Internship Program:

Return to the Forest Internship Description and Expectations

Return to the Forest is a natural building school and a natural and sustainable design/build business based in San Marcos La Laguna, Lake Atitlan, Guatemala.  It is a place where people from all over the world have the opportunity to learn and work alongside the local builders and craftspeople of Lake Atitlan.  At any given time, there may be several active job sites where interns can practice a range of skills including carpentry, bamboo joinery, earthen wall-building, and earthen plastering techniques.  For qualified interns, there is the potential to engage in the design process of new and existing projects.  We also hold frequent classes on bamboo and earthen building, in which prospective interns with little previous building experience are encouraged to consider enrolling.

The internship experience at RTF varies depending on what projects are active at a given time.  Interns will spend 25-30 hours per week on the job site that best fits their interests and experiences.  On these sites, you will be directly supervised by the Guatemalan builders working under the designer and contractor, Charlie Rendall.  A basic understanding of Spanish is necessary to be productive on-site, and we can help connect you with Spanish lessons here if you are not confident in your abilities.  Most of the communication amongst the local builders will be in Mayan languages, though they will switch to Spanish when they need to give you instructions or guidance.  You will be expected to perform at a similar level to the local builders during your hours on site.  Depending on your skill level upon starting the internship, you may be assigned the duties of a helper and be able to work your way up from there.  The environment is similar to that of a builder’s apprentice elsewhere in the world, and the work delegated to you will directly relate to the respect you earn from the local builders and supervisors.  The rate at which you progress in your work is entirely up to your own work ethic, and therefore what you get out of the internship is directly related to what you put in.

Opportunities other than direct construction and design work include fundraising for the RTF Building School and Meiker Project (, development, outreach, and marketing work for each of these, as well as dynamic projects that fir your personal qualifications.  We heartily encourage your suggestions and ideas in this department!

The experience of working with RTF is both educationally and culturally rich.  You will have the opportunity to immerse in the local community here in San Marcos and the neighboring towns.  You will learn a lot about Mayan culture as well as natural building.  While extremely rewarding, this can also be challenging at times and you will need to be prepared for a lifestyle shift while living in Guatemala.  Many interns, both short and long-term, have felt their experience here to be life-changing because of the immersion in local culture as well as the building experience.

You will have access to the English-speaking staff of RTF during your stay here for technical and logistical help.  We will make ourselves accessible to you whenever you are feeling stuck or frustrated, but the internship program as it stands now is largely independent.  We require a one-month minimum stay to ensure that you get the most out of your learning experience and also have the time to make a significant contribution to the building projects you are working on.  The standard cost of the internship is $100/month to cover the costs of housing, utilities, and staff time.  It may be possible to arrange field trips, technical instruction, and other activities at an additional cost as staff time allows.

If interested, please send us an e-mail with answers to the following questions, as well as any questions you have for us.  We may not be able to respond to all inquiries, but if you are determined to be a good fit for the program you will hear back from one of our staff.  Thanks and we hope to see you here in beautiful Guatemala!

Internship Application

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