Illustration by Kenny Srivijittakar.
Illustration by Kenny Srivijittakar.

At the end of the month, five internship coordinators will travel from Central America and Mexico to live in Santa Cruz and speak at UCSC for the second annual Intercambio event.

Intercambio comprises four major events organized and supported by the Community Agroecology Network (CAN) on campus, and Friends of the CAN (FoCAN), which is mostly student-based.

“[Community representatives] come in and really share their story,” said Karie Boone, outreach coordinator for CAN and a former UCSC student. “They come and share what their life is like, how they are impacted by interglobal trading and coffee markets, and then they really encourage students to come learn [through internships].”

The 10-day series begins Jan. 27 and includes a luncheon, where interested students can learn about internship opportunites.

Internship coordinators will also speak at two of FoCAN’s weekly meetings, which explore international wealth disparities and possible solutions.

The main purpose of Intercambio is to promote CAN’s international internship program and recruit students to help further CAN’s mission — fair trade in countries where coffee is a main export, and where farmers make a fraction of their overall profit.

CAN runs its program through student internships in order to promote direct trade between the United States and farmers’ cooperatives in Latin America.

CAN itself is less than ten years old. Once an informal group of researchers giving back to the Central American and Mexican communities they gathered data from for their studies, it is now recognized as a main organization on campus, with FoCAN alone composed of 30 or 40 students. Overall, more than 20 staff members, dedicated to creating mutually beneficial relationships with farmers, make up the CAN network.

“In the beginning, I had such a superficial understanding of all that they were doing to revolutionize trade, or of food systems in general,” said Kathryn Jaffe, a first-year UCSC student involved with FoCAN and the planning of Intercambio. “But … I discovered a strong passion for this network and all that they have accomplished.”

The entire Intercambio event — from the time these five representatives step foot on American soil on Jan. 27 until they return to their respective countries on Feb. 7 — takes only 10 days but is preceded by months of planning.

During those 10 days, UCSC students and prospective international travelers are encouraged to speak one-on-one with the five Latino coordinators about the internship program through CAN.

“Not every student at UCSC has the opportunity to go down to Latin America and learn directly from them, so the opportunity to have a conversation with a community representative from Mexico or Nicaragua is a really great opportunity,” said Grace Voorheis, who like Boone is an outreach coordinator for CAN and a former UCSC student. “I’d say this is one of the most important things that CAN does every year.”

For those who are able to do a for-credit internship, Intercambio is a rare experience to learn about different cultures through events like a luncheon, the World Café — which is being organized in conjunction with the Chicano/Latino Resource Center — and FoCAN’s weekly student meetings, all in the name of furthering social and economic justice.

“I really feel that it is something we can all get behind — direct markets, fair labor wages, and the promoting of sustainable and traditional farming techniques in communities whose very livelihoods are being threatened,” Jaffe said.

According to Boone, development of the communities that interns work with is a main goal.

“The way we think about [development] is a partnership,” Boone said. “We’re getting something out of it too. Researchers are getting research from it, interns are getting an incredible education, writing a thesis, getting credit, learning Spanish, and the communities are also getting something from it.”

Boone, CAN, and FoCAN hope to continue the annual tradition of Intercambio in the future.

“Ultimately, the more students that we work with and that go on internships, the more impact we’re going to have in the U.S.,” Boone said. “This kind of social change is what keeps me going, and knowing the work we are doing is really making a difference.”