Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Not your Normal Business School Internship - Moving 20 Tons of Coffee

When I began searching for an internship last fall, I was not sure exactly what I was looking for. I started with the typical ideas of a position within a banking or accounting firm. I always had an interest in numbers and finance, but after talking to people in the industry and attending countless forums, I realized it was not for me. The idea of manipulating spreadsheets for hours on end simply did not appeal to me like I hoped it would have. (Well, okay... to be honest, I never really hoped that spreadsheets would appeal to me.) After hearing stories from speakers at forums and classmates pursuing these careers, it became clear that I would not be happy in such an environment. So I went back to the drawing board, starting with my biggest passion--travel. The moment I discovered the internship program offered by Unión MicroFinanza, something clicked. I began having conversations with Daniel, UMF’s internship coordinator, about the program, the organization, and what it all entailed. It quickly became apparent that I had finally found an internship opportunity that fit.

I have been in Honduras for two weeks now, and to say my excitement has grown since I arrived would be an understatement and for good reason--my work with UMF is already in full swing, and words do not justify how much I am learning every day. Besides everything I have learned about microfinance, agriculture, and the people of La Unión, I’ve gained an incredible insight into the nuances of international business and how world markets affect small communities like La Unión.

The crew at Unión MicroFinanza wasted no time getting me involved. On my third day after arrival, I went on a day trip with Michael De Wit, UMF's Director of Honduran Operations, to the UMF coffee exporter in the city of Santa Rosa. We began by weighing the coffee to be sold, then loaded tons--literally 20 tons of coffee!-- into the trucks and hauled the coffee off to be sorted. Of course, this is a third-world nation, and not everything goes according to plan—which is a critical lesson to learn here. After one of the trucks broke down, I realized this was no longer going to be a simple day trip. With plenty of time to kill as I waited for Michael to return with the other truck, I went off and met a few locals who were ecstatic to meet me and hear about the objectives set out by Unión MicroFinanza. Just another reason the culture is so appealing to me. We eventually completed our mission and made it back to La Unión around dinnertime the next day. All in all, it was quite the voyage.

As exciting as this whole venture was, it is only a small portion of the process. Of course, exporting the coffee for sales in the States is a critical step, but there is so much more to it. This last weekend tied it all together. From processing loan approvals to receiving truckloads of fertilizer to finally distributing the loans to all of the producers, the process came full circle and I now understand what UMF does and how the people of Honduras are actually benefiting from the services provided—and what I am doing to help.

With ten more weeks to go, undoubtedly there will be many more adventures to come, people to meet, and stimulating work to carry out. With everything that I’m learning and all the friendships that I am forming, I am sure I will look back on this internship one day and be sad it ever ended. Yet I am equally sure that I will be proud of the goals and accomplishments I realized.

By Josh Hall

-Josh is a student at UC Berkley-

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