For my international internship, IGS set me up in Cancun, Mexico to work for an eco-tourism company and to assist on weekends with a sea turtle rescue foundation. The eco-tour company is the leading provider of environmentally conscious tours throughout the Yucatan Peninsula of Mexico. Famous landmarks like Chichen Itza and the and whale shark tours are the most popular. For the first three weeks of my internship, I worked at the marina every day seeing tourists off on the whale shark tour. On this tour, they can snorkel beside the sharks. I helped to provide service for the clients before and after their tours.

While work at the marina was quite hot, my employers and co-workers were some of the friendliest, easygoing people I’ve had the pleasure to meet. I worked with people who hailed from Cancun as well as fellow interns from every corner of the world. Which makes perfect sense since I worked for a tourism company. All of the guides I met were enthusiastic about their work and I learned to relax and welcome clients with that same enthusiasm.

My last week, I worked heled edit tour descriptions and writing for the blog. I was happy to have the opportunity to see both sides: the administration and the actual tours.

The side project that IGS arranged was with the Palace Foundation. I helped relocate sea turtle nests to a protected area with biologists. This was truly a unique and incredible experience; until then I had only seen sea turtles on TV; by the end of the month I knew how to dig a proper turtle nest and had helped to measure sea turtles as they dug their nests. This intern experience is worth all of the digging in the sand.

Because of excellent housing plans by IGS, I was placed in an apartment with one of my fellow interns, who was very gracious in helping me find my way around Cancun. Deborah showed me which busses to take to get to work and back as well as the best places to shop for food. Cancun is basically a network of roundabouts, so without Deborah’s help I would have been hopelessly lost those first days. My apartment was very nice; it was clean and well kept, and located conveniently off of a major road in Cancun, so transportation to work was never a problem. My landlord, Ken was very kind and available if I ever had any problems.

I got to know the other interns well in a short time. I went on some weekend excursions with them and dinners and parties, meeting new people everywhere. I was very lucky; I got exposure to a wide variety of different cultures and worldviews, all in one place. We learned a lot from each other and made far distant parts of the world seem less mysterious. The whole experience was enlightening and opened my narrow worldview to the larger world around my own country.

As an intern, I was able to go on two of the tours; one to snorkel with whale sharks and another to Sian Ka’an, a biosphere reserve. These were two of the most exciting experiences of my life. I swam right next to the largest fish in the world. I snorkeled in a cenote: a partially underground pool with crystal clear water and floated through the mangroves of Sian Ka’an, pausing to explore Mayan ruins along the way. I was able to experience every aspect of the ecotourism business, from deskwork to participating in actual tours.

My boss, Kenneth was very accommodating and open to any ideas I had about improving the language of the site, which was my duty while working in the office. The atmosphere was one of family, of camaraderie. It is also very welcoming; I never felt unwelcome or excluded for the duration of my stay.

When I came to Mexico, I had very little knowledge of Spanish. Because I worked for an Ecotourism company, most of my employers and all of the other interns spoke English, and so I was able to be an effective employee despite the language barrier. I was still able to navigate Cancun with the help of Deborah and a Spanish/English dictionary. By the end of the month, I am proud to say that my Spanish improved.

I would not trade in this experience for anything. I’ve had a truly life-changing adventure in Cancun, Mexico that has opened the door for more international adventures in the future. I did not realize how much fun I would have and how close I would get to my newfound friends in Mexico. While my tan will fade, my memories leave a permanent and positive imprint on my life.