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.

 

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.

What Working in a Ugandan Hospital has Taught Me about African Culture

Operating room in Iganga Hospital

Operating room in Iganga Hospital

 

We must do with what we have. Personally, I would not like hearing my doctor say, “we shall improvise”, but it is something that is commonly heard and accepted. The government-run Iganga Hospital is often low on supplies, including medical staff, medical equipment, medicine, and organization. Medicine stores in the pharmacy often run out, so patients are sometimes forced to pay for medication that should otherwise be free elsewhere. Power and water outages are frequent; there have been some instances where I have had to hold up my cell phone flashlight during wound suturing. It is difficult to say what exactly contributes to this severe deficit, but for now, we must accept that change is slow and things are just the way they are.

Time is irrelevant. Appointment times, efficiency in patient flow, and urgency are nonexistent here. The only functioning clocks in the hospital are in the main operating theater and maternity ward delivery room. Their function is maintained so that doctors can record the time of birth during deliveries. Visiting the hospital may be a day-long event, due to the huge crowds waiting to be seen by a doctor, the bouncing around the hospital for lab tests, x-rays, prescription filling etc. The slow pace of the hospital – everything from the doctors’ walking speed to the lack of immediate attention during emergency cases – reflects the African way of life. A friend of mine tends to confirm timing when making appointments, “African time or American time?” I’ve been here for six weeks, and have grown accustomed to the untimeliness of pretty much everything. People in Uganda take things a day at a time, with no long-term planning ahead, which can be nice and easygoing, but frustrating at the same time.

Family is invaluable. In the hospital, family members stay with the patient all day and all night to tend to their loved one’s needs. They bring them food, keep them company, and are in charge of communicating with the doctors. Family members roll out mats next to patient beds so that they can sleep next to them at night. One patient who was in a bad car accident and as a result had his leg amputated, stayed in the hospital for a month, and not even for one day, did his brother leave his side. Although a hospital is a difficult environment to be in for such long periods of time, family is so cherished that constant support of a suffering family member is the natural thing to do. In the community, family and friendship bonds are so strong in every part of life. Extended family members commonly help raise each other’s kids, friends support each other’s businesses, and people are generally always looking out for one another. It is a wonderful community to be a part of and really makes you appreciate the relationships you form in life.

We must stay open-minded. As an outsider, it is very easy to have a judgmental mindset and think, “this situation would NEVER happen in the US”, but that mindset is a very pointless one. While it may be interesting to compare and contrast different healthcare systems around the world, it is not acceptable to be condescending. The doctors and nurses are aware of the shortcomings of the hospital and admire the systems in developed countries, but they feel helpless when thinking about changing their environment. Living and working in a place with such great limitations can really ground you as a person, and make you more aware of the world and the challenges revolving around healthcare in such settings.

A positive attitude can brighten anything. Even in the difficult environment where health care is so lacking, the doctors and nurses of Iganga Hospital never fail to have a smile on their face. They make the best of every situation and it really is what allows them to stay enthusiastic when facing such big challenges. Personally, I like to reframe “problems” into “potentials for change”. If we can embody this attitude, the negative experiences and frustrations can change into productivity and pursuit of improvement.

MikaBioMika White is a second year biochemistry major at Northeastern expecting to graduate in 2018. This semester she’s on her first co-op in Uganda interning at a rural hospital in the town of Iganga. Mika loves to travel, read, and run. Feel free to reach out to her at white.mik@husky.neu.edu and check out her personal blog for more a more detailed account of her experiences. 

How to Excel in Your Co-Op

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As most people jet off for spring break or head home, co-op students remain at their jobs. Whether or not you are enjoying your work, it’s a reality check that half of 6 months is gone- time really flies! So how can you make good use of the remaining time to excel and succeed at your co-op? Seize the opportunity to push yourself and make a lasting impression, from getting a callback to using this experience as a leg up, you will never know how this job will evolve in the future. Here a few tips based on my personal observation on how to do well:

1. Ask Questions

There are no stupid questions, so ask away if you need clarification on your assignments. Employers actually appreciate it, because first, it means you are thinking and proactive, as opposed to just performing the task passively. Second, it leads to fewer mistakes and unnecessary confusion that eventually lead to greater efficiency and productivity. Moreover, questions don’t have to be related to the tasks in hand. After assignments are completed, you can also ask how the project you were working on is being utilized in the company. What is good about asking these types of questions is that it allows you to understand more clearly your role and the impact you are making in the overall functioning of the company. Plus, this knowledge can also enhance the bullet points on your resume!

