Thursday, July 24, 2014

Working with The Cohen Group

By Ian McDonnell

Episode 1: The City
One day in mid-May, I loaded a few bags of clothes, suits, and a tennis bag into a friends car and road tripped down to Washington D.C. (“The Big Apple” as the natives call it) to start a summer-long internship at The Cohen Group. After meeting Co-President of the firm Bob Tyrer at the SPIA annual board meeting earlier that year and not making too much of a fool out of myself, this phenomenal opportunity had been waiting for me to hopefully knock out the park (with failure likely resulting in Captain Settele knocking my head out of said park). I had expected an intense experience for this, my first glimpse into the professional, non-academic world, however I was still surprised at the magnitude and breadth of responsibilities given to me as early as the first week. As one may understand upon reading this account, I no longer look at this arrangement as an “internship”, but rather a research fellowship that happens to be the length of a summer. Every week involving meetings with 4-star generals, ambassadors, and leaders of industry; compiling detailed research papers involving the most current and relevant world events, and generally working my ass off (and for only 55 hours a week on average!). In fact, I’ve stopped using the term “intern” entirely, especially when telling girls at the bars what I’m up to this summer (a lesson that didn’t take too long to learn).

Upon pulling up to the row house I was living in via a Facebook-arranged subletting of a high school friend’s room, I was greeted by the sights and sounds of the city. To my horror these included a squashed rat carcass on the sidewalk in front of the house and a homeless man sleeping in the doorway of the neighboring estate (an abandoned row house that we are now fairly certain shelters the occasional squatter). Determined to make the best of it, I spent two weeks getting to know the layout of DC (streets set up in the likeness of Cartesian coordinates, how could a former math student not feel at home?), meeting a few Colby alumni, and getting accustomed to the Metro’s chaos at peak hours. Later on my will would be tested through the realization that my apartment occupied the midpoint between Howard University Hospital and an ambulance depot, but all in all the acclimatization went pretty well.

As the internship drew closer I made all the necessary preparations; ironing my shirts (poorly), mapping out my morning commute (~30 minutes, not too bad), finding a nearby dry cleaning place, and acquiring a VIC card at the local Harris Teeter. As my first summer not leading a bunch of kids on canoeing and hiking trips in the Maine woods, I had no idea what to expect for this internship and was a little worried. Luckily for me, before even starting the program the interns were all matched with a mentor from the firm; I met up with Senior Associate Matt Ritchie for lunch a week before the start date and he patiently answered the slew of questions I threw at him. A little more reassured, I celebrated my last few days free by purchasing a bunch of Yuengling (not available in Maine; this beer made a special guest appearance during past spring break trips to the Georgia beach).

Episode 2: Internship Day 1
Considering how nervous I was before the first day, I surprised even myself in that I didn’t puke

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Maine's Global Connection

It's official -- Iceland has invaded Maine. But before you call the National Guard, rest assured that the small island nation of more than 300,000 people poses no threat. In fact, the Icelanders come bearing gifts. Each day when I leave my doorstep at 0730, I walk through beautiful downtown Portland, full of tourists, lobsters and cute coffee shops. It's a scene straight off a post card that says "Welcome to Maine!" on the front. However, when I arrive at the International Marine Terminal (IMT) at around 0750, I leave Maine and enter a very foreign land. The terminal, which is abuzz with activity, regularly hears Icelandic conversations. In fact, if you didn't know you were in Maine, you would be quite sure you were in Iceland. When I arrive at the IMT, I am no longer known as Chuck, for the Icelanders have given me a new name, "Kalli" (Pronounce Kah-lai) which is the nearest equivalent they have to Charles (It actually means Carl or Carlos).

