Impressions of a Summer Internship in Antigua

This is the next in a series of posts by recipients of the Career Services Summer Funding grant, and the first entry from our 2015 recipients.  We’ve asked funding recipients to reflect on their summer experiences and talk about the industries in which they’ve been spending the summer.  You can read the entire series here.

This blog is by Esther Rose Needham, Penn Design, MCP ’16


My first impression of Antigua was the dryness. It was everywhere, even the aloe had turned brown and was beginning to shrivel in on itself. Flying into the Caribbean Island, where I spent my summer interning at the government’s Environment Division with the help of funding from Career Services, I could see the sunburnt cliffs sloping into the turquoise water. The contrast was breathtaking yet harsh. Antigua and Barbuda, the twin island nation, has been experiencing lower than average rainfall for several years, dipping into a severe drought this spring. Though the lack of groundwater and limited surface water has been an asset at times throughout history, it now presents a struggle for those that call the small island home. Relying primarily on collected rainwater, which has been in scarce supply, the public utilities department has been forced to put the island on rotating water rationing. No water means no functioning plumbing, not even government offices are excluded. So from learning how to flush a toilet with a hand scoop, to dancing in the rain at a carnival fete, to a 5 a.m. hike to a reservoir, this summer has been all about water and discovery.


Even at work I have been learning and it has been all about water. My internship revolves around spatial data, mapping and analyses, specifically that of hydrologic information. I have spent hours meticulously combing over aerial images and hot afternoons conducting fieldwork to map water features. Ultimately working on projects related to watersheds and flooding, I have learned an incredible amount about hydrologic modeling and have felt an intense satisfaction in my work. Though I have been lucky enough to live on a beautiful hilltop with a cistern to catch rainwater, protected from both seawater flooding and water rationing, I know that most residents of Antigua are not so lucky. Here and throughout the world many people are affected by decreasing rainfall and increasing drought and flooding as a result of climate change. I am incredibly blessed that I have had the opportunity to make a small contribution in this field, especially on such a beautiful and welcoming island.

ester1When I first arrived here I had never snorkeled on a reef or kayaked through mangroves. I had never seen sea turtles mating or traced their tracks up a white sand beach. I had never gone free-diving, swam with wild sting rays and eels, or night snorkeled with phosphorescence. I didn’t know that putting guppies in your cistern would get rid of the breeding mosquitoes or that lizards would eat those mosquitoes off of your legs if you sat very still. I had never photographed a night-blooming cereus, eaten raw sea urchin on the beach or mastered left-hand driving. I had never felt the mist of tropical rain on my bed or the wind at my back on the bow of a sailboat as the Caribbean sun sank. I have learned so much. I have had the rare chance to experience the world from another perspective and I am grateful. Antigua has embraced me and I can only hope that I have given back as much as I have received.

Author: Student Perspective

Views and opinions from current Penn students.