2. Make Friends with Co-workers

Do not underestimate the power of allies and friends in your office. This is very important, because having a good relationship with them will help you down the line, be it learning their ways of succeeding or observing office etiquette, culture, etc. Moreover, who knows, one day if you were sick, they will be the one feeling you on the details of a meeting or helping you out in something. It’s all about connections and networking after all. Even after you leave your job, they might be able to recommend you or say a few good words to enhance your career.

3. Dress the Part

Just as Oscar Wilde has once said, you can never be overdressed or over-educated. While there is some truth in this, my advice will be to dress the part, and to dress smart. Observe how your boss/supervisor dresses and follow suit. Each office is different, and the dress code differs by industry, so be sure you don’t stand out in a bad way. If you are not a morning person (like me), consider preparing the clothes you want to wear the night before, so you don’t have to spend time ironing it or deciding in the morning- when you are not fully awake, and it also saves time too.

 4. Ask for Feedback/ Evaluation

This is related to asking questions. Be sure to ask for feedback from time to time, and after an assignment is completed to reflect on your performance. Since it is mid co-op season, now is a good time to do that. Not only will it be useful for you to gauge yourself, but knowing how you do will also help you improve and add value to the remainder of your co-op.

5. Make a List of your Tasks

It is always wise to keep track of your tasks and assignments. When your co-op is completed and you are looking for a recommendation letter from your supervisor, this will be helpful in aiding them write it. Moreover, as you are compiling the list of things you have done during your co-op, you may find some areas, say social media, that you have not fulfilled according to your learning objectives. With the remaining time, if possible, you can ask for new ways to get involved.

Good luck everyone!

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. You can also email her for article ideas, suggestions, and comments. 

Photo source: Young Upstarts

 

5 Common Misconceptions About the Nonprofit Sector

nonprofit word in letterpress typeAlthough nonprofits play a large role in each of our daily lives, there are common misconceptions about what nonprofits are, and what they do.

1. Nonprofits don’t make money.

This myth stems from a sheer lack of understanding of the term 501(c)(3)- the tax-exempt identification necessary to become a nonprofit organization. Being a 501(c)(3) does not ban an organization from making money, it simply means that all profits go toward their mission and purpose. A nonprofit actually cannot live or function without profit- because they would be unable to run the programs and activities which create impact. And although some nonprofits struggle for funding (including many of the social change organizations I have worked for,) there are countless nonprofits who have no money problems whatsoever. Think of the NFL, the New York Stock Exchange, or Northeastern. All are nonprofit organizations, and all are making quite a bit of money.

2. Nonprofit careers are for those who couldn’t make it elsewhere.

I hear this one all the time- that certain degrees are cut out for nonprofit careers, and certain degrees aren’t. Nonprofit professionals chose careers in the sector because they were passionate and driven about their causes, not because they weren’t smart enough to pursue other career paths. In fact, many nonprofit organizations now prefer to hire MBA’s as opposed to MPA’s- showing the increased demand for business knowledge across the entire nonprofit world.

3. Nonprofits all do the same thing.

Even I have been guilty of imagining a “nonprofit world” in my mind, consisting only of social change and educational organizations. However this is far from the real world of nonprofits. To name a few organizations who are making leaps and bounds in unexpected places: St. Jude’s Children’s Research Hospital, the American Red Cross, TED, the Smithsonian Institute, and NPR.

4. Nonprofit work environments are casual and laid-back.

Just as any other sector, every office has its own distinct environment. Smaller organizations tend to be more casual, while large universities and hospitals expect more professional attire. Speaking from personal experience, I have worked for organizations where I could wear my Birkenstocks to work everyday, and others where my Birkenstocks would be considered absolutely ridiculous and rude. This goes for office culture as well- the entire spectrum from extremely casual to extremely rigid exists in the nonprofit world.