Regarding my work at Eimskip, I have reached a critical mass here at my Internship. I can very much speak to the fact that my past two months here have been far more valuable than a lot of my previous school work. That goes to say for almost any job but it really is true that you can't learn in the classroom what you will be doing in the real world. International business is something I really enjoy and my managers here at Eimskip have been providing me great feedback. So much so that I'm no longer just researching business to ship across the world, I'm going after it. I would say that my original work on Day 1 is lightyears behind the work I'm doing today.
The Portland, ME port with the first Eimskip vessel arriving in 2013

I'm now working with a new sales manager, a guy who has just joined our team from one of the larger container liners called Hapag-Llyod that is based in Hamburg, Germany. This gentlemen has over 28 years in international shipper experience, originally from London, UK and having lived in South Africa, South America, London, Norfolk, VA and most recently Boston, MA. My role as of late has been to look at international shipments from the New England market to Northern Europe and determine the shipper, or person moving the freight, the port of origin (typically NYC or Boston), the port of entry (such as Reykjavik, IS or Rotterdam, NL) and the final destination or distributor of the product. From there, I determine if there is a possibility this shipper could use our service here in Portland, and send those business leads off to the sales manager who is on the road. In a sense, I am actually conducting international business.

A funny story I'd like to mention, one day at work I was told I was getting a new computer. I was happy about this mostly because I have been using my own computer, but before celebrating I found out that this wasn't exactly what I thought it would be. I was getting a computer, but it was actually in Iceland. And what I would be doing is using a remote control program from my laptop to access the company computer in Iceland in real time. That is to say, I am conducting business in the US, from a computer located in Iceland for our US operations. My computer in Iceland is setup with the software and programs I need to access the employee intranet, as well as some of the statistical software and mail client. However there is a slight drawback -- a lot of it is in Icelandic. I can actually translate most pages using Google and set my computer to English, but it still will come up with phrases and things written in Icelandic from time to time. What is more scary, is that I'm actually starting to recognize some words and phrases as I use the computer quite extensively.

Maine's direct connection to global trade routes. From Iceland, other routes
continue on into Germany, the Netherlands, Norway, Sweden and the UK
as well as to make connections with other shipping lines.

So there you have it, I'm starting to become half Icelandic. In fact, I had accidentally changed my Google preferences to Icelandic on my personal computer. I imagine by my next blog post, I'll be able to use some basic terms but for now I continue to transition into my home away from home in small steps. Who would have thought that a guy from Maine, who happens to be the only person born in Maine at the office, would have this type of opportunity in his own state.

P.S. Word of advice to the 2nd year SPIA or upcoming students. Take an international business class. Trust me, it will help in whatever you do! (And learn how to drink beers at lunch and carry on an intelligent conversation....but really)

Into The Wild

7/13. Despite not getting to the island yesterday, today we got to go ziplining! It was amazing. Nine lines and the views were incredible, criss-crossing across the Blue Creek River.

7/14. Looking back, this memory is now hilarious. Got stranded in a village called Punta Negra due to the storm. We were there conducting research and around 7:00pm the storm intensity forced twelve of us off the boat to a small nearby shed to huddle like chickens in a coupe (thanks Javier for that analogy) while the boat with all our gear sat getting tossed and turned in the raging storm. After a couple hours it calmed a little and we attempted to leave. The first half an hour by boat was navigating the sea back to the river, then half an hour of navigating mangroves and shallow waters to get back to camp. All in the dark, in a storm, complete with lightening lighting up the sky. We have one awesome boat captain! My friend Matt before I left the states let me borrow some of his dive gear and among the gear was a dry bag. On the boat getting beaten around and drenched with water was my computer, phone, and camera. Incredibly thankful for that dry bag or all my electronics would have been toast. When we got to camp, everywhere was flooded. Walking on the trail to get to camp was like hiking through a mini river. It is not called the rainy season for nothing here!

7/15. Slept in today after our crazy night. We then went out and finished what we couldn’t finish yesterday- beach profiling. Taking beach erosion measurements and turtle nest hunts. We found a turtle nest (July/August is high season for nesting). The nest was about three days old, but someone had already come along and dug up the eggs. These turtles are an endangered species and it is illegal to harvest the eggs or capture the turtles. We also got to swim a little (three of us got stung by the same jelly fish). I also saw a side of Belize you don’t see. This is a real but sad truth about ocean garbage. 

