The Power of Potential

byEstrella Vargas ’17
Estrella Vargas ’17
An internship in Costa Rica filled with unexpected challenges led to powerful life lessons.View Photos
Estrella Vargas ’17
Estrella Vargas ’17

When it comes to internships, planning can only take you so far. Estrella Vargas ’17, who is majoring in sociology and anthropology and in communication, shares her honest and personal reflections about her summer 2015 internship in Costa Rica.


This summer, I was awarded the Lem Tucker Internship at Denison to pursue a journalism and media internship anywhere in the world. Although my initial plan was to work with newspaper companies in Nepal, the April earthquake made that impossible. With help from the Office of Career Exploration and other mentors on campus, I quickly redirected my internship to Costa Rica.

There, I spent eight weeks interning for Frontier Gap Year, a nonprofit focused on “safeguarding biodiversity and ecosystem integrity and building sustainable livelihoods” in the world’s poorest countries. I learned so much, but these two lessons stick out the most.

1. Make the best out of every opportunity you get: As soon as I arrived in Costa Rica, it was clear that the company I was to intern for was not ready for me. They had nothing planned for my internship and left everything up to me, someone new to the country and unfamiliar with their programming. However, I realized that I could either complain or make every moment count. I chose to create my own internship with the help of the program’s communications officer. So the first three weeks of my eight-week program were taken up with planning. The next five weeks were in the field, getting hands-on experience.

During this time, I taught classes in English, took pictures, wrote articles about my experiences in Costa Rica, and created a documentary – all for a company where I felt little support. I had to set my frustration aside and think about what I wanted to learn during my time there. And that in itself was a valuable exercise.

At first, I was really insecure about my skills as a journalist, but now I have a portfolio I can show future employers, newfound writing skills and a greater determination to tackle anything standing in my way.

The obstacles I faced were the best things that ever happened to me because they taught me about my potential.

So, in the end, an opportunity that at the outset seemed disappointing, was actually filled with many benefits. I also learned that nothing is ever perfect in the beginning and it is up to you to either love the imperfections or change them.

2. Failure is your best friend: When I think about my Frontier Gap Year internship a couple of years from now, I will be reminded of two things: all the people from Denison who supported me — and everything that went wrong throughout the whole process. I’ll remember the later because of what it has taught me.

One of the reasons I chose an internship focusing on journalism was because I’m interested in this career but I wasn’t confident in my writing ability. However, I did not want to hide behind closed doors avoiding grammar and words all of my life. While I still have insecurities about my vocabulary and grammar, this internship taught me how to tackle my fears so that, one day, I will overcome them.

Also, as a low-income, first-generation Latina student, my time at Denison and in this internship program has taught me that everything in life is possible if you believe in yourself. The obstacles I faced were the best things that ever happened to me, because they taught me about my potential.

Therefore, do not be afraid to fail – it is actually the best thing that can ever happen to you. It is a wake up call, an opportunity to do better, and another chance to move on and try new things. If you constantly avoid your insecurities, then you are choosing to live a fearful life. The only way to actually live a fearless life is to overcome them.

I will take on this mentality as I start my junior year and spend my spring semester abroad in Thailand. One thing is for certain, I will forever be grateful for my university and the people I met in Costa Rica.

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  • 56Estrella Vargas ’17
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September 15, 2015