The Halfway Mark- 5 Things I’ve Learned While on International Co-op

As I realized this week that I have less than 2 months left in South Africa, I’ve also begun to reflect on just how much my international co-op has taught me. Here are a few of my most important lessons thus far:

1. Adjusting to a slower work pace.
This has hands down, most definitely been the toughest part of my international work experience. South Africans call their time “African time”- meaning less emphasis on the clock and a slower pace of life. I am a power-walking, punctual Bostonian who has just had to learn how to chill out. I’ve happily discovered hat deadlines aren’t always necessary to getting work done- and maybe a break from constant timeliness is exactly what I’ve been needing.

2. The balance between exploring a new country, and working a full-time internship.
I had some difficulty finding my South African balance. When I first started work, I felt nervous asking for days off and guilty when I was focusing more on my weekend adventures than my Monday workload. I’ve learned to use the separate spheres strategy- at work, I concentrate on work and learning from my coworkers. Outside of work, I soak in all that Cape Town has to offer.

3. Missing is okay, and not missing is okay.
There are days when I miss the ease of Boston and Northeastern life- having reliable electricity, a trusted schedule, or being able to walk around at night. Then there are days when I genuinely feel as though I don’t miss anything at all. Both are completely normal feelings, and both are feelings I have accepted as normal and part of the process.

4. Judgement and assumptions aren’t personal, or avoidable.
My citizenship seems to follow me around everywhere- and I have always had a love-hate relationship with this. On the one hand, I love being a foreigner, being different, and talking about my culture with coworkers and friends abroad. However, I hate the American stereotypes that automatically come with my obvious accent. In my past travels, I’ve actually felt ashamed of being an American- so with this new adventure, I knew it needed to stop. I’ve learned how to feel comfortable confronting American stereotypes head-on, and have realized that this happens to absolutely everyone- not just me.

5. Living in the moment.
Still working on this one, however I am most definitely trying and learning. Whether it be a small task at work, my train ride every morning, or a coffee date with a coworker, I am attempting to be absolutely and completely present. I will most probably never be in this city again, working with the same people, and living in the same place. Practicing mindfulness has been helping me appreciate each and every moment of my time in Cape Town.

Daniella is a sophomore at Northeastern with a combined major in Human Services and International Affairs, and a minor in Spanish. She is currently on her first co-op working for a youth development nonprofit organization in Cape Town, South Africa. Daniella is passionate about social change, travel, and good food- and can’t wait to see what Africa has to offer her both professionally and personally. Email her at emami.d@husky.neu.edu. Look for Daniella’s posts every other Tuesday.

Avoiding the Burn Out

Wat Phrathat Doi Suthep in Chiang Mai, Thailand.

Wat Phrathat Doi Suthep in Chiang Mai, Thailand.

“So, how do you avoid burning out?”

Stiff and rigid from the confinements of the train car, I found solace by tracing the changing landscape that lay before me outside the window. Departing from a city with a population of over 10 million and arriving in an entire province with less than half of what I was leaving behind would be a true test of my mental fitness. I need the stimulation. I love the noise – the vehement cries of street vendors successfully bargaining with foreigners, the hum of congested main streets at the end of the month (which marks pay day), and the indistinct activity of business people, artists, merchants, and wanderers.

The typical volunteer life cycle in Surin lasts approximately two weeks. I’ve seen and met almost 60 new faces in the short month I’ve been here. Coming and going, traveling and exploring, we begin as strangers and leave as friends. With little common ground, the trade of stories, experiences, and cultural differences provided a stage to break down unfamiliar barriers. During the days before leaving Bangkok, and even on the seven-hour journey to Surin, my mind twisted and turned through worry, excitement, and curiosity. However, during the first few weeks at the clinic and in the volunteer house, the true intimacy of travel revealed itself.

I couldn’t tell you their names, but I will always remember the conversation we shared. Over the burning coils of mosquito repellent and underneath the dim white light bulbs in the garden space, I was alone with one of the English teachers, sitting across from two others that were working in childcare. They had families back home in Queensland, Australia – older women.

Unfortunately, their reputation amongst the rest of the housemates clouded my perception of them. I heard bad reviews, and I believed every word – a callous couple of women, cold, and unfriendly. There they were, across the table from the teacher and I with nothing between us aside from an unsettling silence.