Beach trash

7/16. Left Paynes Creek and headed to TIDE protected private lands for some ecosystem rehabilitation. This site is a lot more rustic. Outhouses and sleeping in hammocks in the rainforest. Slept like a baby! Reforestation was on the plan, but the river was so flooded that we had to postpone.

7/17. What started as this:
Shoveling mud- ecosystem rehabilitation

 turned into this:
A full blown mud fight with all 7 of us
 Also hosted a summer camp for kids. Education and outreach about conservation.

7/18. What an amazing but busy day! We got to swim through a caving system, jump off cliffs of waterfalls, and have a drumming lesson from the local culture. Tomorrow we head to the islands for our deep dive down to 100 feet, and a second dive exploring more reefs. Then it will be back to Paynes Creek to start tromping through the rainforest monitoring biodiversity, and a few other projects. 

Caving through the river
7/19. Headed to Hunting Caye. The boat ride out was absolutely miserable! Waves kept crashing over the sides, the two hour boat ride my eyes were either closed or tucked under a corner of the tarp. But it was totally worth it! Getting out to the reef and into the water was a bit of a challenge as the waves were quite big roller waves. Once in the water and descended, I could not believe we were at 100 feet! It did not feel that deep, and it was incredible. There is something called gas narcosis aka “narked”. When you do deep dives you start to get this condition and it can be related to feeling drunk and/or silly. At the surface it took me 25 seconds to complete a test puzzle. At 100 feet, it took me 37 seconds to complete the same puzzle. I guess you can say I was a little “narked”. After the dive we went back to the island/beach where we had a bon fire and camped in hammocks for the night.
Us during our dive

Hunting Caye

7/20. Up and at ‘em early for a beach clean-up. Cleaned up so much trash! We then did our second dive which was only to 50 feet, but absolutely stunning. Then it was the two hour boat ride back to Paynes Creek.

7/21. Got up and was super stoked to see French toast for breakfast! Until I took a bite. Apparently there is an English plate called “eggy toast” which is undercooked French toast minus the milk, vanilla, and cinnamon. I was one sad puppy. We then ventured into the pine savannah and monitored the endangered yellow headed parrot. Their current research is trying to figure out how many in the area are nesting, and rehabilitation of the population. Later that night we headed out along one of the transects to do amphibian monitoring.

7/22. So.Many.Mosquitoes. My legs look like chicken pocks. We had more lectures on bird identification, and then followed that with some more beach profiling. Got some fish for dinner which was a wonderful treat.

7/23. Wake-up call at 4:15am for bird monitoring along the transects in the broadleaf forest and pine savannah. Afterwards, packed up and headed back to PG.

Monday, July 21, 2014

A Crazy Ride So Far

To say that this summer has been mellow in any way would be a lie. From being thrown in charge of 
After a World Cup Win!
an organization (which was awesome, by the way) to being the guide of a cross-country weeklong adventure tour (more to come on that), this summer has been one of the most exciting, interesting, and fulfilling thus far.

I will try to keep it brief: Since the last update I have been doing much more hands-on things around Su Espacio and town now that the director is back. The things I am doing range anywhere from delivering money and information to host families, conducting orientation and orientation tours, going to airport pick-ups, organizing volunteer arrivals and drop-offs, bringing volunteers to their project sites, and as of late being the tour guide for the adventure tour. Although I am still pulling ten to twelve hour days I am enjoying myself much more that I am not stuck behind the desk answering the phone all day (although I still do that on occasion).

