Biz Latin Hub recently had the chance to chat with Matthew Barfield, director of Intern Colombia, a company he founded in 2017 to facilitate internships in Colombia.
Eight years before establishing Intern Colombia, Barfield got his first taste of life in Latin America’s fourth-largest economy while backpacking through South America prior to going to university.
After studying International Relations with Spanish at Birmingham University in his native UK, Barfield returned to live in Colombia, teaching English in Bogota for a year before going back to his homeland, where he worked in the recruitment sector.
However, Barfield says he felt drawn to go back to Colombia, so after almost two years in London he returned to form Intern Colombia — a company whose mission combines Barfield’s studies, experience finding and filling employment opportunities, and passion for the country.
Intern Colombia provides an “all-inclusive” internship package and to date the company has facilitated more than 150 internships in a diverse range of sectors in Colombia, even despite a significant slowdown in applications during the worst of the global pandemic.
With interst in internships picking up since the middle of 2021 as international travel has returned to normal, and the company recently opening operations in Colombia’s second-largest city Medellin, Barfield says Intern Colombia aims to have worked with 200 interns by the end of 2022.
(Full disclosure: Biz Latin Hub has assisted Barfield with his own visa application process in Colombia and is one of the partner companies that receives interns from Intern Colombia.)
Here’s what Barfield had to say during our recent interview in Bogota:
How has Intern Colombia evolved since its foundation?
When I first started the company, it was just me, I had to build a network from scratch and contact companies to see if they would be interested in working together, as well as look for volunteers. This was quite stressful and a lot of work because I didn’t really know whether it was going to be successful or not. However, in January 2017 we had our first intern, and after that things began to grow and the company evolved from just me working solo to a team that consists of 3 or 4. Recently, we expanded our programs to Medellin, and we now have somebody there working for us as well.
Can you tell us more about the package that Intern Colombia provides?
We provide all-inclusive internship programs, including accommodation and airport pick-up, while participants are offered a city orientation tour before starting their internship, as well as Spanish and salsa classes. Internships also include cultural and social networking events as well as daytrips to spots outside of the city. This is all done to make participants feel at home as soon as they arrive in Colombia, as well as providing opportunities to get to know the local culture and meet other interns and locals soon after arrival.
What do people get out of internships in Colombia that they would not get back home?
It is definely more exciting to do an internship in a developing country that in a developed country. In a developed country it tends to be more rigid when it comes to what an intern can do. In Colombia, these boundaries are generally less rigid, and interns generally get more opportunities for hands on experience, so they actually get to do work that has direct impact. Here, they generally treat you as another member of staff, so you really get to know the work and have a real opportunity to contribute. Additionally, working in a culture that is not your own, versus doing an internship in a culture that you know well, provides another layer of learning to participants, and means that even after hours you building valuable experiences for the future.
What is the most common type of internship people come to you for?
I wouldn’t say that there is one particular type of internship or candidate profile we receive, but there’s probably about a 50/50 split between working for an NGO or interning with a company in the private sector. For NGOs, we receive a lot of interest in human rights, womens rights, and peace building in Colombia, although it is worth saying that there are a great many opportunities available in other humanitarian areas. For the private sector, people who come to us looking for internship opportunities will often be interested in computer science, finance, or marketing, however we also work with companies that have opportunities in the likes of legal, admin, HR, and recruitment.
Are there any internships in Colombia for which you have more opportunities than applicants?
There isn’t really a sector that we struggle to find candidates for, but many partner companies are interested in having native English speakers to assist them with marketing and communications. That is the sort of thing that we never have trouble finding placements for, so I guess you could say we have more opportunities than applicants.
How often do interns’ families express concerns about them going to Colombia?
It is really only in few cases that [Intern Colombia being contacted by a family member] has happened. Where parents get involved, it is usually the case that one parent is particularly supportive and sees an internship in Colombia as an amazing cultural experience, while the other is concerned about safety and welfare in the country. Anyone who has been to Colombia in recent years will know that it is a far cry from the 80s and 90s when there was a great deal more crime and insecurity, but there will always be a sort of hangover from that era. However, one of the things we do is to send through the most up-to-date information on safety in Colombia, as well as providing tips and guidance on personal safety as part of the orientation.
What is one of the most gratifying aspects of facilitating internships in Colombia?
I would say the joy that most interns experience during the program. Usually a lot of the interns want to extend their programs, once people realize how incredible Colombia and its people are, they tend to want to stay.
Biz Latin Hub offers internships in Colombia & elsewhere in Latin America
At Biz Latin Hub, we offer internships in Colombia, as well as in many of the other 15 markets around Latin America and the Caribbean where we have teams in place.
We are a professional services company offering market entry assistance and integrated back office services to corporations and investors doing business in the region, based on a porfolio that inlcudes accounting & taxation, company formation, corporate legal services, hiring & PEO, among others. As well as internship opportunities in our key service areas, we also have internships coverign marketing, administration, recruitment, and sales.
If you are interested in investing in Latin America or looking for a partner to support you, contact us today.
If you are interested in one of our internships in Colombia, or elswhere in the region, apply here.
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