International Relations Co-op in the Middle East

teaching in middle east

Ryan teaching in the Middle East

For students who are thinking about doing an international co-op or who have a strong interest in Middle Eastern studies, this week we will be highlighting the challenges and experiences of working abroad from the perspective of a co-op student. Ryan Chaffin is a third year student majoring in International Affairs and Political Science currently working at the Hashemite Fund for Development of the Jordan Badia, which is an organization that aims at objective of developing the Jordan Badia, or, the arid areas encompassing much of Jordan’s land. Here is what he has to say about his co-op in the interview:

1. Can you tell us what a typical workday looks like?

There are two types of work day. On one hand, I will be in the office, formatting and writing business proposals, meeting local dignitaries from around the Badia, and colluding with your boss and coworkers on long-term projects and meetings. On the other, I will be doing fieldwork, which includes visiting parts of the “Badia” or desert regions that stand at a remove from Amman, the capital city. However, at the beginning of the co-op, I will mostly be teaching English in a remote town or village, with three- or four-day stints back at your apartment in between.

2. What is the biggest difference between working abroad and working in the United States?

In the United States there is a standard of work that permeates so much of our economy that it feels “objective”. Abroad, this isn’t always the case. Job descriptions are more mutable, and the goal is more subjective. Your expectations for this job may not hold up through the first few days of work or weeks. The needs of the job are also more “comprehensive”. If there’s something you’re asked to do, it’s because being an English speaker makes you the only person able to do it.

Also, it is only natural that you will feel a little homesick because you are abroad. However, if you have a good living space and make friends quickly, this will pass quickly.

3. Describe some of the challenges you encountered at work, and how you overcame them?

Feeling directionless; I asked repeatedly to be involved in projects until I was given more responsibility, and made sure to work quickly to submit any assignments given to build reliability.

Feeling lost and confused; I identified the people who spoke English better than I spoke Arabic and used them to understand my work environment in the first few days.

Lastly, just getting used to the workday takes some time as well. How I overcome that was bringing a laptop and training myself on grant writing until I finally run out of free time after a few weeks.

4. What kind of skills did you learn from this co-op?

So far, my writing skills have been strengthened through formatting international business and grant proposals. My Arabic language skills have also seen improvement through my translation of Arabic textbooks into English, which I hope to publish through the Ministry of Education someday. Lastly, I have learned how to conduct business meetings from being an assistant to my manager, which is particularly useful in improving my Arabic immensely.

5. Has this co-op helped confirm your career goal?

Yes and no. It’s made me very knowledgeable about Levantine business culture and that’s an asset in Middle East career paths. I’m also still willing to work at a government agency or NGO that promises advancement and a chance to impose real reform, although this experience has made me consider the private sector more seriously. What it’s changed is the perception that I need to do all the listening in my co-ops. At the United Nations or the State Department, talented policy architects have built an institution which I would need decades of training with which to contribute meaningfully. But here at the Fund, it’s very self-developed. I could sit at my desk and do nothing all day without reprisal; I could also design my own day around self-developed projects which aid the Fund, and increasingly I’ve done just that. My co-op has increased my confidence that my education at Northeastern is preparing me for the world in ways I didn’t expect.

6. What is some advice you would like to give students who are thinking about a co-op in the Middle East?  

Don’t expect a European co-op. This is a region with more grit and more dust in the cracks. You will be one of, at most, two or three people in the office who speak English fluently, and that means anything English-language eventually goes through you. Since most of the business proposals have been for USAID or other English aid agencies, you’ll be asked—expected—to understand the ins-and-outs of editing, formatting and submitting grant proposals for several hundred thousand dollars at a time. Since I Googled my way through the first month, you can too. But be firm about your needs, or they will not be addressed. Things get lost in translation.

There is also some concrete advice I’d like to give to anyone seriously considering or committed to this particular co-op. Use Expatriates.com for housing; look for other expats under “Rooms Available” so you have a support network. Don’t pay more than 300JOD/month unless you’re homeless otherwise. Until you find a supermarket nearby, the Taj Mall has a Safeway and numerous kiosks for a Jordan phone.

Bio-pic_scarletthScarlett Ho is a third year International Affairs and Political Science major with a minor in Law and Public Policy. During fall 2014, she studied abroad in Belgium where she interned at the European Parliament. The summer prior to that, she interned for Senator Warren on Capitol Hill, and previously Congressman Lynch in Massachusetts. She can be reached at ho.sc@husky.neu.edu for any questions ranging from resume writing, job searching to her experiences.

