A Few Months in Panama: An Overview of the Kalu Yala Entrepreneurial Internship Program

By Megan Weyrauch on November 14, 2013

Photo from kaluyala.com

Imagine 80 people from around the world standing together in one huge group. Now place them in the jungle and teach them basic survival skills.

This is a typical part of orientation for the Kalu Yala Independent Study Abroad and Entrepreneurial Internship programs.

Kalu Yala (kah-loo yah-la) is the future town of a sustainability-focused land development company which is currently in the early stages of developing the 550-acre river valley property, located within the Panamanian highlands.

The Kalu Yala Independent Study Abroad and Entrepreneurial Internships program is a fulltime program that hosts students and young professionals from around the world to engage in the creation of the Kalu Yala culture.

President and COO of Kalu Yala Entrepreneurial Internships, Kate Stewart, said this program is not your typical internship.

“Instead of fetching coffee and doing copies and all of that kind of stuff that you typically do at your internship, our internships focus on the students,” she said.

With over 8 different programs, the Kalu Yala program does not lack variety.

“Pretty much any student can look at our programs and figure out what they want to do because there is such a variety,” Stewart said.


The Kalu Yala internships operate from three different locations. The first is in the heart of Panama City, in a town called Bella Vista. This location serves as the student headquarters and is home to the business program.

The second location is San Miguel, a rural town in the San Martin county of Panama. The health and wellness and community outreach and education programs are here.

The third location is the Kalu Yala property, which is home to the agriculture/agricultural science, biology, forestry, farm-to-table culinary and outdoor recreation programs.

Maddy Partridge, third year architecture student at the University of Virginia, did an internship with Kalu Yala last summer because she was looking to combine an internship with a study abroad experience. She was in the agriculture program, which was located on the Kalu Yala property.

Because she was on the land company’s property and not in one of the locations closer to local people, Partridge said that she did not get to experience too much of the Panamanian culture every day.

“We didn’t learn too much about the culture until we traveled on the weekends and got out sightseeing and visited different cities in Panama,” she said. “But we were eating different foods, we were eating rice and beans and lentils, just whatever grew on the land … and [learning] different ways of preparing food.”

Partridge said that she learned a lot about the food that she now uses when preparing her own meals.

Living on the land was like camping, Partridge said.

“There were 32 interns specifically in the valley where we were and we had no electricity and no internet,” she said. “We were just camping for two and a half months.”

Photo from kalayaluinternships.com


During the 11 week program, students work on two separate project models, each for half of every day.

“So for four hours in the morning, they work on a team project under the director’s guidance, that the director chooses and then four hours in the afternoon they work on their own personal project that they choose,” Stewart said. “So we’ll focus on the student and their passions and how to bring them to realization.”

Working on a farm was Partridge’s morning project with her team.

“Everyone kind of headed up their own research agenda and worked on that until they needed the manual labor and then they called in the rest of the team and we worked together,” she said.

Partridge’s independent afternoon project was building a new waste system.

“I was building a new bathroom and waste system for us because we were basically camping— there was no infrastructure on this land so we needed new bathrooms and a waste system for that,” she said.

But what if you do not have a project idea in mind?

The first two weeks of the program, the directors sit down with students to help them hammer out their passions, Stewart said.

“I would say 95% of our students have no idea what they want to do when they get here,” she said. “It’s really fun because they get to see what we’re working with and then say, oh okay, I can see this, we can do this or that.”

Photo from kalayaluinternships.com

Other interns

The Kalu Yala internships are great for meeting new people that are both like-minded and different from you.

“It is good for networking and meeting people that have the same kind of mind-set about making a change in the world and doing it through personal work,” Stewart said. “It’s a lot of fun to say the least.”

Partridge said that getting close to the other interns was inevitable.

“We had 3 meals together every day and then slept right next to each other and bathed in the same river and then went to work together,” she said. “So it was like throw privacy out the window and get over your individuality and how much you think highly of yourself and then it’s like ultimate teamwork; you needed your team for your sanity.”