Eventually, we managed to find substance that we could work with. Much to my surprise, I found myself fully engaged. These were not the same people everyone had been whispering about. Small talk evolved into a stock exchange, the buying and selling of ideas. The women were equipped with an arsenal of stories from their line of social work, and soon thereafter, they pried into my work, what I was doing in Thailand, and why I chose public health and medicine. My twenty-one year-old-self was unprepared for their inquisitions. I offered them what basic blueprint I had of what I had envisioned my life and career to be like. I was taken aback by their avidity, but strangely enough it kind of…well, made me just as enthusiastic. Their passion for their work, and their desire to learn of mine was just the ember I needed.

We talked for hours, the teacher, the two childcare volunteers, and myself.

I’ll always remember the circumstances behind that night, my expectations, my judgments, and what I walked away from that table with.

Yes – I have quite literally an entirely new world of opportunity here in Thailand. That’s easy to say. Perhaps though, new opportunities lay right in front us each day. If I chose to leave the garden, unwilling to let go of criticisms, maybe I wouldn’t be as conscious of my choices, my direction, and my path towards something bigger.

If somehow, you two find this…thank you.

John is a 4th year health sciences student at The Bouvé College of Health Sciences. With a nose for exploration and travel, John will be writing from Southeast Asia about his experiences on co-op in Surin and Bangkok, Thailand. There, he’ll be volunteering in community clinics, in addition to conducting public health research at Chulalongkorn University. Follow his adventures on Instagram: johnsirisuth.

Minding the Gap

"Before rush-hour at Siam Square in Bangkok, Thailand."

Before rush-hour at Siam Square in Bangkok, Thailand.

Bangkok is a city that will spellbind you. With its unique blend of new and old, modernity and tradition, the juxtapositions are very much tangible and scattered all throughout Bangkok’s limits. Here, you’ll find yourself at the intersection of some of the world’s most stunning and luxurious shopping destinations and some of the world’s most beautiful and sacred temples – both common places to find tourists and transplants like myself.

“We planned on coming to Thailand for a short time, but we just ended up never leaving.”

There is no shortage of Anglophones or English speakers that will help you navigate your way around the skytrain in the rare event you find yourself lost in getting to Siam Square or anywhere along Sukhumvit Road. And despite the city’s intimidating infrastructure, people always seem to know where they are going, and drivers never seem to stop for the average pedestrian. (You have been warned).

My observations have been limited to my own constraints and have remained primarily visual for the short time I’ve been here. Unable to articulate conversational responses in Thai, it’s been difficult to communicate with family and new friends in a truly sensible fashion. Sure, basic exchanges between myself and aunts and uncles happen – but their wisdom, advice, and guidance stay filtered by the language barrier.

Public health is a discipline entrenched in communication, collaboration, and interdependence. Its practice requires intense coordination, all catering to the dynamic and ever-changing health needs of individuals, communities, and populations. Public health responses set the stage for impactful scientific, political, and social advances to occur.

My co-op experiences in Surin (a rural province of Thailand bordering Cambodia) and at the College of Public Health Sciences, Chulalongkorn University will be interesting to say the least. With a serious deficiency at hand, I’ve been at grips with how exactly to overcome my lack of language skills.

Certainly, learning Thai will be at the top of my agenda – but in the interim, I’ve realized a much more meaningful skill to employ, not only in the workplace, but with my non-nuclear family as well.

In a broken combination of Thai and English – I bashfully asked my uncle for a ride to the Bang Wa BTS station so that I could meet up with some friends. With a grin and a pat on the back, he consented. We hopped in the car and made our way to the skytrain. The 20-minute ride was long. Stumbling in silence having one fleeting conversation after the other, we were lost in translation. It was frustrating. In the background, Thai-pop music played on the radio – but my uncle was quick to change it. Carefully, he turned the dial as he leaned his ear closer to the speakers on the car door.

With satisfaction, he settled on American rap music. My uncle then turned to me as if looking for approval. I smiled.

As I exited the car, my uncle’s gesture followed me into the cabin of the skytrain. I’ve thought about it quite a bit. In looking forward to the next few months, these non-verbal skills will take me far at the clinic and in the field. Paying close attention to detail, reading body language, and approaching every situation with a calculated sensitivity are elastic in their applications. Having to find small ways to connect and convey feelings of compassion, understanding, and commitment similar to my uncle’s actions have made me more conscious and aware of my own.

John is a 4th year health sciences student at The Bouvé College of Health Sciences. With a nose for exploration and travel, John will be writing from Southeast Asia about his experiences on co-op in Surin and Bangkok, Thailand. There, he’ll be volunteering in community clinics, in addition to conducting public health research at Chulalongkorn University. Follow his adventures on Instagram @johnsirisuth.

Living and Working in “The Emerald City”

City Spot Seattle

This guest post was written by NU student, Andrew Rota. He recently finished his co-op in Seattle working for the Northeastern Seattle graduate campus.

