International Business

After eight very interesting weeks at the Municipal Government of Tena, my internship has ended. As if they were all waiting for my departure, most of my department took off for a vacation the same day I left. My internship answered many questions for me and also raised a few new ones. During my time there I realized that I was much more interested in the commerce of the Amazon than the government. My internship introduced me to many aspiring businesspeople as well as established successes. A few small business owners quietly confided that Ecuador does not have enough of a market for their mid to high level merchandise, but had no idea how and where to export. I had many conversations with these owners, and the career path I had always tentatively envisioned for myself (working for a non-profit) gave way to the exciting possibilities in the world of business. What I have seen as a trend for non-profits is to focus on the very poor. That is where the need is greatest and of course should be the priority group, but in looking at lower-middle class small business owners (there are a large amount in the Amazon) I saw that there was little help available to them, and I expect that is a trend across the developing world. Many never went to college and with the groups I talked to, there was a consensus that they wanted to expand their businesses but did not know logistically how to do it. Lack of knowledge, not money, was their principle problem. Unfortunately, I know very little about international shipping, so I could not help them; but their problem is one that will stick with me, and in the future, maybe I can. They are in need of mentorship and advice from an established international businessman. Maybe this is the just the combination of non-profit and business I was looking for after all.

Why an Internship?

Over the course of the last two months in Ecuador, I have constantly been asked by the people what I am doing here. Sometimes a quick explanation of “I am working with the municipal government” suffices, and many times I have gone more in-depth, explaining my Dickinson Internship grant and why I am here. I have realized that many people did not really understand what I meant when I told them I was an intern because internships here are so uncommon. I was repeatedly asked “why would you work for free?” or “I’m sure you could find a paying job here” after I had explained my internship. All of these questions made me consider the benefits of an internship and how it differs from a real job. In my case, I was grateful to be an intern and not an employee in many instances. As an intern I was able to join different projects and experience a variety of jobs, instead of working in one fixed position. Being an intern allowed for the flexibility to travel from division to division and learn what the government is doing collectively. When a government project was going to a particularly interesting site and there was an extra seat in the truck, I was able to tag along. Interning gave me the freedom to pursue what interested me within the government system and gain general knowledge about how the Municipal Government of Tena serves its citizens.

The Big Differences

Well, I only have a few weeks left in my internship and I feel that I have learned quite a bit. Ecuador, especially the Amazon region of Ecuador, has been extremely hospitable and welcoming to me. Adding up my stay during my gap year and this summer, I have been here for about a full year and it has been a very exciting time. Some of the stands out differences from the US to Ecuador have been:

  • the weather (on and off rain everyday adding up to massive flooding)
  • the food (super cheap and everything I order comes with a huge serving of rice)
  • Getting to where I want to go (street names are rarely used so a place’s proximity to local landmarks is the only way to find it)
  • Asking for directions (I often got lost trying to find the local landmarks and people would have to just about walk me to the door)
  • Culturally (once people figured out I was a foreigner, many people advised me -without my even needing to ask- on topics ranging from the best tourist spots to why one empanada shop is better than another)
  • Money (Ecuador uses US currency but they use an incredible amount of Sacagawea dollars; I have seen people pay their bill with 25 gold dollar coins)

It has certainly been an interesting summer!

Conversations Over Coffee

It has been another rainy week down in Tena, Ecuador. As of now all roads out of the city are impassible because of the mudslides. The location and climate of Tena has without a doubt added a very interesting dimension to my internship. Our normal outreach programs have been cancelled so that the trucks can help in the relief efforts and I am just as happy being sent to the Public Library, so English classes continue for one more week. An interesting thing I have noticed while working here is the distinct style of communication that takes place. Business conversations are very rarely just about business, and almost always include small talk mixed in. Face to face meetings are much preferred to phone calls, and often times employees from the other offices will drive over simply to pass on information; usually over a cup of coffee. I have learned that networking and personal skills are absolutely essential here, and that I must have something interesting to add to the various daily conversations in the office. Each day one person from the office buys bread and we all have breakfast together, discussing family, friends and what’s going on in town. It’s the kind of office that’s very easy to feel comfortable in.

