weeks here.

I have been told by various people, including my supervisor and professors that I work with, that my personality is a perfect fit for this organization. I am a very social and giving person. This job requires a lot of patience, willingness to help, and a positive attitude. One must be willing to live a very minimalistic lifestyle; acclimating to living in the rainforest is harder for some than others, but maintaining a positive attitude is a big part of being a fit for this organization.


Ashley Cedeno ’19