Experience: Tijuca National Park. Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
Duration: June- July 2016
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This past summer, I served as a volunteer intern in the Tijuca National Park in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. I lived with a wonderful Brazilian host family and worked in the rainforest 4 days per week. I would go to a different part of the forest every day as it is segmented throughout the city and help primarily with invasive species removal as well as trail clearing and fence building. The rainforest is home to beautiful trees that grow exotic fruits and monkeys nest in. It was amazing to see all of the wildlife that flourishes when the natural habitat is preserved. It had always been a dream of mine to visit the Tijuca rainforest as it is the largest urban rainforest in the world and I was intrigued to learn more about how such a complex ecosystem can thrive in the midst of a bustling city. I learned during my time in Brazil that the rainforest helps clean the city’s air and water as well as brings in a great deal of money through tourism and recreation. However, as invasive species dominate more and more of the forest’s flora and fauna, it is more important than ever that local citizens as well as tourists take action to preserve the natural environment that exists in Rio. In addition to learning more about best practices in invasive species removal, I gained invaluable relationships with my host family as well as the people that I worked with in the forest. I most enjoyed learning about their lives and finding common ground even when our life experiences seemed incredibly different. We could connect through our stories and shared fascination for each others cultures.
I found this experience doing research on different nonprofits with a sustainability focus. I found the volunteer internship in Brazil through an international service nonprofit and applied for the Honors and Scholars Enrichment Grant to fund it. My advice to students who want to have an international experience in their field is to apply to anything that interests you and take advantage of funding opportunities that exist. It takes some work as you have to be willing to spend time researching and filling out applications, but a summer of adventure is worth it!