Meet some of the interns who have helped contribute to the Valpo Surf Project’s success and growth in the past.

Emily Leighton – Intern/Fellow

After graduating from the University of Vermont, Emily decided to pack her bags and head south to the eclectic city of Valparaíso, Chile to work with the Valpo Surf Project. Emily focused her studies in environmental education and believes that every child should be able to experience nature and gain the wisdom and opportunities that it has to offer. Growing up on the coast of Maine, Emily credits surfing and the ocean in much of her own personal growth. She is grateful for the opportunity to be able to share that with others.

Jessica Hinchey – Intern

After studying International Politics at Temple University in Philadelphia, Jessica took her education abroad, moving to the Dominican Republic. There, she gained her first real understanding of poverty in a global context and community development through an internship at an education-based non-profit organization. She feels that access to a decent education is pivotal in alleviating poverty. What she lacks in surfing experience, she makes up for with a determination to succeed.

Makensie Brown – Intern

Makensie studied Spanish and graphic design at Buena Vista University in Iowa. While studying she also spent time in Spain, Morocco, Nepal, and Haiti, among other diverse cultures. Upon graduation, she moved to Guatemala to work for Habitat for Humanity. Makensie is excited to document the Valpo Surf Project’s daily efforts to use English learning, surfing, and environmental appreciation as mentoring tools for the youth of Valparaíso through film and photography.

Varun Konanki – Intern

After graduating from Trinity College as a neuroscience major, varsity wrestler, and writing associate, Varun was looking for a change. Fortunately, he found the Valpo Surf Project (VSP), a non-profit organization that provided an internship he could only dream of. He is excited for the opportunity to mentor kids, improve his Spanish, practice surfing, and to learn the plethora of skills that come with being a VSP intern.

Paige Lewis – Intern

Paige Lewis
Myersville, MD
VSP Intern from January to December 2015

Paige attended Salisbury University on the coast of Maryland, where she earned her degree in Spanish with a minor in Latin American studies. Paige’s Spanish Major led her to study in Chile in the fall of 2013 where she fell in love with the country, and volunteered with Valpo Surf Project. Paige spent the next semester in Ecuador trying to undo all of the Chilean slang she had learned, and then returned to Salisbury for a final semester before heading back down to Chile to work with the VSP. Paige loves working with kids, learning languages, reading, and eating pastries filled with manjar.

Beatriz Bolaños

Beatriz Bolaños
Cambridge, MA
VSP Intern from January to December 2014

bea vsp photo

As an army brat, Beatriz has always found the question, “Where are you from?” to have a much longer answer than many people. She was born in Colorado and has lived all over the world in places including South Carolina, South Korea, and Hawaii. After graduating from high school in Honolulu, she moved to Western Massachusetts where she attended Mount Holyoke College in South Hadley. There she majored in Spanish and Art History, and got involved in the student-led theater organization, Project: Theatre. Some of her favorite roles were in Shakespearean tragedies, including Tybalt in Romeo and Juliet, and King Claudius in Hamlet.

After graduation, she moved to Cambridge and worked with educational non-profits before joining the VSP team in Chile for one year.

Max Eyes

Max Eyes
Norwalk, CT
VSP Intern from January to September 2014

max vsp photo

Amazed by the ever-stretching skies of Argentina, Max Eyes followed his interests in language and Latin American culture south once again. This time, to Chile! A recent graduate of University of Maine Farmington, he hopes to use his BFA in Creative Writing and Spanish any chance he can get and is eager to work with the students of Valpo Surf Project. Though new to surfing, Max is not afraid to get caught in the barrel. After all, he was designed to float. Discovering the poetics of these unique surroundings, Max’s time interning with the VSP will greatly influence his writing and the way he understands this incredible world.

Leaving behind socks and trail of thumbtacks, he is venturing across the map. Max belongs wholly to this Earth and is determined to keep finding new places. Not sure where he’ll go or what he’ll do after working with the VSP, Max embraces the uncertainty of freedom and finds faith in his two feet—they take him almost anywhere.

Natalie Valentin

Natalie Valentin
Simsbury, CT
VSP Intern from January to July 2014

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Natalie got lost in a Vermont blizzard near Middlebury College while on her way to go skiing and ended up on the sunny shores of Valparaiso. She rather enjoyed the warm weather, waves, and killer empanadas and decided to swap out her snowboard for a surfboard and stay awhile.