Living Without Technology

So I have been working in the library again this week. It seems as though the English classes were well received, and they asked me to come back and teach for one more week. As summer vacations started this week, I was not expecting many kids to come during their break to study, but a good number showed up. In the homes of many of these kids, as well as much of rural Ecuador, there is no internet ($25 per month) or even a computer (at least $400) so many of the kids told me that they were bored sitting around at home with nothing to do. When I asked them about this, many of them told me that a computer and smart phone would better their lives. I think about the age old argument; is more technology better for our society? Are these kids really missing out? This made me think of the many smart phone addicts I know back in the U.S.A and how much more sitting around and talking I have seen in Ecuador. My Dickinson Internship Grant has sent me to a place where I can compare and contrast two vastly different life styles of life and consider the advantages and drawbacks of each. I can honestly say I am not sure which one I prefer.



Working in the Library

With the flood water having receded back into the river, things have just about returned to normal in Tena. The outreach program I usually work for is completing office work this week as well as setting up the next community project, so I was sent to the Ministry of Education. Someone there suggested that I teach English to children in the public library, and that has been the bulk of my work this week. The kids have ranged from 6 to 12, so the levels have varied pretty drastically. The six year olds were learning the English names for fruits and vegetables while the older children were working on sentence structure and conjugations. I quickly realized that the one-big-classroom teaching style I had in mind was not going to work, so I broke the kids into groups and I went from group to group. When I could keep the kids focused, I think that they learned something. If nothing else, they got their English homework done. As for the outreach program, next week we start a new project in the poverty-stricken outskirts of Tena which is where my former host family lives. I have high hopes for this project as I lived in that neighborhood for about six months and know how difficult things are there.

The Giant Flood

As the second week of my internship comes to an end, I cannot believe the amount of rain that has fallen in the last two weeks. This has been a record breaking rainy season for the Napo province and just about all the work the government is doing relates to flooding and landslide emergencies.  In the north of the province, half a town was leveled by a landslide on Monday. The roads that we take to our outreach sites have been washed away as well, so we have joined in helping the emergency crews. On Thursday we watched a dozen houses float down the side of a mountain and off a cliff. The residents just looked on in horror. It was a very poor neighborhood, and it’s likely that the landslide took all the possessions that they have in the world. They huddled around each other and cried/prayed in a little circle while we stood and watched the destruction; powerless. When I signed on for the internship I had never imagined seeing something like this. It was a very powerful experience and something I will never forget. Looking forward, my supervisor has informed me that there have been some schools looking for English teachers/tutors, so I may help with that when I am not on the outreach trips.

My First Week in Ecuador

Hello and welcome to my blog! My name is Aden Gilmour and I will be writing from the small Amazonian city of Tena, Ecuador during my internship with the Municipal Government of Tena. Due to heavy rains and landslides I had to wait a week in the high altitude capital city of Quito before descending to my internship site in the lowlands. I just finished my first week at my internship and thought I would share how it went.

After discussing the many departments and possible jobs for me with my supervisor, we decided to try and diversify my work experiences for this summer and so I will be helping with various community outreach programs. Essentially, these programs involve making assessments and then completing unique projects to benefit each community. This week we went to a very isolated community and after a lengthy meeting with community members on what was best for the village, we began building tilapia ponds. It has been very interesting work.

I secured this internship through the network of people I met during my bridge year in Ecuador after high school. I deferred a year from Dickinson College to live and volunteer in Tena. I am now a rising sophomore.  With this internship I am able to further my studies of Latin American business, government and environmental issues. I will be posting each week to provide updates of what I am doing at my internship and what I am learning here.