The universe has a funny way of unraveling itself.
On the eve of my first organic chemistry exam this past September, I found myself in a familiar place: trapped in Snell Library scouring the Internet, desperate for stimulation. I was left numb from the repetitive and mechanic task of drawing benzene rings and their reactions. There were only so many that I could handle. I needed some down time.
Facebook was an obvious first choice. So, I wandered my News Feed, clicking on BuzzFeed links, reading endless lists of things I probably didn’t need to know, even for conversation’s sake. I flirted with the front page of Reddit, and then moved on to other news outlets, NPR, The New York Times, and Al Jeezera to name a few. This was the usual direction my Internet habits followed to kill some time; and almost as if by automatic action, I always was led back to Facebook. And on this particular night, I am certainly glad I was.
A friend of mine posted a status on her wall; she was in search of a travel companion on her way to an international co-op in China. I curiously, and somewhat jokingly commented “Knowing Chinese necessary?” to which I received a prompt reply, and a private inbox message to accompany it.
In the coming weeks, we exchanged information, key details, and a formulated a basic plan for the spring semester. I danced around the idea for quite sometime, unsure and uncertain about what types of experiences lay before us. Reluctant, but fueled by the prospect of travel and discovery, I began to research ways in which I could make this journey a reality. And, like any good explorer, I started off by first by consulting my mother.
Even through the phone, I was able to discern my mother’s hesitation in giving her consent to me as I pursued this co-op experience. Armed with information, statistics, and narratives from students, interns, and some expatriate friends, I was able to make a compelling case for what these next six months could mean for the future.
“It just makes sense,” I told her.
With the door now open to fully pursue working in China – I gathered everything I needed to make for a seamless process in orchestrating a self-developed co-op. In between classes, I even tried to learn Mandarin (I will emphasize – tried). In looking forward though, doubts began to creep into my head.
I went back to the drawing board.
Hungry for any sign of opportunity, I realized that Thailand was Lady Luck. Again, I assembled what I needed to ensure some solidarity while I would be abroad. I didn’t have any job prospects and was operating with very limited funding. What I did have though, was an incredibly vast support network in Thailand – family, friends, teammates, and strangers I hadn’t even met yet. I was motivated by an even stronger sense of curiosity – I would be able uncover my family’s heritage, learn forgotten cultures, and traditions all to bring back and share a story not only grounded in experience, but in self-discovery and growth. This was all I needed. I then initiated the search.
It was then when I truly appreciated what my friend had done in putting together the co-op that she had laid before us in China. It was a lot of work. The holes and hoops that she had to jump through were countless, never-ending. E-mails were sent to researchers a world away, applications were sent to organizations that probably never read them, or discarded them upon receipt. It felt like a hopeless endeavor. By November, I had contacted over sixty institutions, ranging from laboratories, English language schools, universities, and non-profits.
After the bouts of insomnia, spending hours writing cover letters, refining my CV, and preparing for interviews, three researchers finally gave me the green light.
That’s where this co-op begins – a Facebook post read during a long night of studying, a couple of messages, a phone call, and a little bit of self-reflection. Chance, luck, some preparation, and dedication to an idea all seemed to come together in symphony. A year ago, let alone six months ago, this opportunity was a pipe dream. Take advantage of serendipity – who knows where you could end up.
P.S. This post was inspired by the book, The Power of Pull: How Small Moves, Smartly Made, Can Set Big Things In Motion, by John Hagel III, John Seely Brown, and Lang Davison.
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.