Allegra Brandon ’19, Post-Grad Internship with Isla Urbana in Mexico City

Hi everyone! I’m Allegra, a graduate of Skidmore’s Class of 2019. I always knew I wanted to take a gap year after college– preferably a productive work experience, and preferably in Latin America. I got rejected by the opportunity that I was banking on, and I suddenly had no clue as to how I would make my plan possible. Shortly after, I found the CDC’s Post-Grad Award, and set to work on finding an opportunity that I could combine with the grant.

I had no real plan for what I wanted to do, or where I wanted to go. But with an interest in human rights, I searched for NGOs that focused primarily on water issues all throughout Latin America– I wasn’t picky– but also looked for places focused on food security and gender. I emailed about 15-20 organizations stating my interest and qualifications, and then waited. 

Only one place got back to me. The organization was called Isla Urbana, was located in Mexico City, and designs and installs systems that capture and filter rainwater in peoples’ homes as a solution to the city’s complex water crisis, especially helping the poorest and most marginalized communities. I was not particularly fond of potentially moving to the megapolis; however, Isla Urbana was one of the most impressive organizations that I came across as a leader in the sector with lots of national and global recognition, and they focused on exactly the issues I am passionate about. We set up a phone call, and soon after, my internship– on the condition that I won the award, which thankfully, I did.

Interacting with the beneficiary’s daughter while photographing the installation of a rainwater harvesting system in a household in the outskirts of Mexico City, which will provide the family with clean water for 5-9 months per year.

I moved to Mexico City in September, never having been there before, and was soon welcomed into the office with open arms. My internship was split between two teams– Communications and the US-side non-profit– aligning with my interests and experience, and filling their needs. Working bilingually, my main tasks included managing social media and its strategy, field photography, website improvement, donor relations, grant writing, lots of translation– needless to say, my Spanish has improved immensely– and writing briefings on environmental issues for a weekly radio show with one of Mexico’s top journalists.

The intention was to do a full-time internship with Isla Urbana for 6 months, but it’s been a bit over 7 months now, and as their Communications Associate, I have no plans to leave the organization or the city that I now call home. Without the Post-Grad Award, I never would have found a job so closely aligned with my academic, career, and personal interests, and I never would have had the opportunity and financial support to launch my post-grad life so adventurously in a new city. It has been one of the best experiences for personal growth and self-learning, undoubtedly a leap forward in my career, but most of all, a truly fun adventure. It changed my life for the better, and I could not feel more grateful to the CDC and the donor behind my grant. 

My tip to any students looking to do something similar: just go for it. I vaguely knew what I wanted to do, but by being flexible and taking on the challenge of the unknown, I was able to make it work. It may seem daunting writing people out of the blue, but you’ll never have known what could have happened if you didn’t try. Also, this is an amazing resource through Skidmore that we are lucky to have, so take advantage! These opportunities do not come around often. Good luck.

Celebrating our nomination in the sustainability category of one of Mexico City’s most highly recognized awards, the Premios Ciudad.

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