5. Working in a nonprofit means hands-on, direct service.

The most common comment to when I describe my career aspirations is, “You must help so many people.” Every individual who chooses to pursue a nonprofit career wants to create an impact, and see that impact- including myself. However, we often don’t get to see that impact on a daily basis- or directly “help” people. While there are professionals who constantly work in the field and in programs, this is definitely not always the case. Many nonprofit jobs require working in an office, with administration, finance, or human resources material. And although change is always occurring, we don’t always get to see it happen live.

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.

First Impressions of Uganda

boda

Riding a boda-boda (motorcycle taxi) to the source of the Nile

When I first told my family that I was thinking of volunteering in Uganda for my first co-op, the responses I received were of fear and apprehension. I assured them that Ebola was far, far away (some 3000 miles or so), and that the country is, in fact, civilized and not at war. I informed them that the people in Uganda don’t live in huts and can speak English, contrary to the African tribal people characterized in BBC documentaries.

Nonetheless, I was still unsure of what to expect myself. Although I knew Ugandans don’t live in huts, I didn’t quite know if my host home would have Internet access, running water, or electricity. I went in with an open, but cautious, mind, equipped with my bottles of hand sanitizer, bug repellant, and anti-malarial drugs.

I found this volunteer program in Uganda through an organization called ELI, abbreviated for Experiential Learning International. It seemed to be the most hands-on and culturally immersing program, as well as the most affordable, out of all the ones I researched prior to applying. It offers experiences in microfinance, women’s empowerment, environmental care, orphanages, and hospitals, and I was immediately attracted to the opportunity to work in a hospital. Although there are countless hospitals in the Boston area, I wanted to combine my love for traveling and experiencing new cultures with a focus on healthcare in a challenging environment.

When I reached the airport in Entebbe and subsequently, my host home, I was very pleasantly surprised. I could buy 3G for my phone and a modem for my laptop for Internet connection, and my home had running water, electricity, and even mosquito nets to keep the bugs away during the night. Upon arrival, I met my local coordinator and his lovely family, as well as a couple of other American volunteers – one completing her last year of medical school in the US and another working in Uganda developing her bowtie manufacturing company Lion’s Thread. The area around Iganga is beautiful and green, with goats and chickens hanging around the red dirt roads, women selling homegrown vegetables behind their small roadside stands, and children playing in groups by the water pumps. When evening fell, I was amazed by the vastness of the sky and the clarity of the stars that were unclouded by the air or light pollution of a big city.

Although I’ve only just begun my adventure in Iganga, Uganda, I have the feeling that this will be an incredible educational and cultural experience. While Uganda’s economy is still emerging and stabilizing in terms of employment and education, there is so much opportunity in any field for people and organizations to grow and become a part of. At this point, I have only been working in the hospital for a few weeks, so I’ll write more about the work environment in future blog posts. This is just a quick summary of my first impressions, but if you or someone you know is planning to travel to or work in this part of Africa, rest assured and know that you/they would have a wonderful time.

MikaBioMika White is a second year biochemistry major at Northeastern expecting to graduate in 2018. This semester she’s on her first co-op in Uganda interning at a rural hospital in the town of Iganga. Mika loves to travel, read, and run. Feel free to reach out to her at white.mik@husky.neu.edu and check out her personal blog for more a more detailed account of her experiences. 

Mindfulness in the Office

mindfulnessI never realized the importance of thought, presence, and objectivity until I began working as a Monitoring and Evaluation intern. I specifically asked for the position due to my desire to learn and experience a new side to the nonprofit sector- however, I found myself lacking motivation and inspiration within days. My head was reeling with numbers, most of which I had no connection to and no passion for. I began to doubt whether I was in the right place, doing the right thing, or just doing something wrong. The human mind can run with negative thoughts like no other, and I allowed mine to take me on a turbo-speed downward spiral. This is when I realized- I needed to find fulfillment in my mountains of Excel spreadsheets.

Although I have received training on mindfulness and touched on the concept in a few of my Northeastern courses, I have never let myself practice mindfulness for more than a few hours. In my mind, mindfulness was something I did to take myself away from the stresses and difficulties of college life for only a brief period of time. This is where I was wrong.

Mindfulness is a way of moving throughout your days, weeks, months and even years. It is the practice of active thinking, perceiving and observing without opinions. Instead of looking at mindfulness as an escape, I have started to embrace mindfulness as a new constant in my life- including in my office.

