Taking a Gap Year to Intern at a Non-Profit in Mexico

Emily G.
Non profit intern in mexico

Emily G. an Intern working for a non-profit in Oaxaca, Mexico. She takes us through her first month abroad in Oaxaca. 

Learning about Mexico

Hola! My name is Emily, I am 22 years old and originally from Connecticut. In between finishing my undergraduate degree and starting nursing school, I decided to take a year off to travel abroad, gain work experience, and learn about new cultures. When I found out that Adelante Abroad offered an internship in Oaxaca, Mexico, I signed up almost immediately. In school, I studied Spanish for a few years but always knew that in order to master the language, I needed a true immersion experience. Therefore, as I find myself sitting in my apartment in downtown Oaxaca writing this blog, I feel as though I am finally living out my dream of truly experiencing “la vida Mexicana” and fully immersing myself in a Latin culture. While I have only been here one month out of my three month stay, this blog is filled with details of new cultural experiences and internship adventures.

Before arriving in Mexico, I spent a lot of time working with the Adelante office to brainstorm what type of work experience I was looking for while I was abroad. Because of my interest in nursing and community service, I was looking for organizations that worked with at-risk populations about issues in public health. However, because I had only been studying Spanish on-and-off for about five years, I was really worried that working in a Spanish speaking environment would be extremely difficult. No one in my family speaks Spanish, so all of my previous exposure has been done in a school setting. Sure, I can order at a restaurant or ask for directions on the street if I am lost, but could I spend an entire work day truly applying myself intellectually in Spanish? In retrospect, I was really nervous about not being able to work at my full potential, but thanks to Adelante, they were able to test my Spanish skill level and then match me with an organization that would allow me to succeed.


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Interning for a non profit

My internship is with the non-profit Oaxacan organization called Esprial Por La Vida. Espiral’s mission is “to provide accompaniment and professional services to indigenous children, youth, and women in Oaxaca, for the promotion, defense and full exercise of their rights” (Espiral Por La Vida). The majority of the work that is done in the office is preparing workshops for six of the surrounding indigenous municipalities in the state of Oaxaca about varying topics. Workshop themes include prevention against gender based violence, public health initiatives, and women in politics. Each week, we spend three or four days in the office, located in a small town outside of the city center, preparing presentations and documents for that week’s workshop. Then, every Thursday or Friday we take our work on the road, traveling around the different municipalities to deliver our workshops. I find myself creating powerpoint presentations, podcasts, or online infographics that will either be used during that week’s workshops or for future use.

non profits Workshop in Ixtlán de Juárezworkshop in santa catarina Ixtepeji

My favorite part of the job has to be traveling with my coworkers around Oaxaca, meeting new people, and delivering our presentations. It is one thing to sit in the office and work on a powerpoint, but it is a whole other thing to actually meet and talk to people face to face about what we are trying to accomplish. The people that I have met, mostly indigenous women, are so smart and powerful. Seeing in real time how the work that we do truly does empower these women to make real change in their communities for the betterment of all women is truly inspiring. Pictured above are photos taken at three different workshops around Oaxaca. The first one, located in the town of Santa Catarina Ixtepeji, was an intimate meeting with two women about identity and female empowerment. Less of a proper workshop and more of a group therapy session, the purpose of our visit to this municipality was to bring awareness to women’s rights and the concept of “motherhood as work”. The second and third photos show two larger workshops that I assisted with that took place in the city center and in Ixtlán de Juarez . The theme of these workshops were about social politics and women in politics. We talked a lot about the inequality  women in politics often face in Mexico and the ways in which we can use social politics to empower more women to take up roles in their local governments. 

Outside of working with the rest of the team on their workshops, I have been tasked with creating my own workshop about reproductive health. In the fall, I will be attending nursing school with the desire to continue my education to eventually become a Certified Nurse-Midwife. When I started working with Esprial, they asked me about my career goals so they could find me a task that would best match up with what I hope to do in the future. Therefore, given the organization’s previous work on other public health initiatives, it was decided that I would use my expertise on sexual health to create a workshop about reproductive health and access to reproductive resources for the indigenous communities. I hope to have my presentation completed at the end of the month, so that starting in my final month here, we can begin taking my project on the road. I am a little bit nervous to be the one in charge, standing up there in front of all the women leading my own workshop. However, I have already learned from my time here that I am completely capable of working in Spanish. I am by no means fluent, but what I have learned at school has been sufficient. In addition, every single person I have met since I’ve been here, both inside and outside of work, has been extremely patient with me when I speak. Sure, I make a bunch of mistakes and still could not tell you when I need to use the preterite tense versus the imperfect, but everyone is so kind and supports me as I do my best. I have no doubt that when I give my presentation, I will feel nervous and make mistakes, but the audience will show me support, kindness, and patience. 

