Dear Wellesley: Monica Naranjo Reflects on Her Experience in Costa Rica
In the third installment of our 2017 Summer Postcard Series, Monica Naranjo writes to us from Costa Rica, where she is participating in a Global Citizenship Internship through Wellesley’s Career Education. Her internship is supported by The Mollie Green Lumpkin ’25 Fund for Experiential Learning in Latin America and The Kathryn Wasserman Davis ’28 International Internships Endowed Fund for Students.
At this moment, I find myself gazing at the Pacific Ocean. The waves are crashing against the rocks; the sky is blue; and flocks of birds fly through the sky as if they were doing a beautiful choreographed dance. While I sit on the beach, drinking water out of a coconut, I think of all the opportunities that have been offered to me during my time at Wellesley College, including my summer internship here in Costa Rica, a country I have wanted to visit for years. Thanks to the Global Citizenship Internship Program, I have been working at the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) in the city of San Jose, the capital of Costa Rica. The city is located about 100 miles from here and is surrounded by beautiful mountains that I enjoy staring at every day on my way to the office.
The UNDP works in about 170 countries connecting governments with communities and advocating for human rights, environmental sustainability, and democracy. In Costa Rica, the UNDP is running multiple projects to reduce poverty, protect the biodiversity of the nation, and create consciousness about the importance of promoting gender equality in all aspects of society. As an intern, I work under the supervision of a gender specialist, helping her gather data about women and gender-related issues and making graphics to help the public better understand the situations that women and girls in vulnerable populations are facing today. I also help other staff members with different projects in an attempt to learn about other departments, as well as offer my support.
During my time here, I have been involved in meetings with staff members of the United Nations System, such as the UNDP, UNICEF, and UNFPA. I have attended workshops with advocates of the LGBTQIA community and people with disabilities. I have written reports, translated documents from Spanish to English and English to Spanish, and researched data needed to understand the advances and challenges in the attainment of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), commonly known as the 2030 Agenda.
By interning at the UNDP, I have gained important insights about my life as a Latina, and I have realized the importance of understanding one’s oppression in order to pursue equality. I have also developed a better understanding of my strengths and weaknesses, and, most importantly, I have been able to reconnect with my Latin American culture. (I moved to the United States twelve years ago from Colombia, and as I tried to acclimate to the American culture, I almost forgot how good it feels to be on Latin American soil.) While every country is different, my experience in Costa Rica has reminded me how friendly, helpful, and kind most Latinx people are, and has made me feel happy and proud of my heritage.
At work, I see people who are committed to their jobs and want to make a difference in their communities, yet they also find time to joke with each other, talk about the weather (even though it rains every day), and leave the office during lunch to quickly celebrate a birthday or eat churchiletas, which is an artisan ice cream filled with condensed milk and covered in powder milk. Their popular saying “Pura Vida”—which literally means “pure life” but instead is used for greetings, expressing feelings, and much more—has become part of my vocabulary, and even though I have gotten lost on a few occasions, sometimes I feel as though I have been here all my life.
While you may think I am enjoying the heat of summer, I have missed the cold weather at Wellesley (yeah, I know that sounds weird, but it is sooo true!). Still, I cannot believe fall will be here soon. I feel sad just thinking that I will be leaving Costa Rica, but as a rising senior, I am eager to continue my education as a double major in psychology and peace and justice studies. Because of this internship, my classes make so much more sense, I feel more empowered, and I am more committed than ever to continuing my education after Wellesley. The fight for gender equality is difficult, but we cannot give up.
For now, I will continue watching the monkeys that are running along the power lines; I will enjoy eating tropical fruits and visiting as many places as I possibly can. Costa Rica is a paradise, and I will leave here with bigger dreams than the ones I brought with me. The world is an incredible place, and there is so much more to learn, do, and see.
Monica Naranjo is a double major in psychology and peace and justice studies. She will be taking over Wellesley’s Snapchat account Monday 7/31–Friday 8/4 and sharing details about her daily life and internship in Costa Rica. Add Wellesley on Snapchat to follow along.