What is important about staying mindful in the office is to be completely present in every moment, keep your thoughts objective, and to practice compassion towards yourself and your coworkers. These are habits that have to be learned. Although it may be difficult at first to stay focused and attentive on seemingly minute tasks, it will soon become learned and normal. I admit that I am not yet fully mindful during my entire workday, however these practices have already allowed me to find hidden gems in my work that my previous judgements and perceptions kept me from seeing. I have also become aware of compassion towards myself, my coworkers, and my work itself. Not only has this taken some weight off of my shoulders, it has permitted meaningful connections to enter my life in unexpected places. And as much as it surprises me to say this- I think Excel and I are becoming friends.

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.

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

Biology and English: Making a Combined Major Work

duel major

This guest post was written by Sarah Sherman, a combined English and Biology major here at NU. 

Choosing a major is a unique experience for everyone. For a lucky few, it is barely a choice at all. There are those who have wanted to be doctors or teachers or business managers since they were young, and who understand what academic roadways they want to travel to get there.  However, for many people, (including myself) the journey is rarely straightforward.

I entered Northeastern as an Undeclared student, and although I wasn’t sure exactly what I wanted, I knew that I was fascinated by  Biology and English.  For a while my thought process alternated between trying to figure out which one I wanted to focus on and trying to figure out if it was possible to double major in Biology and English.  I soon found out that the latter wasn’t feasible without overloading classes for at least one semester or by taking classes for more than eight semesters, neither of which appealed to me. Despite this realization, I still felt no closer to making a decision.  This brings me to my first bit of advice-never underestimate the value of figuring out what it is you don’t want to do.  Sometimes a decision doesn’t come in a flash of inspiration or from a deep inner knowledge of what it is you want.  Sometimes it’s as simple as exploring around and figuring out the things you don’t want to do, until you hit on something that ignites your enthusiasm.

My first breakthrough came when I was attending an Undeclared event, and I had the opportunity to talk to the head of the English Department. I mentioned how I’d been struggling to decide whether I wanted to study Biology or English. She replied, “Why not do a combined major with the two?”  “I can do that?” I asked.  “I don’t see why not” she said.  I would later learn that a combined major was different from a double major in some important ways.  A double major is two degrees, and involves completing all of the courses for each one.  A combined major is one degree, and some of the courses from each discipline are removed to make a more compact curriculum. It also includes an interdisciplinary “bridge” course, making it easier for the student to understand how their two fields of study connect and interact. This brings me to my second piece of advice-don’t be afraid to talk to anyone and everyone at the university about what it is you’re interested in or looking for.  They are likely to be much more familiar with the resources and opportunities that are available than you are.  You may end up learning about possibilities that you didn’t even know existed!

This five minute exchange started me on an almost two year journey to pursue the education that I was passionate about. Although the combined major I wanted did not yet exist, I knew there was a process in place for creating it.  This process included countless meetings, paperwork, curriculum revisions, and several roadblocks.  This brings me to my third piece of advice.  When you find what it is you’re looking for, pursue it with persistence, patience, and passion. The idea that I was so excited about-a new major combining English and Biology-often came across to others as strange and sometimes even nonsensical.  However, I knew it was what I wanted.  I stood my ground even when I could sense disapproval from others.  I may have been met with skepticism at first, but I wasn’t met with a “no” or “we simply can’t do that”.  So I kept pushing forward. The journey was long and sometimes discouraging, but it was worth it because I had found my passion.

Your own journey to declaring a major might be more conventional than mine, or perhaps even less so.  No matter what the case, it is important to keep in mind one overall truth-there is no one “right way” to land yourself a certain future.  In talking with professors and with other adults in the working world, I have learned that there are multiple paths that lead to the same destination.  The important thing is to do something that you get excited about, and to do it well.

Sarah is a third year student at Northeastern University pursuing a Combined Degree in Biology and English. She has completed one co-op at the Boston Center for Physical Therapy and Sports Medicine. She traveled to Italy in the summer of 2013 for a Dialogue of Civilizations, and is looking forward to traveling again during an ASB trip to the Dominican Republic this March.  Contact Sarah for more information about her combined major or her experiences at sherman.sa@husky.neu.edu.

Image Source: Carol Simpson Cartoon Work and Illustration; I want to graduate with a dual major…fiction writing and corporate accounting.