Agave Spirits (Kaya Responsible Travel) - Ecuador

Virtual Internship

Final Report: Agave Spirits - Ecuador

Two thousand, nine hundred, and sixty miles is the distance between Quito, Ecuador and Riverside, Illinois. Two thousand, nine hundred, and sixty miles is a very special distance. Through this distance, I was able to enhance characteristics that will help me in future careers, as well as immerse myself in the culture of Ecuador and meet wonderful people who will always have an impact on me.

The first time I entered my Zoom call I was extremely skeptical. Is my connection going to cause issues? Are they (my supervisors) going to be able to see my facial expressions? Are they going to speak Spanish? Thoughts were rapidly spewing in my brain until I clicked the button, “join meeting.” Once this button was clicked all I could hear was salsa music and all I could see were two women with grins reaching from ear to ear waving at me. These two women, Diana and Liz, were my supervisors and welcomed me with kindness! Not only did they help me with my project, but they also helped me immerse myself in Ecuador’s culture and helped me to narrow down my project.

Over eight weeks during the summer, I worked for Agave Spirits. Agave Spirits’ goal is to restore the agave plant in Quito. As the urbanization of Quito continually increases, native plants, such as the agave plant, are diminishing. Many people in Quito see the Agave plant as an eyesore that has no value.  The founder of Agave Spirits is trying to inform residents of Quito of the nutritional, cultural, and environmental importance of the agave plant. Therefore, I independently organized a research project that focused on the nutritional value of the agave plant. Every day, I independently looked through databases, books, and journals to develop an understanding of agave. With this research, Agave Spirits will be able to use it to help teach the residents of Quito the nutritional benefits of the agave plant.

However, because I have no previous experience studying it, I first had to learn the foundations of nutrition. For example, I taught myself the role vitamins, antioxidants, iron, and phosphorous have on the human body.  From this experience, not only did I effectively learn how to research, but I also developed a background on nutrition. Ever since high school, I have been intrigued by health and wellness. As a human being, it is crucial to understand that what you put into your body has a large effect on how you perform. Due to my work, I gained a foundation on nutrition and I hope to use this knowledge for future research projects.

This summer I further developed my ability to take initiative, discipline myself and assimilate to a different workforce. During this time, not only did I organize my whole project, but I also advocated for myself and set up interviews with members of the community in Ecuador. From this initiative, I interviewed a farmer of the agave plant and a chocolate/agave entrepreneur. Through this interview, I learned about the nutritional benefits of agave and gathered insight on the farmer’s role in Ecuador’s society. She is one of the few female entrepreneurs in her town and was changing the norm in Ecuador. I also refined my work discipline. Being surrounded by many distractions, including siblings, pets, coronavirus, etc., I had to remind myself of the goals I set for that day and stick to them. I also adapted to the work environment in Ecuador. My readings and some of my meetings were in Spanish so I had to utilize my previous Spanish knowledge in order to be able to understand the conversation or text. I also adapted to Ecuador’s culture in that it is common for meeting attendees to show up five or ten minutes after the meeting was scheduled. In Ecuador, they also have a different workday from the United States, often finishing the workday at 8pm Central Time. I would have never imagined that from this internship I would gain such valuable characteristics that I will utilize in my future career path.

From this virtual experience, I also was able to engage in Ecuador’s culture. Quito is an expanding World Heritage Site that possesses a variety of ecosystems. Volcanoes, the Amazon Rainforest, and the Galapagos Islands are all located in Ecuador. I would always wake up to a text from my supervisor with a picture of the weather in Quito. She also loves volcanoes and updated me on the condition of Cotopaxi, the active volcano in Quito. I always looked forward to Wednesday nights in quarantine. They were filled with salsa classes, cooking classes on how to make llapingachos, virtual tours of Quito and music classes. Even though I was on my computer at my house, I felt as if I was in Ecuador experiencing the culture.

This virtual internship has been an extremely unique experience that allowed me to immerse myself in Ecuador’s ever-changing culture. From this experience, I am able to share my gained knowledge of Ecuador’s culture and utilize my newly enhanced characteristics in the Notre Dame community. This virtual internship has granted me the opportunity to experience a field that I hope to continue to explore.