A Day in the Life: Ben Carson on Chiloe Island, Chile

Ben Carson

Ben spent a few months interning on Chiloe Island, Chile

A typical day starts by convincing myself to brave the cold and get out of bed by around 7:00 am. My internship started in the end of summer, but quickly moved into fall which brought with it much colder temperatures. The palafito (a house on stilts built over the outlet of the river into the ocean) in which I am staying has very little insulation and no central heat – a typical situation in Castro, Chile. I rely on an electric blanket to keep me warm in the evenings because I want to preserve propane for cooking, rather than using it for the inefficient space heater. After a quick breakfast of coffee and oatmeal with a banana, my day consists of one of two options, either work in the office or work in the field.

When I’m working in the office for the day, I head out on the 30-minute walk to work along a main highway by about 8:15 am. Morning traffic makes the walk less than relaxing but listening to music in headphones is effective at drowning out the noise. This allows me to enjoy the views of the ocean to my left, with parts central Castro on the other side. Often the walk is interspersed with dogs, both barking behind fences and strays walking on the sidewalks. Once I turn on to the small gravel road on which the INFOR office is situated, I usually greet the mostly friendly neighborhood dogs. 

Morning Walk

Generally, I’m one of the first few people to get to the office and greet a few coworkers with a friendly “Hola! Buenos dias!”, then get settled in at my desk. With a warm cup of instant coffee, I’m able to start my research. I was given a general focus of researching land use changes near the city of Ancud at the northern tip of Chiloe and their effects on the hydrologic systems that provide some of the potable water to the city. My research on this topic has led me to a project proposal focused on developing a model of the area using the Soil and Water Assessment Tool (SWAT) to evaluate, describe, and predict the hydrologic effects of land use and climate changes in the present and into the future.

Lunch is around 12:30, and while most of my coworkers head home or to the city, my fellow intern Taline and I usually walk across the main road to El Fogón Chilote Nercón for some bread with cheese and empanadas. When 5 o’clock rolls around, Taline and I pack our things and make the trek back to out homes together. This time is used for daily reflection, to talk about languages (she’s German), and to compare our perspectives on the culture of Chiloe. Some days I’ll head into central Castro with Taline for
shopping or just a nice walk. If not, I’ll make a stop at one or two small markets for groceries, typically bread, vegetables, and cookies, but sometimes cheese, meats, or potentially supplies for a planned meal. 

Back in my palafito, I will make dinner and work on my schoolwork. I’m able to listen to music on a small stereo that was already in the palafito when I moved in while I read for leisure. If I was lazy and didn’t stop for food, I always have the option of heading downstairs to El Astillero pizzeria. Not only is the pizza there delicious and made with fresh, local ingredients, but when I’m upstairs the stone oven keeps my bedroom warm and the smells of fresh pizza waft in and put me to sleep. 

The other half of my time is spent in the field, which are the best days. After breakfast I usually wait for a coworker to pick me up in a work pickup. Early in the internship I was often working with Nicole and Nicholas, a woman from Santiago and a man from France that relocated to Castro, respectively. Nicole only speaks Spanish, while Nicholas has some limited English, so the 30-minute to 2-hour car rides with them were the best time for me to practice Spanish. Of all the people that don’t speak English, Nicole’s Spanish is the easiest to understand. The three of us would chat about our weekends, movies, work, and other miscellaneous topics. The drives out to the experimental sites were always pleasant and a great way to wake up and get in a Spanish-speaking and science-focused mindset.

Eventually, we pull off the main highway onto a gravel road until we get to the farm adjacent to the experimental site. We greet the owners and begin the short walk through fields of llamas and sheep, into the nearby evergreen forest that is filled with tepa, luma, canelo, and tineo trees. At this site, there are roughly 80 plots with 15 ulmo or avellano saplings each that were planted four years ago. Our goal is to find each one, measure the height, diameter, and health of each one, also noting any evidence of browsing by pudu or damage from insects. At this point in the internship I acted as the scribe, listening carefully as Nicole or Nicholas called out numbers, while simultaneously searching for the next plant to be measured, as they were often difficult to find. Again, this was good Spanish practice for me, particularly in learning numbers. Weeks later, I still have Nicole’s voice and cadence in my head, “Altura inferior viente y ocho, diámetro treinta y cinco punto cinco, vitalidad dos, si ápice muerto, si brote pical, si ramoneo, no insecto, si clorosis”. 

Some days in the field Nicole would pack a lunch which we would cook on the back of the truck with a compact camp stove, but other days we would head to a small truck stop for a simple but delicious meal of meat and potatoes. Even after another cup of coffee, it was often difficult to get started working again, because the meals were usually heavy and encouraged a nap. But we pushed through those feelings each day and often completed more plots than we planned for.
After a pleasant and restful drive back home, my day would end the same as it would after a typical day in the office, with the added satisfaction of tearing off my rubber boots and rain pants. Those nights usually ended early as well, because I was so exhausted after a full day of exercise hiking up and down steep slopes, not to mention the mental exercise of speaking and listening to a language that is completely new to me.

Every day is something different and even if I’m stuck in the office I’m guiding myself in what to focus on, what will be most beneficial for INFOR, and what interests me. Obviously, days spent in the field are more fun because working outside is almost always more fun than sitting in an office, but everyday was enjoyable in one way or another. 

​The INFOR office in Castro is full of some of the nicest and most generous people that I’ve ever worked with. A huge thank you to everyone there for the opportunity and support!

Thinking about interning abroad?

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