As a Junior Environmental Policy major at Middlebury College, Natalie loves learning how to build more sustainable and resilient communities. When she realized that she had enough credits to take a semester off of college and still graduate on time, Natalie decided to put her classroom education to the test and work hands-on with environmental issues. She withdrew from her university’s study abroad program in Valparaiso, but having become fascinated by Chile’s rich political and economic history, quirky Chilenismos, and complex natural resource and conservation issues, she knew still wanted to make her way to the “San Francisco of South America.” After some fortuitous Google searching, she found the Valpo Surf Project, whipped up an internship application, and crossed her fingers! Now, living in la casa VSP with the rest of the crew, Natalie couldn’t be more excited to spend the next seven months bringing together her passions for Spanish, the environment, sports, and working with youth.

Alongside the other three guinea pigs of the new VSP intern program, Natalie will be spending her time down at the beach surfing with the kids, in the classroom teaching English, coordinating service projects around the city, and in the office doing everything from writing grant proposals and lesson plans to washing wet suits and keeping track of accounting. She is thrilled to be with the Valpo Surf Project at this exciting time, helping the organization to grow and take on new challenges (while getting to spend some quality time in the water!

Dean Thompson

An avid athlete, Dean grew up in Westfield, New Jersey. One of his fondest high school memories is traveling to the small village of El Triunfo, Guatemala for two weeks to help rebuild houses for this impoverished village. Dean attended The College of New Jersey (TCNJ) where he majored in Biopsychology and minored in Spanish. During his four years at TCNJ, he began to surf with his brother and uncles. After his junior year at TCNJ, he studied abroad in Madrid, Spain advancing his Spanish speaking skills and his desire to live in Spanish speaking country. These experiences led him to the Valpo Surf Project. The chance to help instill values, promote self-discipline, and encourage character building while simultaneously immersing himself in the Chilean culture, surfing great waves, and improving his Spanish is a once in a lifetime opportunity.

Brendan Buckland

Brendan Buckland
Merrimac, MA
VSP Intern from June to December 2012


Hailing from Merrimac, MA and finishing up an International Affairs degree concentrating in Latin America and International Environmental Resources from the George Washington University; Brendan’s interest in Latin America brought him to Chile to study for a semester while collaborating with the Valpo Surf Project.

As an intern, starting in June 2012, Brendan was responsible for co-teaching classes, organizing materials, assisting in writing organization bylaws, as well as building infrastructure to support the program. After living in “La Casa VSP” for a month, Brendan moved to Santiago to live with his host family and complete his course load. Through his work with the Valpo Surf Project he was able to coordinate academic credit for his internship from his home University, as a part of his study abroad program, as well be eligible for as a scholarship grant for Commitment to Community.

Over the course of his semester abroad, Brendan commuted to Valpo on weekends to volunteer and fulfill the requirements of his internship while a faculty advisor from La Universidad de Chile Geography department helped him craft his experience into a 20 page Spanish language research paper discussing the environmental stewardship tenant of the VSP program. Brendan was even able to extend his relationship with the Valpo Surf project beyond his time abroad by incorporating remote volunteer work into his Spanish service-learning class, back in the states.

Michelle Fernandez

Michelle Fernandez
Ocala, Florida
VSP Intern from July to November 2013


Michelle hails from land-locked Ocala, Florida, where the only board she had ever mastered was polishing off a cheese board. She attended school at Amherst College in Western Massachusetts where she studied History and Spanish. After studying abroad in Argentina and traveling through Bolivia, Peru, and Chile her junior year of college, she was determined to one-day return to South America.

Following a post-graduation stint traveling in the Middle East and Asia, working as an organizer for the 2012 Obama campaign, burning fingers and losing precious thumb parts as a line cook, and researching Dick Cheney’s Vice Presidency with a two-time Pulitzer Prize winning journalist, she heard about The Valpo Surf Project from a friend who attended Bates with the VSP founders. She quickly submitted an application in May 2012 and by early July 2012 she was living in VSP’s house with Head of Programs, VSP co-founder, and amateur asado expert Henry Myer.

