For over 100 years, travelers from all over have been drawn to visit the world’s most pristine natural wonders; it’s no surprise, really, considering the allure of warmly roasted marshmallows and stunning wilderness that make your insides tingle. If you aspire to join the ranks of park rangers or work alongside Smokey the Bear, interning abroad in a national park will provide you with invaluable field experience and plant seeds for future work in conservation, preservation, and tourism. National park internships are the kind of internships where the world will really be at your fingertips (and probably under your fingernails and inside your sturdy hiking boots, too).
Why Intern Abroad in National Parks
Aside from the shiny badge that many national park rangers proudly wear, there are many reasons to consider an internship (and eventual career?) in a national park. There will be plenty of opportunities to spend time outdoors, study the stars in some of the world’s most remote locations, and have access to private time with Mother Nature. You’ll also help protect the planet, and show visitors how important it is that they do so too.
Perhaps you already know the exact national park you’ll use as basecamp, or are open to exploring the world and seeing which corner of it you fall the most in love with. Either way, national park internships abroad will expose you to new cultures, environments, species, and people, all things you’ll likely deal with on a daily basis in the national park system of any country.
A national park internship will teach you the ropes of how national parks are run, invaluable knowledge and business insights for your future career. There’s more to being a national park employee than wearing a great uniform or hiking in the wilderness; an internship at a national park can help make sense of the bureaucracy of how most national park systems are run (since they’re usually part of the government) and the intricacies of building a fulfilling lifelong career that both challenges you and protects the environment for generations to come. It’s not all about smelling roses; but some days it will be, and that’s why national park internships are so desirable.
One important consideration for you city-dwellers out there is that national park internship placements won’t likely be in the center of a bustling metropolis. If you’re looking for state-of-the-art modern conveniences, you might want to direct your internship search toward a “national mall” rather than a “national park.” However, if you don’t mind roughin’ it or sacrificing your daily showers to help the planet, national park internships could be perfect for you. We should probably mention your precious cell phone will likely be out of service (a #happyplace for some, modern torture for others).
The United States is not the only country to have an exemplary national park system that seeks to protect some of the most beautiful natural wonders and habitats on Earth, but it is one of the best known, and draws some of the largest crowds. Within the U.S. National Park Service, interns have the opportunity to work and learn from nearly every role in a park, and the diversity of parks (compare examples such as historic Harper’s Ferry National Park with remote outdoors Denali National Park) provide a huge range of options to choose from.
One great region to look for national park internships abroad that can teach you skills for a national park career is Central and South America. Costa Rica is a natural choice, with its incredible biodiversity and high prioritization of conservation within the country. Similarly, Ecuador offers wonderful opportunities to experience the wilderness and wildlife in their country, as does Chile, which also has several environmental preservation internships based in national parks.
You could also spend time among the “Big Five” in a game preserve in South Africa, intern in a wildlife rescue center in Uganda, or work with locals in Tanzania teaching them hospitality and stewardship for their own natural resources. The diversity of internships options isn’t quite as big as the number of species and ecosystems in Africa, but it’s close!
While you may wish to end up interning in a national park specifically, don’t forget to consider game preserves, conservation zones, and companies that may not have geographic boundaries, but provide similar opportunities.
National Park Internships
Most national park internships that will prepare you for a real career in the national park system will put you in close quarters with Mother Nature and her many inhabitants. National park internships allow you to explore a variety of different roles in the field. Explore ground work in conservation, partner with professional geoscientists to study how the park is changing over time, or learn the ropes of the business side of how national parks are run through a national parks consulting internship. Many people contribute to the success of a national park, and nearly all roles offer internship opportunities.
National park internships often occur as part of secondary or collegiate education, though many students may wish to pursue a graduate career in a more specific field, such as environmental management or conservation, which often includes an internship as well. Due to the intense hands-on nature of national park internships, choosing to participate in one or more internships during your academic career can only help to give you insight into exactly what type of work you’d like to do upon graduation.
Most national park internships don’t require specific academic qualifications, though it won’t hurt to have studied subjects like biology, ecology, or geology. That being said, students from art, history, anthropology, and archaeology backgrounds are just as likely to be interested in and succeed at national park internships.
Upon internship completion, the world is your oyster! Whether you completed a national park internship abroad or close to home, you will suddenly have prospects not only in the national parks, but in game preserves, state and local park systems, in the private and public sector, and much more. The knowledge gained about protecting the environment in your internship is in high demand as the resources of our planet become increasingly constrained.
Benefits & Challenges
Close connection with nature. Many people dream of the chance to spend their careers outdoors, surrounded by wildlife and nature. With a career in a national park system anywhere in the world, this can be your life everyday.
Competition for placements. The reality of national parks is that they are often faced with funding difficulties and there are only so many jobs available. An internship in a national park will help you stand out in the crowd of applicants.
Immersion on every level. If you choose to do an internship abroad to advance your national parks career, you’ll not only get the chance to be immersed in the environment, you’ll also get a chance to experience other cultures, languages, and customs. Your eyes will be opened to the wonders of the world, and you’ll realize there are far more than seven of them.
Do it for the birds, for the bees, for the bear necessities. Walk out on your cabin porch and take a look around you; between your morning dip in the nearby lake, to firing up your walkie-talkie, to learning your new trail maintenance assignments, participating in a national park internship abroad is a noble and educational endeavor.