“Other Duties as Assigned”: A Day in the Life of an SFS Intern

Posted: May 13, 2015

When friends or family members ask me to explain my job as program intern at the SFS Center for Sustainable Development Studies, I’m often at a loss. One day might find me in the highlands teaching students how to extract hummingbirds from a mist-net, while another day I stay on campus to prepare pizza dough for our traditional clay oven. I like to joke that the final line of my job description—”…and other duties as assigned”—might as well be the entire summary. It certainly keeps things interesting.

Although most days at SFS are anything but typical, I will attempt to walk you through a normal day at our Center in Atenas, Costa Rica.

6:15 AM: Once the sun rises and the birds begin calling, it’s time to begin morning farm chores. I meet four students outside to water and weed the lettuce and cilantro planted in our viveros, or greenhouses. Next we’ll harvest oranges for some orchard-fresh juice.

If we have extra time we might wander down to feed Clara, our cow, a mushy mango… delicious.

7:00 AM: We sit down for a classic Tico breakfast of coffee, gallo pinto, plantains, and fresh fruit.

7:40 AM: Staff members convene in the Casa Grande to discuss the upcoming day. Our Natural Resource Management professor might ask me to assist with a GIS workshop in the afternoon.

8:00 AM: Students and staff come together for daily “RAP,” or Reflection, Announcements, and Physicality. A meaningful quote or song sets the tone for the day. We review the busy schedule, taking note of any special activities or upcoming field trips. I share a palabra del día with the students—maybe some Costa Rican slang (pura vida, mae) or vocabulary related to our field research projects. We close our time together with an activity of the students’ choice—a guided meditation, a set of push-ups, or a game of charades.

8:30 AM: I head to the office to work on a variety of projects. Some mornings I will edit a manuscript or develop a crowd-funding initiative for a professor. Other times I take inventory of our field equipment for upcoming excursions. I might sit in on a Tropical Ecology lecture about theories of biodiversity in the tropics, or update graphs on campus water and electricity consumption for Rainforest Alliance documentation.

12:00 PM: Lunch is a special time at the Center. It is traditionally the largest meal here, so we like to enjoy it to the fullest. For me that generally means sitting outside by the pool at our designated mesa de español, or Spanish table. Students of all skill levels love to chat with Yendry, our Program Assistant. We talk about our families, discuss local events, and try out some jokes… all in Spanish!

I always save my banana peel from lunch for a special someone…

1:00PM: On a typical afternoon, I’ll check in with Macho, our farm manager, to discuss garden or orchard projects for the upcoming week. He might show me a new tree species or integrated pest management technique. Then I might accompany Alex, our Student Affairs Manager, into town to run a variety of errands. We’ll check the post office for student mail, stop by the pharmacy to replenish the first aid kits, and pick up supplies for an upcoming community outreach project—games and environmental education with a local scouting group! En route, we might review the risk management plan for our week of Directed Research.

3:00 PM: Staff members usually need a little pick-me-up at this point in the afternoon—tropical heat and humidity is a force to be reckoned with! We spend fifteen minutes in the kitchen sipping coffee and eating pastries. Sometimes, the resident capuchin monkey troop decides to stop by too.

After wrapping up afternoon office work, we might head to the salón comunal—the La Presa community center—for a passionate round of bingo with our neighbors.

6:00 PM: My fingers are perpetually crossed for sopa azteca, the crowd pleaser of the dinner menu. A tomato-based soup topped with avocado and homemade tortilla strips? ¡Que rico! We’ll discuss our weekend plans over our meal… perhaps a trip to San Jose to visit the Feria Verde farmer’s market or a day trip to Playa Hermosa for some sun and waves.

7:30 PM: Students and staff like to wind down the night with a friendly mejenga, or pick-up game of fútbol under the lights. Other nights we might screen an environmentally-themed documentary film. On Tuesdays and Thursdays we frequent the community center for Zumba class. 1,000 colones will get you quite a few laughs, in addition to some new moves.

So there you have it. Lather, rinse, and repeat.