During her time with The Valpo Surf Project, Michelle worked with Sociology Professor Nelson Carroza of the Universidad de Playa Ancha on researching the demographics of Valparaíso’s most vulnerable communities and conducting a study to determine The Valpo Surf Project’s impact on the community it served through surfing, English lessons, beach cleans, and consistent and varied programming. In addition, Michelle assisted in English classes, surf sessions, and helped start The Valpo Surf Project’s after-school running program and English book donation partnership with Reader to Reader. With plans to one day return to Valpo, Michelle currently continues her work with disadvantaged communities by providing support to low-income, immigrant food entrepreneurs in La Cocina’s kitchen incubator program in San Francisco.

Duncan Briggs

Duncan Briggs
VSP Intern- summer 2011

Haling from an island in midcoast Maine, Duncan is a 2012 graduate of Bates College and a pioneer of the Valpo Surf Project intern program. During the summer of 2011, Duncan spent two months working in Valparaiso while staying at casa VSP. He assisted in the development and instruction English classes, supervised weekly swim lessons and offered his expertise as an instructor on surf outings. His experience in Chile led to the implementation of the VSP internship program that exists today. Duncan now teaches Latin at Fairfield Country Day School in Connecticut where he continues to daydream of the surf in Chile.

Kristofer Tupper

Kristofer Tupper
Kennebunk, ME
VSP Intern from January to May 2013


Raised on the coast of southern Maine, Kris grew up practicing almost every board sport that he could get his feet on. Although he lived just minutes from the beach, it was only in recent years that he picked up surfing as a year-round activity. Kris graduated from Bowdoin College in 2011 where he majored in Spanish and minored in Biology; he is now a first year medical student at the University of New England. While in school he combined his love of Spanish with travel and spent a significant chunk of his summers volunteering in Spain and Latin America. Having particularly enjoyed his work with various underprivileged and at-risk populations in Guatemala and Peru—especially his interactions with children—Kris kept his eyes open for other unique opportunities to volunteer in South America post-graduation. While applying to medical school, he met Wiley Todd through a mutual friend and learned about the VSP. Kris knew immediately that he wanted to become involved with this multifaceted organization. Before he even finished school interviews the following year, he booked his flight to Chile.

Kris arrived in Valparaíso with few expectations for the program other than that he was enthusiastic about immersing himself in Chilean culture and participating in all aspects of the project. While living at the VSP house he assumed some administrative responsibilities, including bookkeeping, budgeting, logging attendance and activity hours, organizing lesson plans, and participating in director meetings. Kris led weekly skateboarding and rollerblading sessions, as well as assisted in all English classes, weekly visits to the juvenile detention center, weekend surf sessions, and monthly beach cleans. Having been considered a long-term volunteer, Kris was named to Volunteer Committee upon leaving Chile and has since played an important role in developing the Beyond The Waves Internship program. Kris thoroughly enjoyed his time in Valpo—the slow and easygoing lifestyle, the warm and inviting people, the impressive coastline and consistent waves—and will never forget the lifelong connections he made with many of the incredible students and volunteers of the VSP.

Billy Manchuck

Billy Manchuck
West Hartford, CT
VSP Intern from July 2013 to Present


Billy hails from West Hartford, Connecticut and is a 2011 graduate of Bates College in Lewiston, Maine, where he majored in History. He first became acquainted with the Valpo Surf Project while studying at the Pontificia Universidad Católica in Valparaíso through through the IFSA-Butler study abroad program in 2010. During his time studying abroad, Billy was one of the VSP’s first volunteers during the organization’s pilot program by offering his skills as a lifeguard during surf sessions.  After falling in love with Valpo during his stint abroad, Billy returned in 2012 to teach English courses at local university Duoc UC and dedicated much of his spare time volunteering for the Valpo Surf Project at surf sessions, beach cleans and English classes. Billy also shot and edited the short video for the VSP’s 2012 annual fundraising appeal, Meet Pedro, which chronicled one student’s educational opportunities through the Valpo Surf Project.

Since finishing his year as a university English teacher in December 2012, he’s been living and working in Chile and Peru, including southern Chilean Patagonia and the Sacred Valley of the Incas in Peru. In July 2013, Billy began working full time as a VSP intern in various capacities. Apart from from leading regularly scheduled educational programming, he is currently the resident English teacher, is assisting with grant research and writing, and takes care of administrative and day-to-day tasks like lesson planning and book keeping.