The Kalu Yala Blog

What is “Kalu Yala Independent Study Abroad and Entrepreneurial Internships”?

September 18, 2012

by Kate Stewart
Posted In: Our Global Community

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On with the story::::

My name is Kate Stice Stewart and I’m the president of Kalu Yala Independent Study Abroad and Entrepreneurial Internships.

I studied abroad in Switzerland in 2006, graduated college in 2008, traveled the world for six months on my own, did a three-month internship and got a great job. Almost 2 years later I realized that job wasn’t going anywhere so I quit in time to attend the inaugural Summer 2010 Kalu Yala Internship as an student. Arriving home, I got another “great” job that had me in a cubicle for 8 hours a day. During this time I married a wonderful man, got cozy in our own home and adopted a dog. But something was still missing- and I was reading about it online every day at (Look at the comments and you’ll see I account for about 75% of them!)

This past July, I came down to visit my brother, Jimmy, who is the CEO of the Kalu Yala land development company. On Day 2 of my eight day trip, we headed out to Kalu Yala for what was supposed to be one night. The next morning, when Jimmy had to pack up and leave for the city, I told him just to leave me and I’d find my own way to the airport. Kalu Yala, though nothing more than a few open-air structures, and the Summer 2012 students were just that incredible.

That trip confirmed what I knew I’d been missing in my life. People who were passionate about their JOB. People who wanted to DO SOMETHING they LOVE throughout every waking moment. They knew they didn’t want a job that they had to “get through” until the weekend. They wanted to wake up and do something that they cared about. And most of the time, that they created from scratch for themselves.

These were people who knew they didn’t know everything. People who cared to learn about what they didn’t know, and were happy to listen to other people explain it. People who admitted to mistakes, swam in rivers, moved mountains with conversations, and understood that no one “in charge” had all the answers either… And didn’t expect them to.

Leaving my husband and dog back in Atlanta (they will come visit!), I’ve joined the Kalu Yala family for one reason- it is the best place in the world to live and work because I can chase MY dreams with others who are chasing THEIR dreams. Every single day!

We give students the opportunity to create their own projects- based around their interests and the community’s potential needs- and see it through to fruition. We have awesome, young directors who are more zealous about life and their subjects than any professor I had in school. We sincerely believe in get-your-hands-dirty trial-and-error learning. We don’t own a copy machine. We fetch our own coffee.

Personally, I had a three-month internship with a small PR firm- and you know what I did for 3 months? Data entry and data clean-up. Day in and day out. That is something NO student here will ever have the displeasure of saying. Our students DO SOMETHING, and it’s based around WHAT THEY LOVE.

I realize that the line between the Kalu Yala land development company and Kalu Yala Independent Study Abroad and Entrepreneurial Internships company may look a bit hazy. This is no surprise, since in just two years the student company has sprouted into something of its own- literally.

I want to take a minute to explain what Kalu Yala Independent Study Abroad and Entrepreneurial Internships is- and what we see as our purpose.

1) Why do we exist?
Kalu Yala Independent Study Abroad and Entrepreneurial Internships exist to create a community before the Kalu Yala community. The culture that is forming now will be the lasting legacy directly affecting the place Kalu Yala will be.

Kalu Yala Independent Study Abroad and Entrepreneurial Internships was assembled by the Kalu Yala land development company to bring students and young professionals from around the world to Panama. Kalu Yala Independent Study Abroad and Entrepreneurial Internships is financially self perpetuated, ergo; the students are required to pay for the program in order to participate. This tuition covers the costs Kalu Yala Independent Study Abroad and Entrepreneurial Internships from housing and Meal Plan to Director salaries and vehicles. Duties of the student vary from student to student based on their semester project that they determine with the aid of their Director. It can range from creating business proposals, to working with the local community, to mapping trails, to developing a farming system and beyond, all dependent on the student’s interests.

As a whole, the town of Kalu Yala is still operating in its beginning stages- nothing has been built yet. The land development company was established in 2008; however, the student branch began in Summer 2010 and has only been operating in the future home of Kalu Yala since Summer 2011. Kalu Yala Independent Study Abroad and Entrepreneurial Internships is its own company, operating closely yet independently from the land development company.

2) What do we do?
Kalu Yala Independent Study Abroad and Entrepreneurial Internships brings students and young professionals to Panama to participate in or design a semester project that could eventually impact the town of Kalu Yala. We are creating the community before the community, a culture that will last forever.

3) How do we behave?
Kalu Yalans are (1) passionate (2) positive (3) actively pursuing. (AKA the 3 P’s of Panama)

Kalu Yalans are passionate about what they’re doing so they are positive and actively pursuing their goals.

I hope that this simple explanation gives you a better picture of what we’re here to do–  Kalu Yala Independent Study Abroad and Entrepreneurial Internships is here to focus on YOU and give YOU the opportunity to make an impact on the future community. This place means so much to me- and so many others who have come through the program. It’s truly the most unique program of its kind and a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

If you have any questions, feel free to send them my way: I’d love to hear from you :)

Regards from Panama,


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6 Responses to “What is “Kalu Yala Independent Study Abroad and Entrepreneurial Internships”?”

  1. [...] the formulation of this development is a ton of work. Out of this realization, the Kalu Yala Internship Company was established. Kalu Yala has been recruiting college students and recent graduates to come down [...]

  2. Anne Powell says:

    Love it! Well said Kate!

  3. Professor Bill says:

    So you ask college students or recent graduates to pay $3,500 plus their airfare to come and work for free? This sounds like a great opportunity for the development company to get free labor and maybe a little cash off of the $3,500 fee. Why should I recommend this to my students?

  4. Kate Stewart says:

    Professor Bill,
    Thanks for following up!

    Students come down to work on a project that they choose, not that the company decides. Yes, it is beneficial to the company to have a ton of eager learners in Panama- we are creating the community culture before the community is even built! But the biggest gain is for the students, because they get to choose their own course of study. Where else in the world can a student have all the infrastructure of a parent-company while getting to study whatever they want? I can tell you very frankly that Kalu Yala Internships is a completely different company than the land development company- no money is exchanged between the two. The cost covers housing, a meal plan, staff, and project funding. If you can find a study abroad that offers the same for less I would appreciate knowing about it, as I haven’t found one.

    You should recommend this to your students because it may be the only chance they ever get to do whatever it is they are passionate about, especially with a group of equally as passionate people. My goal is to make a positive impact in the world by showing students that they can make an impact by doing what they love.

    If you have any more questions, please let me know!

  5. Christian says:

    I am with professor Bill on this one. It seems a hard sale. As a student, I can’t find the extra cash laying around to provide for this, yet I HAVE the passion, tenacity, dedication, enthusiasm, positivity, and strong desire to work/volunteer for these programs.

  6. Kate Stewart says:

    Hey Christian,
    I really appreciate your passion! However, it costs money to host students down here to work on their own projects- housing, meal plan, staff, and a whole bunch more. At this point, our tuition doesn’t even cover the costs, but we are dedicated to staying under (sometimes half!) the costs of other study abroad opportunities. We have several students coming down on grants and scholarships this summer- including one from Brown University and another from Berea College. Those who have the passion, and maybe not the funding, can and have made it happen!

    We are always happy to help with any paperwork to make this happen for accepted students!

    Regards from Panama,