 

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.

How to Start a New Semester Strong

This guest post was written by Scarlett Ho, a third year International Affairs and Political Science major with a minor in Law and Public Policy.

The first few weeks of school, coming back to campus for the spring semester can be exciting and rejuvenating. However, after having enjoyed a much-deserved winter break, students might find it hard to adjust to their new class schedule. (Especially when the winter weather in New England is so uninviting). No matter what grades you got last semester, this is the chance to start anew. Here are a few tips on how to start a new semester strong and to get the most out of your college experience.

1. Plan Ahead:

We have all heard this before: First week of classes start, and we think they’re easy and manageable. We waste our time on random things until realizing days before, an assignment is due. So, we pull an all-nighter and as you can imagine, the final grade turns out to be a disaster. How can you ensure this does not become a vicious cycle?

Read the course syllabus

Since the first week of school just started with new professors and the course syllabus introduction, take time to read it in detail. Highlight assignment deadlines, pay attention to required readings and examination dates and put them on your calendar. Clarify with the professor if needed.

Define workload

Once you understood the syllabus and know your deadlines, how do you go about planning your semester? If a term paper/project is due at the end of the semester, the easiest way is to break the task into smaller chunks, which you could tackle little by little. Create to-do lists and long-term goals to guide you along the way and keep track of progress. For instance, if you got a paper assignment, this is what the to-do list can look like:

  1. Research and pick topics/research questions
  2. Meet up with professor to discuss in detail
  3. Go to the library for academic books/journals
  4. First draft due
  5. Go to Northeastern Writing Center/Peer advising
  6. Revise
  7. Finish the essay
  8. Proofread

2. Maintain a Neat Environment:

According to a study by Princeton University Neuroscience Institute, a cluttered and chaotic environment restricts your ability to focus. As such, a clean and organized working desk, good lighting and room setup are crucial in determining productivity. Even when you look at your co-op workplace, things are kept at a minimal and the office is usually well ventilated with sufficient light.

Make sure you maintain a neat dorm/apartment to have a conducive environment for studying. Set aside small chunks of time or work between breaks to clean up and put away unnecessary things. If the setup of the room is a problem, try going to the library.

3. Get Involved With Campus Activities:

While academic classes are important, school clubs and organizations are also a good way to establish a connection with the school and build up your resume with leadership positions. Since most jobs focus a lot on your ability to interact with others, getting started with school organizations can be a good way to demonstrate you are a team player. In my previous interviews, I was asked questions such as, “Tell me a time when you had a problem with one of your team-mates and how did you resolve that?” Getting involved on campus not only gives you the experience of working with peers, it also opens doors for you and prepares you for the real world.

The other aspect of getting involved is by helping a professor do research. Was there a class you have taken before that fascinates you and aligns with your professional interest? If so, get in touch with the professor and see if you can help them out in anyway. Professors can be great mentors that can guide you along the way throughout college.

So be sure to take advantage of what Northeastern has to offer, both academically and socially, and make the most out of your college experience!

Scarlett Ho is a third year International Affairs and Political Science major with a minor in Law and Public Policy. During fall 2014, she studied abroad in Belgium where she interned at the European Parliament. The summer prior to that, she interned for Senator Warren on Capitol Hill, and previously Congressman Lynch in Massachusetts. She can be reached at ho.sc@husky.neu.edu for any questions ranging from resume writing, job searching to her experiences.

Photo Source: Yellow Page College Directory

Northeastern Aime Cameo Macarons!

Clockwise: Owner Kinesha in front of the Cameo Macaron truck, chocolate macarons, macaron medley, NU love at the order window

Clockwise from top left: Owner Kinesha in front of the Cameo Macaron truck, chocolate macarons, macaron medley, NU love at the order window

“Macaroon is the Italian cookie with the shredded coconut… you can say French Macaroon and get away with it or you can say Macaron [mah-kah-rōn].” And so begins my interview with Northeastern University alumna and food truck founder, Kinesha Goldson. Disenchanted with corporate life as a buyer and craving the macarons she’d grown to love while studying abroad in Paris, Goldson founded food truck Cameo Macaron in the summer of 2013.

“I just wanted everyone to have the French experience I had in Paris”. Respecting the risk, but inspired by her Parisian visit and her love for baking, she developed a checklist of things she would need to start a food truck and decided to go for it. She credits Northeastern –particularly its overall flexibility along with her co-ops for inspiring her personal and professional confidence and her ability to take risks, “Just knowing and having that experience, sometimes you try things, you don’t like it, you learn from it and you move on.” Goldson, having gone through this, was originally a Criminal Justice major and switched to Communications after her first co-op when she realized it wasn’t a good fit.