Living and working with the other interns is all inclusive, Partridge said.

Working with the other interns turned out to be where Partridge learned the most.

“We learned a lot more about ourselves and the community than we had bargained for,” she said.

“Everyone was drawn to the internship for this … aspect that they were going to be living off the land and doing single projects, so we thought that was where we would learn the most, but it turns out we learned the most from each other.”

One of Partridge’s favorite parts of the internship was the friends that she made.

“I think in a traditional work environment, we wouldn’t have been so close,” she said. “Because we were placed together there for so long, that formed really cool friendships and now we’re still friends.”

Because of the variety of programs Kalu Yala offers, interns meet and learn from a variety of other students and young professionals around the world.

“So we have the biology kids, you’re hanging out with outdoor recreation kids, you’re hanging out with, the agriculture kids, and they’re all in the same spot,” Stewart said. “So you get a huge mix of people that would never have a reason to interact together before and now they’re doing it every day.”

Photo from kalayaluinternships.com

Who should apply?

The Kalu Yala internships are very unique and offer something for everyone.

“I think a lot of what we learn in school is spoon-fed to us and here is this knowledge, take it, and I’ll test you on it in a month and you’ll be good,” Partridge said. “But that was not what we found there at all, and it was like if you wanted to find the knowledge you were going to have to do it.”

Because Kalu Yala internships are about forming and completing a project, a certain type of independent drive is important.

“It’s all very self-driven and a kind of understanding that the world might not be one fixed way,” Partridge said.

“Because we were all placed in a different culture in a different country in a different climate with a bunch of different people and there’s so many different ideas and challenging opinions and stuff that you had to be much more open-minded than you’d have to be if you went into a standard company for an internship where it’s kind of scripted and you do what you’d expect.”

Stewart said that you cannot stereotype a typical Kalu Yala intern due to the variety of students that complete the internship.

“I feel like our program, we get such a mix,” she said. “We had 63 students this summer and … if you’re looking at a crowd of people you wouldn’t be able to look at someone and say, oh yeah, that person is definitely a Kalu Yala intern.”

This internship is not for anyone that is looking for a traditional internship experience.

“It’s for everyone that is a little bit more willing to bend the line and willing to have grey area to explore what they’re interested in,” Partridge said. “And that you can thrive and are okay with the unknown because you don’t really know what you’re getting yourself into.”

Photo from kalayaluinternships.com


The Kalu Yala internships cost to participate; all of the money goes back into the Kalu Yala internship fund to help pay for meals, housing, utilities and other program costs. Fall tuition costs are about $4,995.

The takeaway

Partridge said that she learned that you have to make the education your own.

“We were pursuing independent projects and that was told to us at the beginning that this is an entrepreneurial internship and you can decide your project and pursue it and really we only got out of it what we put in,” she said.

Because she is studying architecture, Partridge said that before she went to Panama for her internship, she did not see how her discipline overlapped with agriculture.

“I’ve talked to a lot of interns who came away with that same idea, that we thought we could put our disciplines into one box,” she said. “But really there is so much overlap and so much knowledge to be gained from something outside of your own academic endeavors.”

Photo from kalayaluinternships.com

Want to apply?

The 2014 semester dates are:

Spring: January 13-April 4

Summer: May 19-August 1

Fall: September 1-November 14

Go here for more information about the Kalu Yala internships or click here to apply.

Hello! I am currently serving as the Director of News/Managing Editor for Uloop News. I recruit writers, edit many articles, manage interns, and lead our National Team. When I'm not writing or editing, I love to take part in community theater, read, and enjoy the outdoors with my husband Kevin. I have a Bachelor's degree in English and Professional Writing from Ohio State University and an M.Ed. in Student Affairs in Higher Education from Wright State University. If you ever have questions or just want to chat, email me at megan@uloop.com.

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