This is my third time spending a pretty significant amount of time here in Costa Rica, in this area specifically, so it certainly gave me a leg up when I got here. I had the chance
Su Espacio
to dive right into work with no adjustment period to the town or language, and I still know a ton of people here so really I could just start work without any setbacks. Because of this, the director has allowed me to take on a lot of the responsibility around the community center, and since her husband has been very ill and unable to help out at all (taking up a lot of her time as well) a lot has fallen onto my shoulders. Although stressful at first it has become routine now and I really enjoy what I do, and I am also learning a lot about what needs to be avoided in an organization such as this, which is a unique perspective I didn’t necessarily think I would gain, but I am so glad I am getting to see the full scope of the organization.

One of the really neat things that I had the pleasure of running this week was the “adventure tour” for
seven of the volunteers. This tour is an option, mostly for the younger volunteers, to see more of the country with the guidance of someone who is familiar with the areas (aka me) and what they hold. We visited five different places all around the country in five days. I actually just arrived home from the last day. It was exhausting but so fulfilling. I got to show off my knowledge a bit of the country and also had the chance to re-visit some of my favorite places. It was a really nice break from the office and town and gave me great perspective of the spectrum of activities and opportunities that come along with a volunteer center such as this.

I am taking this weekend to recoup from the tour and hang out with my host mom a bit (my host sisters are with their dad this weekend so it’s just me and my mom here), and then will be getting back into the groove at the office starting on Monday. With only four more weeks I can hardly believe the summer is flying by so quickly, I am not looking forward to leaving, although I am excited to be back in Maine; it is such a conflicting feeling. However, I have been networking and keeping my ears open so if all goes well I think I will be back here sooner rather than later, and hopefully with a paycheck this time!

Anyways, I’m sure there will be lots to update SPIA followers on in the coming weeks, I will be sure to take better notes so my next post will not be so brief. Perhaps an in-between post about life in Atenas is in store, that might be interesting.

Hasta luego!

Volcan Arenal

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Human Rights Museum

By Pearce Erensel

This past Sunday I made a trip to the el museo de la memoria y los derechos humanos.  This was an eerie and depressing reminder of the atrocities committed under the Pinochet regime.  There were a couple of images and sound-clips that I will never be able to forget.  The room called “represiĆ³n y tortura” showed some of the forms of torture utilized by the regime.  There was a large metal bedspread in the middle of the room that had been used for electric shock torture.  Also, playing on one of the screens I can remember an audio clip that translated to something along these lines: “and when I regained consciousness, for the first time in hours, I looked at one of the guards torturing me and asked him ´how are you going to sleep at night? How will you sleep, will you be able to sleep well, will you sleep with your wife like you have not done anything?´ and the guard looked at me as if he did not understand what I was saying, then I slipped back into unconsciousness.”  Another sound-clip of Salvador Allende´s last statement to the public was also very powerful; here is a link to his final words in English.  He gave this speech during air raids and ground attacks and there were images as well as videos of these attacks.  The room was set up so that one could feel as if they were present that day, September 11, 1973.

While I was reflecting about my trip to the museum I could remember some of the conversations I have had with Chileans regarding the time.  Many have said it was necessary to get Chile where it is today, and they seem to have a point considering its leadership position in the Latin American economy.  However others do not see things this way and blame the US for their support of a brutal regime and their hypocrisy in foreign affairs.  Regardless of what one believes in this matter it is important to see the effects of international policies and to realize the impact they can have.  I couldn’t help myself from asking the age old question of whether the ends justify the means.

Either way, the situation has certainly changed.  There are no longer curfews and the people here take full advantage of that; staying out until the sun comes up is a regular occurrence now.  People demonstrate in the streets for all kinds of reasons and the police, while fully dressed in riot gear, appear to use as much restraint as possible.  In fact, I have had the pleasure of speaking with a couple carabineros; they were very friendly and even let me pet their equally friendly police dog.  Many Chileans that I have spoken to tell me they respect their police officers and that they feel like the police respect them back.  This mutual respect is clearly a different relationship than that of fear and oppression which may have occurred in the past.