“I’m using the heck out of my communications degree” she exclaims! With an Instagram following of over 1,500, Goldson had her social media sites up and running before even buying the truck, garnering her sufficient buzz citywide before their first bite. Now, more than a year later Goldson has regulars flocking to her truck daily and is catering everything from bridal showers to baptisms.

Naturally business-minded, she details how the best ideas are based on convenience. “If somebody is going through their everyday life and they’re saying to themselves, ‘I hate this, it would be so much better if [fill in the blank]’ than you have a good idea.” To that end, her advice to future entrepreneurs: keep an idea journal and only share your ideas with people you truly trust. She also cautions new entrepreneurs to pursue the least costly idea first and then use the money made to invest in their next idea. If feasible, pay for as much as possible in cash so you can break even more quickly. Goldson’s family, friends and personal savings allowed her to fund Cameo Macaron and she acknowledges how lucky she is for not owing anyone anything.

Not surprisingly, owning a business comes with its challenges, as Goldson explains that it’s hard to find good and reliable help and she does everything from driving the truck to ordering inventory to managing the socials. “It’s so rewarding though when people walk up and are so excited. There’s so much risk involved and what keeps it going is that people get it and support you; knowing that your idea is relatable is a great feeling.”

“It’s a lot of work, but it’s so rewarding”. Further touting her experience at Northeastern, Goldson explains, “It helps being around like-minded people who have that Northeastern entrepreneurial spirit and can-do attitude, it’s really inspiring.” Check out Cameo Macaron’s schedule and hop over for a macaron or five. I would highly recommend the pistachio and rose petal (yes, rose petal) – you’ll be just slightly more Parisian after you do.

Follow Cameo Macaron on Twitter and Instagram to get the latest updates and locations.

A New Year’s Reflection

source: http://www.flickr.com/photos/spatterd/

source: http://www.flickr.com/photos/spatterd/

This article was written by Megan Fernandes, a 4th year international affairs student at NU as a guest blogger for The Works.

With the New Year upon us, it’s natural to find yourself reflecting back on the year’s events and some of the life lessons you’ve learned. They say that understanding your history helps you plan for your future, and I think the start of the New Year is a good time to revisit and learn from the personal journey you’ve been on over the year—what have you gained this past year? What contributions have you made? What were your successes and your failures? New Year’s isn’t simply about new beginnings; it’s also about looking back in order to better determine what new beginnings lie ahead. In personal and professional terms, it’s also important to reflect on how past work experiences shape who you are today and who you want to be in 2014.

Co-op is an opportunity to gain experience and learn about the workforce. I’ve been very deliberate in my attempt to find and gather “takeaways” from each co-op to help me make better work-related decisions in the future. For example, after several rounds of interviews, I’ve noticed that one of the qualities most appreciated by employers when they first meet you is genuine thoughtfulness. This doesn’t simply mean preparing thoughtful questions for an interview, but being able to explain why and how a particular company/position fits into your overall career goals. Employers appreciate when you go into an interview knowing what skills and industry knowledge you want to gain from working at that particular organization and in turn, how the job will make you a more qualified future candidate. A compelling way to articulate this isn’t by rattling off the benefits and superior qualities a particular company or position has, but by providing the interviewer with solid examples of how you’ve leveraged past experiences to get closer to your ultimate career goals. Being insightful and thoughtful about these aspects of your past experiences is a meaningful way to create a story about yourself for interviewers.

Additionally, relaying to employers that you understand how your previous experiences have built upon each other allows them to trust you more easily. While not all work experiences seem to relate to each other (like going from a weightlifting nonprofit working with gang youth in Boston to an agriculture start up in Cameroon in my case), making simple and meaningful connections between experiences is always possible. These connections can exist on many levels. For example, I worked with very flexible bosses who didn’t have the time to micro manage me in both positions. That similarity taught me to take initiative when I saw problems or inefficiencies in different types of situations. Another example is that due to organizational, physical, and cultural differences, I developed stronger interpersonal skills with people from various cultural and socio-economic backgrounds, and I learned how to be more thorough and concise in my communication as face time with my supervisors at each co-op was rare. A large takeaway from both work experiences was a more solid understanding of what I like and need in a work environment in order to be successful; such as a lively office culture and structured time commitments. You can always find connections, and while it may be difficult at first, this is precisely the first step in cultivating the sort of thoughtfulness that really resonates with people, especially employers. Eventually I’ve also found that I’ve been able to make decisions about my work experiences with a greater level of deliberateness and confidence because I’ve taken the time to draw these parallels and connections from past experiences.

