GoAbroad Interview

Johanna Molina - Americas Executive Director

Johanna Molina - Americas Executive Director

Johanna has a passion for discovering new cultures and meeting new people. Her goal is to embrace challenges and get out of her comfort zone. Seeing new people while falling in love with Colombia makes her happy. She maintains a personal mission of actively supporting entrepreneurs. Alongside her work at The Intern Group, she also belongs to the Board of the most important entrepreneurship organisation in Colombia, ANDI del Futuro, which nurtures and supports passionate young people that want to change the world.

You’re the Executive Director of The Intern Group’s programs in America, Colombia specifically and soon other countries. How did you originally get connected to The Intern Group?

I am one of the initial founders of The Intern Group along with David Lloyd and Lee Carlin. Currently I am the Americas ​Executive Director. When I graduated from college with a degree in Finance and a Masters in Marketing and Management I worked as a stockbroker in Valores Bancolombia. I interrupted my career in finance to study in London for two years, where I met David and had the opportunity to travel widely. After this experience I understood the importance of cultural exchange for personal and professional development, and that is why we started this company – to help the growth of the world's youth while at the same time supporting the economic and sociocultural development in the countries where we operate.

A collection of Photos of Colombian Culture

Colombia, the  Land of Magical  Realism. Credit: Alexander Suis.

What does a typical day look like as the Americas Executive Director?

In Colombia, our office is located in an entrepreneurial hub where we can also connect with local and international start-ups. With offices in six different countries, there is permanent communication between country directors and the central team. 

Even though in our team everyone has specific responsibilities, our structure is pretty flat so I’m well aware of every step of the process regarding all aspects of the business. Teamwork is crucial for us, so we all need to do a bit of everything. As well as the interns, we need to take care of the relationships with our local partners and actively find new ones to constantly offer better work opportunities for our interns.

My favorite part of this job is spending time with the interns, from introducing them to their team on the first day at work, to going on different sight-seeing trips, organizing social events or just cooking for them.

What sets your internships apart from other internship options in Colombia?

We offer an educational and cultural program. Our service is tailor-made to each intern, matching their needs with the needs of the organizations where we place them. We offer 24/7 support; being available at any time for anything at all that our interns need is crucial. Medical support is also included as standard in the program which is a luxury in other countries. 

Our years of experience are a key factor that enables us to keep improving and innovating our programs. Of the more than 300 interns we have received just in Colombia, 100 percent wanted to stay on, and many return a few months later. Some interns have received job offers from their placement companies and we provide all the support to both parties for obtaining the required work visa and help ease the transition for the intern.

At the same time, our alumni community with over 1,000 young professionals around the world is an incredibly valuable network to belong to. It provides a forum for the interns to ask advice on further career development, job opportunities, and growing their network of contacts.

A collection of Nature Photos from Colombia

Colombia, 2nd most biodiverse country in the world. Credit: Alexander Suis.

Colombia is a growing economy, what are the most common types of internship placements available in the emerging market there?

There are opportunities to do internships in every sector in Colombia from working with the government to entrepreneurship, finance, engineering, non-profit, environmental, the arts and fashion, etc. As you mention, the fact that this is an emerging market makes it even more important because companies are more open to new ideas and willing to provide real hands-on experience. Our internship programs are a truly valuable learning experience. They are specifically designed to professionally challenge the intern and provide them the opportunity to really get stuck in and contribute meaningfully to their placement company or organization.

Your background is in Financial Engineering, Sales, and Marketing, you even worked for the Colombian stock exchange for a few years. How do you bring your varied experience to your role in placing interns in Colombia?

My experience and the experience of the team are fundamental to identify the right opportunities that best suit each intern. Our expertise kicks in from the minute that the candidate applies, months or in some cases even years before arriving in Colombia. We provide advice on how to be successful at an interview, how to think about themselves as a brand, writing an excellent CV and cover letter that really sets them apart from other candidates, etc. The attention to detail that that you need to have working at the stock exchange has been very beneficial for me in this role; and it means I am used to meeting and exceeding clients’ expectations.