I had been living in the northeast for far too long. Originally from western Massachusetts, I always wanted to move out of state, but knew that Northeastern with its experiential education component was the smartest career choice I could make. While looking for other cities to live, Seattle stood out as a center for entrepreneurship and innovation. Knowing that I wanted to go into product development, Seattle seemed like a good option for a change.

I went through the same process as most. I applied for my position through myNEU COOL and then got an email requesting an interview—the difference being it was via Skype. I requested an office in the Sterns Center to borrow for the interview (which clearly went pretty well) and then was offered the position as Marketing/Social Media Manager for Northeastern’s Seattle Campus.

I’ll admit, I was nervous to move across the country. Finding housing was a bit stressful but ended up working out to be a good value with roommates who have become close friends. I am an avid biker, so I disassembled and packed up my bike and brought it with me on the plane. Once I was settled into my new apartment, I had my roommates in Boston send three pre-packed boxes, unfortunately I only received two. I did end up receiving the final box… three months later. Lesson #1: Do not let your roommates paste shipping labels on valuables, especially if they’ve never done that before. Lesson #2: Always put a very high declared value on your packages in case they do not make it the lofty 3,000 miles.

Working at the Seattle Graduate Campus is a unique experience that has provided me with great opportunities. While we are part of the large Northeastern structure, we also have our own entrepreneurial start-up environment. The combination of these two structures creates incredible oscillation in any given work day. In a single day, I might, for example, take pictures for an event we are hosting, write an article for our website, and later on attend a networking event at the Space Needle.

Since it is a relatively small team (only 10) compared to most of the University, there is an “all hands on deck” atmosphere. Many of the positions encompass what would be whole departments back in Boston and my role is no exception.  We frequently interact with our colleagues in Boston for support, though I have full accountability for my job responsibilities.

One of the benefits of my position would be the work culture.  In fact, it has been one of my favorite aspects of the position; it is extremely collaborative and exciting. All my coworkers are positive and actively include me on initiatives and projects they believe are of interest to me.

When I started in June, I was encouraged to sit down and write out my own professional development goals. I was then able to customize additional responsibilities to help me meet those goals by the end of my co-op. For example, one of my goals is to improve my writing ability. As a result, I now write various articles and news posts for the campus that get published in the Seattle Campus News weekly. Additionally, there are numerous opportunities to meet and interact with prominent leaders both within Northeastern and with outside executives. Some challenges include that fact that the job is always changing. Sometimes this is a benefit because it keeps the role fresh but in other circumstances, it can be difficult to adjust.

Seattle is a dynamic and one-of-a-kind city with so much to do. The city is surrounded by water with magnificent views of two separate mountain ranges. It has everything you could want including nightlife and cultural destinations while still being located close to plentiful nature opportunities (an important component for someone who grew up in the woods of Western Mass.). The city is changing rapidly and there is lots of transformation.

One thing Seattle lacks is the historic preservation tradition of an older city, something Boston is rich with. Although I love the changing and zestful atmosphere, there could still be room for 19th century Victorian homes, which once stood, and a more active sense of preservation. Though it is in the works, Seattle (unlike Boston) does not have a large subway system. There is a decent bus system but most people still drive.

Although my current position is not in the field of my dreams, I have learned many transferable skills. I am currently helping the Dean here on a national initiative to increase S.T.E.M. graduates and a special project to increase student involvement for a Senior Vice President in Boston. All in all, I’ve enjoyed my experience and would encourage any NU student to trek the 3,000 miles to check it out.

Welcome to the European “Student City”: Leuven, Belgium

City Spot Leuven

“I knew I wanted to travel abroad,” explained Behavioral Neuroscience Senior Jake Jordan, who is currently completing his co-op as a Research Assistant in a lab studying neuroscience in the city of Leuven, Belgium. “I originally went to my co-op advisor who directed me to the international co-op office. At first they didn’t have anything, and I was like ‘okay, I’ll just go abroad after graduation or whatever’ but then she got back to me a while later and said something had opened up in Belgium so I jumped on that.”

Jake has actually been working overseas for about 8 months– longer than the tradition co-op of 6 months and took over for his lab’s very first Northeastern co-op student. “The process wasn’t too bad. The best piece of advice is to do your research and plan way ahead. Like, I didn’t know that there were only a few Belgium visa offices in the whole country, luckily there is one in New York where I’m from, but if I was from the Midwest or something I would have been screwed.”

