Published On: Sun, Dec 10th, 2017

Sharp decline in interns after Irma

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PHILIPSBURG – Hurricane Irma destroyed St. Maarten, caused economic uncertainty and disrupted the community, Rik Haverman reports on Caribisch Netwerk. St. Maarten was also a favored spot for interns and they created employment. The number of interns that wants to go to St. Maarten is now declining, but some science and engineering students also see opportunities.

According to Georgette Berghuis-Leutscher, owner of the only internship bureau on the island, the number of requests for internships is declining sharply. Before Irma she had around 120 requests per year; in 2018 she expects to place no more than 60 interns.

“The commercial-touristic sector is out. The hurricane has destroyed a lot of hotels and a lot of companies are licking their wounds. I lost 80 percent of the internship places where I used to send students before. The situation will probably only improve in 2018.”

That is a pity, the entrepreneur says. “The students come mostly from foreign institutions of higher education. They bring current know-how to companies in St. Maarten.”

Berghuis-Leutscher still sees a ray of light: “The students that are presently interested come from different disciplines. Engineering, logistics and science; those are relevant for the reconstruction of St. Maarten.”

Antonio Aventurin, head of the Study Financing Department in St. Maarten confirms the shift in types of interns. “By mediating with companies and by paying the travel expenses we stimulate St. Maarteners who are studying abroad to take an internship here. This way we hope to keep them for the island. But we also see that the hospitality sector does not offer a solution right now. There is now especially demand for highly educated students in construction, for the reconstruction of the island.”

The Hanzehogeschool in Groningen is an important player in placing interns in St. Maarten. Marius Bremmer arranges around 40 internships in St. Maarten every year. Just like Berghuis-Leutscher he emphasized the importance of the transfer of know-how for the island. However, he reports only a minor decline in requests for internships. His students remain relevant as interns because of their specific know-how. “We offer specialized know-how to St. Maarten with students in law, healthcare an accountancy. There is still demand for them; also after Irma.”

Bremmer and Berghuis-Leutshcer also arrange internships in other Caribbean islands but they have not noticed an increase in requests for placement in Curacao and Aruba, due to the lack of commercial-touristic activities in St. Maarten.

Jora de Jong, co-founder of the Worldstage bureau in Curacao confirms this. “Actually we do not experience anything from the  consequences of Irma. There is not an increased demand for internships in Curacao. I recently spoke with a colleague in Bonaire; they have the same experience.”

A number of students decided to continue their internships elsewhere in the Dutch Caribbean. Rueben Roescher is a third-year student at the Hanzehoogeschool. “I would have loved to stay because I find St. Maarten fantastic. Unfortunately this was not possible because the hotel where I interned has been wiped out.”

To realize his dream of an internship in the Caribbean, Roescher opted for placement in Aruba. “I like it there,” he says. “But I certainly want to return to St. Maarten; as a tourist because I won’t have to do an internship anymore.”

Photo caption: Georgette Berghuis-Leutscher at her office that was severely damaged by the hurricane. Photo Caribisch Netwerk / Rik Haverman.