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.


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!

What is Work?

This post was guest authored by Shelbe Van Winkle.

Shelbe - modzi photo

I’ve been sitting at my computer for hours, writing, erasing, and rewriting, trying to figure out how to best write this piece. My feet are bouncing to the Zambian music coming through my headphones, and my roommates/coworkers are laughing at my stationary dance moves. We’ve been brainstorming for days, trying to understand how to put everything we’ve seen, done, and learned into words. How can I possibly put everything that I’ve experienced on paper? Our experiences in Zambia don’t easily translate. We’ve gone back and forth on ideas about fundraising, mentoring, and supplemental academic help. Our discussions are constantly interrupted by kids knocking on the door, some young, asking to play, some older, asking for help in math, and some just coming to say hi. I’m wearing my favorite worn t-shirt, with a comfy pair of sweatpants, lounging in our indoor hammock with my computer in my lap. A song written by one of the students we’ve been working with starts to play from my iTunes. The music is upbeat and fun, calling for a spontaneous dance party. We’ve been “working” all day, but in my mind I haven’t worked a single minute.

I’ve known that I’ve had a passion for working in education since the summer after my senior year of high school, when I interned at a non-profit organization in Nicaragua. There, I observed a seven-year-old girl named Wendy struggle to play the card game “go fish,” because she couldn’t recognize the letters or numbers on the cards. I helped her the rest of my time in Nicaragua to learn the alphabet, spell her name, and ultimately kick butt at “go fish.” Little did Wendy know, she would shape my college career and help me discover what I want to do with my future. Education is something I’ve always had. Graduating high school with honors and going to university was assumed, rather than questioned or worried about. Wendy opened my eyes to a world where education isn’t always easily accessible. She helped me realize that there are kids just like me, and younger, that have to beg, work, and fight to go to school.

On a recent Dialogue of Civilizations, a Northeastern University field study program, I found myself in Zambia for the first time, learning about non-profits and NGOs that are helping facilitate access to the human right of education. Flash forward to current time, and I’m sitting in my hammock in Zambia, working for modzi, a non-profit started by a recent Northeastern grad that helps vulnerable youth in Zambia gain access to a quality education. We work everyday – morning, night, weekday, weekend, it doesn’t matter – but none of it feels like a job. They say “get a job you love and you’ll never work a day in your life.” Working at modzi has allowed me to understand the true meaning of this saying.

The job is just one part of a bigger picture; actions, events, and people are all major contributors to my love for this work. Everyday has been a learning experience for me, introducing new concepts that I hadn’t faced before. I’ve seen kids wake up at five o’clock in the morning to start the six kilometer trek to school, I’ve felt heartbreak when watching kids who just want to go to school struggle against corruption, and I’ve heard the purest form of laughter in the wee hours of the morning as our young neighbors play outside. I’ve read statistics and facts about different parts of the world, but experiencing them is much more humanizing. Each unique experience here has added to my love for the work even more. There is a reason I have chosen to be in this field, and everyday it becomes more clear.

Wendy and Nicaragua helped me realize what I want to do and whom I want to work with. But since then, I’ve been able to hone in on why I like working with kids. They carry a unique sense of innocence with them, and truly just want to be happy. Even the children who have experienced hardship and trauma are still looking for something to smile about. I’ve watched kids here in Zambia gather all their peers around, just to make them laugh, and met others who can’t wipe a smile off their face for more than two seconds. While their smiles and laughter draw me in, what impresses me the most is their dedication to friendship and family. Many youth in Zambia have lost loved ones, been orphaned by diseases, or for some other reason forced to fend for themselves. As a result, they have created their own family with their peers and mentors. In an impoverished area where one could easily only look out for himself, I’ve seen ties of brotherhood hold young boys together and help them succeed. These tough situations can make my work challenging – but laughing alongside these kids makes it all worthwhile.

I’ve come to learn that work doesn’t have to be laborious. It doesn’t have to be dull. It doesn’t have to be isolating. I’ve come to learn that work should be something you want to do. Work should be experience, learning, growth, and compassion for the relationships you create. modzi has taught me that a job holds much more than just work, and that it also contains real people, real stories, and powerful experiences. So as I sit here in my hammock, listening to Zambian music, exchanging words and laughter with the kids who come to visit, I am doing my job. A job that I love… and can’t ever see being “work.”

Shelbe Van Winkle is the Project and Partnership Co-op with modzi. Check out the modzi website to learn more about the modzi movement!  Also be sure to follow them on Instagram, Twitter (@wearemodzi), and Facebook!

Making it Count

This is the first reflection entry written by current student, Manuj Goyal. Manuj will be sharing his journey with us as he travel abroad in India as part of his own self-directed Global Co-op focusing on the development work for his company, Turing Robotics.

Nike challenges us all to “Make it Count!” and as I sit here 30,000 feet off the ground, I wonder how I have come here. How am I going to make this count?

Sitting wrapped in a thick brown checkered blanket in the early hours of the day, I explain to a friend a simple feeling which ends up turning my world on its head. A feeling of empowerment, a feeling of longing, a feeling of love, a whirlwind of melancholy and utter bliss. That morning I realized my purpose, my drive, my power all came from a perplexingly simple word, love. A love for you, a love for me, a love for all my brothers and sisters, and for this beautiful life and world we have been given.

Acting on this feeling, surrendering to the fate the universe had decided for me, I bought a plane ticket to go half way around the world. I explained my journey to others, trying to figure it out myself. Am I backpacking, am I doing service, am I researching, is this really a co-op? How am I making it count? How am I taking this six month opportunity and creating an experience of a lifetime and getting invaluable insight and learning while sharing my love and serving my people?

black-and-white-flight-man-personAs I travel to India to learn about my country, serve the people of the world which has sculpted my life so profoundly, and to build a nonprofit organization to reduce child labor in the most rural areas of the globe, follow my journey as I answer these questions. Join me in giving back, in celebrating diversity, in expanding our potential and our world. Join me in a journey of discovery, service, and learning. Let’s make it count.