So take this New Years to do a little brainwork in tying all of your past work experiences together into a thoughtful and compelling personal story. Remember, telling this story will help you to make those connections between experiences, show people your ability to process and grow from each experience, and give people insight into you as a person.  And this does not work well as a one-time process right before an interview; it should be a constant undertaking that helps make those yearly new beginnings and resolutions all the more meaningful each time. So give yourself a new beginning career-wise this coming year, one that starts with a more thoughtful version of yourself.

Megan Fernandes is an international affairs student in her fourth year at Northeastern with academic interests revolving around global poverty alleviation. Megan is originally from Houston, but went to high school in Bangkok, Thailand before moving to Boston. She loves learning about other cultures and would be happy to show new people around Boston! 

Happier after working at Happier.com

source: happier.com

source: happier.com

It was an honor to have the opportunity to interview stand-out student, Andrew Barba. A 3rd year computer science major set to graduate in 2016, he recently finished his co-op at Happier.com, an extremely successful tech start-up in the Boston area.  He gave me great insight into what a co-op at Happier.com is like, how to navigate the interview process, and what it is like to work for a start-up.  All of you entrepreneurs out there or people interested in start-ups, listen up!

Ashley LoBue (AL): Can you tell me a little bit about Happier.com?

Andrew Barba (AB):  Nataly Kogan, one of the founders, had worked for well-known companies like Microsoft and was extremely successful. She thought that she would be happy when she hit a certain level of success and made a lot of money, but Nataly found that it wasn’t the case.  So, she and her co-founder, Colin Plamondon, got the idea to create something that can make people happier in other ways—they did some research and found that if you write down three happy thoughts a day, then you were scientifically proven to be happier. Happier.com started out as an iPhone app but then got extended to the web since it was cost effective.

(AL): What did you do day-to-day as a co-op for Happier?

(AB): I actually got to work on the iPhone app for three months, and then they said “here, build a website”, so I was really excited about the amount of responsibility I had. Yoav, the CTO of Happier, was my mentor, and I did it all as far as coding—all of the other stuff was on him.  It was a lot of fun! Yoav actually designed the system we work with, which is called Agile Software Development.  The idea is that you release products and features quickly so you learn quickly—the key to this system is that you don’t release it when it’s perfect, you release it when it’s ready, so that you can get user feedback and adjust things according to that feedback.  We are able to do this through “Sprints”.  Every Monday we have a big planning day where the whole team gets into different groups (like design, product engineering etc.) and we try to brainstorm on what we can get done. Natalie leads the meeting and talks about the direction she wants to go in, and then we triage from there—the design team says we can do this, and then product engineering says that they can do that etc. We release in two week chunks.  On the web, we release as soon as the app is done.

(AL): What are the challenges?

(AB): One of the challenges working for a start-up is that you have to start projects that you don’t really know how to design. You might think something will work, but in actuality it won’t.  One time I literally deleted everything that I worked on for a long time because it wasn’t functional and I made a mistake. For every mistake you do though, I think you always learn two or three things, so that you always are a better programmer today than yesterday.  As a student, you are taught to do things in a certain way, but you need to learn to think outside of the box if you want to solve a problem or do something that hasn’t been done before.   

(AL): What do you like most about it?

(AB): Freedom is what I like most about this position—they don’t call me an intern because I will build a product for them like the other engineers, so they treat me like another member of the team. They give me a huge amount of responsibility, which I don’t feel like I would’ve gotten at an internship at say, Facebook.

Tech Startups Image Source: entrepreneur.com

Tech Startups
Image Source: entrepreneur.com

(AL): How did you get your co-op with Happier?

(AB): I met happier at the Co-op expo.  They really liked that I had already made two apple apps—I started learning how to make apps by signing up for 12 one-hour classes on how to do it. It was time consuming, but I loved it.  I gave them my resume but actually showed the apps I made. I believe this side project helped differentiate me from the other candidates and say more about me than my resume could.

(AL): What about post graduation?

(AB): I would love to start something on my own one day—the startup space is fun, a lot of work, and moves very quickly, but I just love that environment.

(AL): What is the best piece of advice you can give other students to be successful in co-op?

(AB): I would say to definitely speak up to your supervisors.  Don’t be quiet in a meeting and voice your opinions. Your team really wants to hear what you have to say.