Market in Leuven, Belgium during one of many summer music festivals

Market in Leuven, Belgium during one of many summer music festivals

Jake interviewed via Skype with his boss who is originally from Canada. He explained that one of his favorite aspects of working in Belgium is the diversity of the people he works with. “There are people from all around the world here, it’s really cool. The culture is a lot different too. It is a little bit more laid back than the US. There are always people in common areas and it’s very common to just walk around and hang out.” When asked what his favorite part of his job was, “it’s always changing, it’s a small office but it’s exciting—which is actually the most challenging thing too, but I really like it so it’s a good challenging.”

His favorite food: the waffles (of course). What does he miss the most? “Northeastern, my friends and my family of course. Oh, and baseball definitely.”

Kelly Scott is a Career Advisor at Northeastern University and social media enthusiast.  A Gen Y, she enjoys writing about workplace culture and personal online branding. For more career insight, follow/tweet her at @kellydscott4.

If you know anyone who would be a great City Spotlight feature, contact Ashley LoBue at a.lobue@neu.edu for more details.

In a New York state of mind…

City Spot NYC

Allison Walker has been working at BWR Public Relations in an exciting, fast-paced internship in the Big Apple for the past few months.  Despite the high cost of living, (a standard movie-ticket will cost you $13.50!) and despite the fact that NY is home to some of Boston’s biggest sport rivals (the Yankees), Allison has thoroughly enjoyed her internship and time so far in NYC.  She was kind enough to give me the inside scoop on her internship, her viewpoint of NYC, and advice for any Husky who is looking to intern there.

Ashley LoBue (AL): What type of public relations does BWR Public Relations do?

Allison Walker (AW): BWR Public Relations is a celebrity PR company that works on the talent side, so we do celebrity PR, but we also do events for corporations.  

(AL): Tell me a little bit about what you do day-to-day as a public relations intern.

(AW):  Well the good news is that I never have to get coffee! It’s great because I get to do minimum “intern” work. In the beginning I had to do some photocopying, and I was charged with updating both electric and binder press kits for clients, but then I started getting more responsibility as the internship went on, which was really cool.  I was given the opportunity to work NYC Fashion week, where I created client schedules, booked them for shows, and acted as their informal “body guard” during shows. So, I basically managed their interviews and any interactions they had with the press and photographers.  I also got to go to the DKNY birthday party and made sure the clients were situated there and helped my supervisors create client schedules and looks for the Emmys.  I’m really excited that I get to go to these types of different events (I go by myself or with a publicist) to make sure that everything is going according to plan for different BWR clients.  

 (AL): So now I know a little bit about what you do and what you enjoy as part of the internship.  What do you find challenging?

(AW): Sometimes the work hours are challenging. For Fashion Week, I had to work all day and into the night to coordinate everything and make sure everything was going smoothly.

(AL): Could you take me through the process of how you got your position in NYC?

(AW): I got the interview through the co-op system! It’s the first time they are doing co-op. I interviewed with them at their office in NYC. It’s best to go to interviews in person unless it’s really difficult to get there.

(AL): Do you have any advice for students that want to work in PR?

(AW): Well, I do have a really big background in entertainment PR and film, and I’ve also done music PR, which probably made it easier for me to land this internship.  They are looking for someone who is really outgoing and is not just going to just sit in the back corner and wait for someone to tell them what to do.  They like people who can take initiative and ask, “What do you need? I can do this.” PR needs a type of person who can put him or herself out there. So, my advice is to be confident and let people see your willingness to work hard and passion for the industry.

(AL): What are some of the major differences between living in Boston vs. living in NYC?

(AW): NYC is a lot more expensive than Boston and a lot more fast-paced and cut throat than Boston.  People think,” oh that’s not true, it’s just a rumor”, but it’s so true.  Honestly, everyone has either done what you’ve done or done more, but that makes you more driven and makes you want to try harder, which is one of my favorite things about the city.  NY is a perfect place to start a career or intern because it makes you ready for anything and made me into a super intern.  Boston is a great place to intern, but NY has made me excited, driven and competitive. NYC is one of my favorite places, so I might be biased, but I definitely recommend for anyone to intern here at least once.

 (AL): What do you want to do post-graduation?

(AW): I do like celebrity PR– it’s fun, exciting and I get to do a lot of fun stuff.  I’m not sure though.  I think maybe something in the entertainment field because I like that environment.  Journalism or public relations is probably where I’m going to end up.

(AL): And finally, what is your favorite food in NYC?

(AW): That’s a tough one. Probably the 24 hour diners!

Ashley LoBue is a Career Advisor and The Works’ City Spotlight corespondent  If you want to be featured as a City Spotlight, or know somebody who should, contact her at a.lobue@neu.edu.