Virtual Internships Abroad Virtual Community Development

November 17, 2020
By Toya Liu, Wharton '23

Traveling to other countries has always been a wonderful experience for me. I’ve looked forward to family vacations for the opportunity to explore different cultural monuments and taste incredible ethnic dishes, but I have never traveled outside the country alone before.

Thus, I was more than excited to have learned in early spring that I was accepted into a GRIP internship abroad in Ecuador for the summer of 2020. I have always wanted to visit Ecuador for its incredible natural biodiversity and rich culture. My internship would focus on community development, something I’m very passionate about as well. Everything was going great! That is until coronavirus happened.

As summer started and my internship finally transitioned to being virtual, I was a little mopey to be completely honest. On the first day of the internship, all the interns sat through a Zoom presentation about the natural beauty of Ecuador, and it really hit me that in another reality I could have been exploring Ecuador with the other interns, staying up late at night to talk about our goals and dreams, waking up early to hike to the top of Cotopaxi, and spending our days at the Manna Project International Centro interacting with the local community members of Sangolquí.

Instead, I was stuck at home, forced to stay inside my house, and interacting with nobody in person outside of my immediate family. For the first week, I was frustrated at what could have been. 

As the days passed, my outlook slowly began to change. Even though I wasn’t physically in Quito, I was still growing close with my intern class. We bonded over icebreakers and plans to start a band over Zoom while simultaneously brainstorming the best way to answer the needs of the Sanqolguí community on the Spanish website we were developing. We texted each other inside jokes during meetings and tried to get each other to laugh on camera.

I learned more about the culture and people of Ecuador as well. Discussions with my Spanish teacher and my language exchange partner revealed to me what they loved about their country, and I treasured the little gems of experiences they shared with me about the best places to visit in Quito, and the strategies they used to discover their passions.

As my internship drew to a close, I found myself reminiscing on those first few days when I thought I would miss out on the friendships I was convinced I would only be able to make on the ground in Ecuador. This experience has ultimately taught me that like-minded people will find ways to get together and grow closer no matter what, whether through text, Slack, or Zoom. I will always keep my Manna friendships very near and dear to my heart as we all strive to achieve our goals.