Logistics of International Co-op

Last week, I was a panelist at a global co-op event held by GlobeMed. A lot of the questions directed toward the six of us (students who had co-oped in Uganda, Ghana, and South Africa) were logistical – what resources we used on campus, how we set up our living situation, how we chose our co-ops – so I thought I’d write about that since there might be some people who are curious about the application process itself.

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Pursuing an international co-op was not as difficult as some people make it out to be. Instead of my college advisor, I worked closely with the advisors at the international co-op office, newly reformed as the “Global Experience Office,” since they were more familiar with the process of applying to international programs.

With most international experiences, it is a lot easier to work with what is called a provider. Providers are agencies that link volunteers with on-ground programs. Each site has a local coordinator, who sometimes becomes your host upon your arrival. In my program, I had a host family so I did not have to worry about food or accommodation for the entirety of my stay. As such, you do end up paying to volunteer, but the funds go toward your accommodation, placement into the program, and support from international coordinators. When I went to the international co-op office, I was given a long list of clinical-related programs through many different providers. I chose my provider based on affordability, type of work, and past reviews.

Choosing the country I wanted to work in was another ordeal. The provider I chose, Experiential Learning International, has sites in 28 countries, giving me plenty of options to choose from. I worked in a process of elimination. Growing up, I lived in six countries, mostly in Asia, so I decided that I wanted to visit another part of the world. I also wanted to avoid very developed areas that were similar to the US, so that eliminated Europe. I found that a lot of the Latin American countries required Spanish skills, so that was also off the table. What remained was Africa. South Africa was too developed for me – I wanted a very rustic and real experience. I also eliminated countries in West Africa due to the Ebola scare. So I was left with East Africa: Kenya, Tanzania, and Uganda. Kenya was on the US no-travel list due to unrest and occasional terrorism acts, so I decided against petitioning with Northeastern to attempt to go anyway. They do not speak much English in Tanzania, so I was finally left with Uganda. In hindsight, I am very happy with the choice I ended up making. Although I had no idea at the time, this co-op turned into the most eye-opening experience I’ve had yet and gave me opportunities to grow both personally and professionally.

I cannot recommend international co-op enough. Whether you choose the country before the work placement or vice versa, there is so much to learn from living and working in a place that is completely outside of your comfort zone. If you do decide to pursue an international experience, good luck and enjoy it!

Walk, Don’t Run.

wood-nature-person-walkingWhen interviewing for a job, it can be so nerve-wracking. You’re being interviewed, but remember that an interview is two-sided. You have to be the right fit for the company as well as the company being the right fit for you in this time of your life. It’s stressful, having to decide if this is right for you at this time. So take it one step at a time, walking. Do not rush the process because being sure about an opportunity is essential in finding the right job.

There are times where a job is great, but the company is not a good fit for you. Believing in the company and their mission is extremely important. You are searching for the place you will call home for 40 hours a week – make sure the company culture is just as great as the job itself!

As crazy as it sounds, getting a job offer does not mean you have to say yes. It’s so tempting to say yes to the first opportunity, and often times, people do. However, this can lead to passing up a better choice that might be down the line for you.

If you do decide to say no and hold out for a better opportunity, expressing your gratitude the employer who has offered you a job is essential. You might want to work there in the future, so keeping a good rep is key. Be sure to thank the employer for the consideration and briefly explain that you are simply choosing to pursue another opportunity. Say no, but be nice about it.

So that being said, walk, don’t run. Don’t jump at an opportunity if you know something else better may be waiting out there for you. It might be a better job, a better location, a better company culture, or something else. Make it the best fit for you.

Changing your Life Plan (and why it’s okay!)

Here it goes: I’ve had five different majors since I’ve enrolled at Northeastern University. Their range is from different concentrations of business to mathematics and the sciences. In case you’re curious, here’s the list: (1) Marketing (2) International Business (3) Business Administration (4) Mathematics and Finance and (5) Mathematics and Biology. It may have taken a year of switching around and being unhappy to determining what I love and want to do. At the end of the day, isn’t that what really matters?

You should be able to fall asleep at night comfortable with the decisions you’ve made. From an academic standpoint, I was having a crisis my first year. I was a business student, enjoyed what I was learning, but was not having that deeper connection and passion that I wanted with it. A year later, I made a switch to a completely opposite discipline: mathematics and biology.

So what was that process like?

In one word: stressful. If you’ve been in a position where you’ve had to change your major, I’m sure you can understand where I was for my entire freshman year. I was unsure, confused, and didn’t really know where I was heading. I felt as if I was a regular in academic advising. I was researching all different majors and careers at night. I thought about it for a few months, letting the idea of being okay with a complete mashup in my life plan. Then, it just clicked one day. Just like that, I knew I was unhappy and needed to do something about it.

I was dragging out the process. In all honesty, it’s scary being that unsure about your academic career. And I was scared to make the leap to switch out of business to the sciences. But I am beyond glad I did.

The best part: it’s 100% okay. If you’re unhappy with where you are going in your career, press pause. Think hard to find what is the cause of your unhappiness, and act on that need to be happy. You deserve to be happy.

So, if you’re thinking about making a change in your life plan, here’s a few tips on how to get the wheels turning, from someone who has been in your shoes:

Stay calm. Relax, drink a cup of tea, and take deep breaths. It is completely normal to ponder this and you are not alone in wanting to make a change.

Talk it out. Make an appointment to speak with your academic advisor or even an academic advisor of a major you are considering. Both ends will help you make the decision by educating you and providing you with more resources to consider and reach out to.

Be confident. Have faith in the switch you’re making. You’ll feel it in your heart when you are making the right academic switch. Yes, it is scary, but let your heart drive you to learning about what you are passionate about.

Photo courtesy of forbes.com.

Colette Biro is a 3rd year Biology and Mathematics major with a minor in Chemistry. She is currently on her first co-op in a biology lab at Northeastern working on transgenerational immunity in social insects. Colette is passionate about running, November Project and being a Husky Ambassador. Feel free to reach out to her at biro.c@husky.neu.edu.