The Four People You Meet in Foreign Countries

International Travel

Throughout my time in Uganda and in other travels, I’ve come across many foreigners that I’ve been able to fit into one or two of five categories in my head. This is by no means a complete or all-encompassing list, but a very generalized set of characters that I frequently meet abroad.

The hopeful. This person is the one that is most likely to stay long-term. They enjoy their lifestyle, and they find meaning in their work that gives them a reason to hang around and stay motivated. They are hopeful for the future of the country and believe they are making a difference. This person is great to know, as they are most familiar with the local culture and can give you insight and advice for your time in the country.

The cynic. Hearing this person speak makes you wonder why they are still here. They hate the food, the people, the work. They usually don’t last long, and if they are put here on an assignment, they will complain the entire time until they leave. The cynic isn’t the most fun person to be around, but it can sometimes be amusing to see a person struggle in challenging situations (see Paris Hilton working on a ranch in The Simple Life). Even the optimist has bad days, and the cynic is a nice companion on those days when you need someone to whine with.

The partier. Plenty of fresh-out-of-college, low budget young adults go to developing countries in search for the wild experience of a lifetime in a secluded part of the world. They are usually non-communicative or un-contactable, causing their parents relentless worry and fear for the worst. They’re fun nightlife people, and have plenty of great stories to tell about crazy situations they’ve encountered.

The wanderer. This may be the lone traveler, or the backpacking couple that is making its way across a country or continent. They take comfort in not having a tight schedule or work obligations, and are taking advantage of a period in life where they can take an extended period of time to see the world and experience a part of the world that they know nothing about. You’ll probably meet this person only once, but with some communication and planning you might be able to see them again on a random trip in another country.

When you travel, you meet a lot of interesting people. It’s important to be open-minded and, contrary to the traditional advice, willing to talk to strangers. You never know what you could learn by simply starting a conversation on a bus or in a restaurant. As my time in Uganda is coming to an end, I can say that one of the best things about being here has been meeting the range of characters, both local people and foreigners. I’ve met a Russian wedding dress designer, a kindergarten teacher, several Peace Corps volunteers, a lone traveler making her way down the east coast of Africa, a Spanish salsa instructor, a missionary working in the nomadic Karamoja, a Canadian couple running a primary school, and a Ugandan man trying to establish a turkey farm.

Mika White is a second year biochemistry major at Northeastern expecting to graduate in 2018. This semester she is on her first co-op in Uganda interning at a rural hospital in the town of Iganga and establishing a malnutrition treatment program in Namutumba District. She loves to travel, read, and run. Feel free to reach out to her at white.mik@husky.neu.edu and LinkedIn, and read her personal blog at mikawhite25.wordpress.com.

Global Officer Matt Bilotti Shares His Experiences and Weighs In On International Co-Ops

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Last November at the State of the University, President Joseph E. Aoun appointed Matt Bilotti, DMSB’ 15 to be one of the two Northeastern’s first Global Officers. This spring, he is proudly representing the school on a mission to discover … Continue reading

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.