Womens rights Workshop in Oaxaca de Juárez

Exploring Oaxaca

Now, I have spent a lot of time talking about my internship, as that is the main reason I have chosen this program. However, this blog would not be complete without detailing the amazing adventures I have had outside of work. Oaxaca is one of the most beautiful cities I have ever been to in my life. As you walk along the cobblestone streets, you pass brightly colored houses, often covered in beautiful murals, and lush parks filled with large stone fountains and many green spaces. My apartment is located near one of the most famous landmarks in Oaxaca, the Church of Santo Domingo. Almost every weekend, you can find parades, called “calendas” in Oaxaca, that start at the Church and disperse throughout the entire city. As a loud band plays, big blimps and women dancing follow. If you are lucky enough, people in the back of the calenda will be handing out shots of Mezcal, a famous alcohol of the region made from local agave plants. My favorite part about walking around the city is looking out for all of the beautiful murals. Usually, they are done by professional artists and celebrate Oaxacan culture and are used as a form of political protest. 

Murals found along building across the cityMurals found along building across oaxaca

Oaxaca is also extremely famous for their food. I have spent way too much money (oops) going out to eat with my friends and trying different foods. Some of the most famous foods from this region are tlayudas, oaxacan chocolate, the seven types of oaxacan moles, chapulines, which is the Spanish word for grasshoppers, and quesillo, which is a cheese similar to mozzarella. If you want to learn more about the food here, I highly recommend checking out the article Food From Oaxaca: The Joy of Oaxacan Food. So far, if I had to pick my top 2 best eats in Oaxaca, it would have to be a fresh tamale with salsa verde and chicken or tostiesquites. Both of these foods are common cheap “street foods” that you can find in many stalls in any Oaxacan park.

In addition, there are many artisanal cafes and restaurants around Oaxaca. My favorite place to go after work to unwind and have the most delicious Iced Chai Latte is La Selva de los Gatos, or in English, the forest of cats. This vegan cafe is much more than just a simple coffee shop, it is a cat sanctuary. If you are to know one thing about me, it is that I love, I mean love cats. This cafe has truly become my safe space; I sit, read, sip, and snuggle the cats until both my stomach and heart are full. 

human rights intern at “La selva de los gatos” cat cafe in oaxaca“La selva de los gatos” cat cafe in oaxaca

New friends and new expereinces

Outside of exploring the city center, the entire state of Oaxaca has tons to offer. My friends and I have spent almost every weekend traveling around and exploring the beach or different tourist attractions. First weekend here, we all took a bus to Hierve El Agua, a set of rock formations and mineral water pools that you can hike and swim in. My friends and I took the long way around the pools, scaling different boulders and sneaking our way into small caves. Another weekend, we traveled to both Mitla and Monte Alban, two ancient Zapotec archeological sites. Touring these archeological sites was so incredible; the ancient stone work is mesmerizing and the artifacts that you can find in the museums really do transport you back to pre-hispanic Mexico. My favorite trip that I took with my friends was to Puerto Escondido, a coastal town at the base of the state of Oaxaca. Here, my friends and I finally got to take a dip into the sea, try some fresh seafood, and even take a surf lesson!

emily and friends overlooking Hierve El Agua

While my time here in Oaxaca is relatively short, and is already almost halfway done, I feel like this blog truly demonstrates the magic of going abroad. My time here has been full of adventure: meeting new friends, trying new foods, and truly immersing myself in a foreign language. And, most of all, I have learned so much about myself. I took a giant leap outside of my comfort zone, moved far away from home, and jumped into a new life. I would be lying to you if I said I was not scared before I got here. I worried about adjusting to the new climate, as Oaxaca seems like an oven in the winter compared to what I am used to back home in Connecticut. In addition, I was very nervous about struggling with homesickness. Before my trip, I have never been so far away from home before. I was worried that I would feel disconnected from my life back home, as I feared things would just go on without me and I would not know how to stay connected. However, with the use of technology, I have stayed in touch with my friends and family and I know that I have a way to reach home. Finally, I have developed a greater confidence in not only my ability to speak Spanish, but also in my ability to function in the workforce. Since I only recently graduated college, this is truly my first “full time job”, and I was a bit nervous about the adjustment. Espiral has truly been the perfect internship match. The work environment is collaborative and fun, while also pushing me to use what I learned in school and apply it to real world issues. I cannot thank Adelante enough for providing me with the resources needed to truly fall in love with this city. Te amo Oaxaca! 

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