Friendship and bonds in my Rapa Nui Internship

Julia Godinez ’17

Academic Focus: economics and history double major, public history minor

Internship: Terevaka Archeological, Hanga Roa, Chile

The summer of 2015 I had the extraordinary privilege of traveling to Rapa Nui, commonly known as Easter Island for an internship. The purpose of the internship was to work with local high school students during their two week winter break doing noninvasive archeological outreach. The program teaches local students about conservation methods and educates them about their own island because the local school system does not. The entire internship would also be spent camping in tents.

To be honest, neither the idea of working with high schoolers nor camping for a month scared me, but I was concerned about my Spanish speaking ability. I was surprisingly calm when I first arrived at the airport that looked like the island from the show Lost. It could have been my exhaustion from traveling for twenty-three hours, or simply excitement, but I had no problem adjusting to the island culture right away. Later I would learn that this easy adjustment came from the people I met, not my personal ability.

It is important to mention that the entire island is only 163 square kilometers and that Rapa Nui is one of the world's most isolated inhabited islands on earth. Despite that absolute isolation of the island, it is still visited by more than 50,000 tourists a year, which is almost 11 times bigger than the total population of the island. Knowing all this before arriving, I doubted that I would be able to have a non-touristy and authentic experience; I could not have been more wrong.

The people of the island were more welcoming than I ever could have fathomed. All of the people that became my friends, including my students were more than happy to share their culture, food and personal history with me. In my eyes, Rapa Nui has the absolutely unique combination of Polynesian warmth and hospitality coupled with the South American sense of family that welcomes people as actual members of their family. It was so heartwarming to be embraced by everyone I encountered especially since I was simply a “gringa from Gringolandia”.

The authenticity of all the friendships I made and sleeping alone in a tent every night gave me ample time for self-reflection and gratitude. I am still processing the experiences that I had this summer. With the self-reflection that I have had, I can most certainly say that the friendships and bonds I made this summer exposed me to an entirely new culture, which accepted me despite all our differences. This is what I cherish the most.