BBQ at La Fe Natural Park

Enjoying a day out: BBQ, lake, paintballing. At La Fe natural park. Credit: Nombuso Sands.

What the most important piece of advice you would give to someone interested in applying to intern in Colombia?

Working in Colombia is an amazing experience. Work-life in Colombia is intense and there is a great focus on people and teamwork. Our interns are welcomed as an integral part of their placement company, and their colleagues very often make them part of their family and social life. Colombia is a very hospitable country; there is almost no difference between a colleague and a friend. So overall, the experience is fantastic, and at the same time as gaining professional experience in the organization they are working in, the interns are also learning in depth about Colombian culture. 

​Some tips for the interns to have in mind:

  • Be open to a very caring and charming culture.
  • At work the culture is that people also speak about personal matters. Don't find it rude if your colleagues ask personal questions.
  • Colombians love to start working early, 7 a.m. starts in the office are common.
  • Lunchtime may take up to two hours.
  • Colombians are not always on time, don't be frustrated by this.

World Cup Celebrations in Colombia.

Celebrating Colombia's great performance at the World Cup. Credit: Johanna Molina

What kind of excursions or activities do you have for interns while they’re in Colombia?

We organize a full program of events in the city during the week such as going out to dinner, bowling, cinema trips, visiting museums and attending football matches, amongst other activities. During weekends we plan excursions around Medellin like visits to colonial-era towns such as Santa Fe de Antioquia. or trips in the beautiful countryside, for example to the lake-side village of Guatapé (included in the program fee). We also organize parties, barbeques, and other fun activities.

Additionally, we provide advice for our interns to travel around the rest of the country, visiting cities like Bogota and Cartagena, which is rated as one of the most romantic cities in the Caribbean. Many of our interns have also explored the Coffee Region (which is a UNESCO World Heritage site) and the beach city of Santa Marta where from the beach you can see the snow-capped mountains and explore along the coast to discover a wealth of native indigenous culture. All this makes our interns value their internship in Colombia as one of the best experiences of their lives!

What’s the number one career benefit of doing an internship in Colombia?

Colombia is Latin America's hidden diamond. Today the rest of the world is beginning to realize the great wealth that Colombia has to offer. Its people, its rapid economic and social development, and its growth potential make it one of the most attractive economies in Latin America. Foreign investment in recent years has been at record levels. In terms of geographical location, it is in the privileged position of having coastlines on both the Caribbean and the Pacific. Political stability and the security situation have improved significantly, making it comparable or even safer than other countries in Latin America. 

Colombia is the perfect business hub for international companies, for example HP has chosen to locate one of their main sites for the region in the city of Medellin. This is the perfect time for interns to participate in the dynamic change that the country is undergoing, and The Intern Group is perfectly positioned to place interns at major companies throughout the country. Colombia is now a country where the only risk is wanting to stay!

Volunteers in Colombia working on construction

The best team! Small in number, big in passion. Credit: Johanna Molina

Do you have plans of expanding your intern programs in Colombia in any way?

We are happy with our program in Colombia. The demand is perfect for the city to absorb. Medellin has a great transport system, has incredibly friendly people, and the weather is perfect all year round. Our clients prefer it to being placed in Bogota for example. We don’t see the need to open in other cities in the country where the cost of living is higher and getting around is a bit more chaotic. Our expansion will continue this year once we open another country in the Americas.

What is your favorite part of working for The Intern Group?

The best part is that for me I don't feel as if I'm working. I'm following my passion which is helping other people achieve their goals. I see how our interns grow both personally and professionally during their time on our program, and that's what makes it all worth it. We are all part of one large family, after four years I can say that almost anywhere I go in the world I can meet up with one of our alumni. I am part of a fantastic team, we have great clients, and we work with world class partners all of which combines to enable us to help our interns achieve their dreams and really make a positive impact in their lives. What more could I ask for?