Tips and Tricks: Navigating Being “The Intern”

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hello name internLike many other Northeastern students and young professionals, I am currently “The Intern” of my office. To me this is neither a good nor bad title, but one that I have had to grow and adjust into. The word intern often comes with predisposed judgements- especially in an office. What I have come to learn is that a confident, knowledgeable person can always make their work count, regardless of whether they are an intern or not.

Here are some tips for being an absolutely unforgettable intern:

1) Never be afraid of asking questions.

When you are new to an office, it is always better to ask than to be unsure. As much as we all want to find our new groove at work, it is essential to first learn the basics. Never be afraid of coming off needy or dependent- questions show that you want to learn how to do your job, the right way. Your supervisor is there to help you!

2) Remember: quality, not quantity.

Efficiency is absolutely essential, but never feel as though you need to prove your worth as an intern. If more time is necessary to get a project done, ask for the time. It isn’t impressive to turn in rushed work, and or to sacrifice your own mental health in the process. This can also be applied to your personal relationships with coworkers: Start with creating quality relationships with individual coworkers, instead of trying to meet your entire office all at once.

3) Find a project that you can call your own.

One of the biggest complaints I have heard concerning internships is that the tasks provided for interns are both menial and far removed. If you begin feeling this way about your internship, see this is as a sign for change. Look around for something new or exciting happening at your workplace, and ask to be involved. More often than not, your coworkers will love the help and fresh face.

4) Be comfortable with your Intern title, and take the time to understand your role.

Adjusting to a new role is difficult, no matter what it is. With internships, interns sometimes feel like they are at the bottom of the food chain and struggle to find their purpose in the office. These problems can often times be solved within the first few days of an internship, by having a conversation with your supervisor. Come in with questions about your responsibilities and duties as an intern, and ask the questions necessary to understand the who, what, where and why of your position.

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.

Image source: Camp4Collective

The Career Paths Your Advisor Forgot About

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questionThe field of physician assistant (PA) studies has been cited among the fastest-growing careers (38% in the next ten years, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics) and was named by Forbes as the “#1 Best Master’s Degree for Jobs” in 2012.  But when I sought help in planning my path to becoming a PA, my university’s health professions adviser told me, “We’ll learn about this together.”  There can’t be a framework in place for every possible career, but figuring out the path doesn’t have to be difficult.

Find others with similar plans.  The first real companion I found was a friend from high school who was applying to become a physical therapist.  We were both used to having to defend our career choice; each of us had the experience of people asking, “But why don’t you want to be a doctor?”  With that off the table, we were able to get into the details of what we were excited about, what we were unsure about, and why we were going into our chosen fields.  A supportive environment makes the rough parts a little smoother.

Reach out.  Really, really reach out.  It may be hard to find people to shadow or meet with.  I was able to shadow one of the PAs who worked with my aunt, but after that, I didn’t know how to find others.  The shadowing program set up through my university had plenty of alumni who were doctors, but not a single PA.  Desperate for more contact, I emailed the state physician assistant association and asked for help.  Not long after, a representative emailed me a list of PAs who would be willing to take me on for a day.  I attended a program for emergency medical technicians to shadow emergency room physicians, and when the doctor found out I was applying to PA school, he found me one of his PA colleagues to work with instead.  Take every opportunity, and do everything you can to create them.

Don’t be afraid of nontraditional resources.  There was no organization for pre-PA students at my university, so I went to a few meetings of the fledgling pre-nursing group to figure out where I could take my prerequisite courses. There wasn’t a lot of information relevant to me, but there was enough to get me started.  And just as there are study guides for every possible standardized test, there are “how to get into school” books for nearly every career.  Working from those books and scanning over message boards ultimately got me all the information I needed to put together a successful application.

Mariah Swiech Henderson is a first-year student in Northeastern’s Physician Assistant Studies program. She can be reached at henderson.mar@husky.neu.edu with any questions about working in healthcare and applying to/attending PA school.

International Relations Co-op in the Middle East

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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.

 

What is the Professional Etiquette for an Informational Interview?

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This guest post was written by Heather Fink, a former Career Development Intern now working at Wellesley College and the Hiatt Career Center at Brandeis University. She is a graduate student in the College Student Development and Counseling program at NU expected to graduate in May 2015.

So everyone has been telling you that in order to further your career goals, you have to network. Here are some tips on how to keep it professional and ensure success during informational interviews. If you are unsure of what an informational interview is, feel free to check our website for more information about it.

source: staples.com

source: staples.com

Come prepared!

If someone is willing to meet with you for an informational interview, you should come prepared with questions. Consider what you want to learn from the person you are meeting with and bring a pen and notepad to take notes during the meeting.

The questions you ask should be tailored for the person you are meeting with. The questions also should not be information that can be easily found on the Internet, such as where they have worked in the past (which is often on their LinkedIn profile) or what their job title is. Instead use the time to ask questions that are more in depth or are difficult to find out online. You may want to ask about industry trends or what that company seems to look for in their employees.  Be sure to refer to our blog post Strategies for Researching Companies for more advice on that.

Dress Code:

Depending on the field, an informational interview doesn’t necessarily require a suit but if you think that a Boston Bruins shirt is appropriate for an informational interview, you are mistaken. Remember that although a suit isn’t mandatory, you want the person you are networking with to take you seriously and should dress accordingly. Business casual is appropriate for an informational interview. Avoid the jeans and instead stick with slacks or a dress skirt with a sweater, blouse or button down shirt on top. This shows that you’re taking the meeting seriously. Also be sure to wear a watch to keep track of the time, you are conducting the informational interview and should make sure that you don’t make the contact run late for their next meeting.

thank you note ecard

I thanked the contact in person should I bother writing a thank you letter?

Thanking someone in person does not supplement a thank you letter. If someone is taking time out of their day to speak with you and provide advice for your career advancement, than you should take the time to write them a thank you letter. Send the contact you met with a thank you note (via email or snail mail) within 24 hours thanking them for their time. The best way to show your appreciation is to mention something you learned from the meeting so the contact feels the advice they gave was helpful.

Afterwards….

Keep in touch! Networking isn’t about contacting someone once, it is about expanding your professional network. Send the contact emails every few months with articles related to your field or mention updates if you took their advice and was successful from doing so.

Another way to keep in touch is to ask the person you meet with for suggestions of who else you should contact for an informational interview. This increases your chances of someone’s willingness to meet with you since you now have a mutual connection.  If you end up meeting with someone your contact suggested, let the contact know that their advice was helpful. This enables you to stay in touch with the contact and lets them know that their referral was helpful.

Heather Fink is a former Career Assistant at Northeastern Career Development and now currently works as the Interim Asst. Director at the Wellesley College Career Center and as a Career Counseling Assistant at the Hiatt Career Center at Brandeis University. SHe has a passion for networking and empowering others and is pursuing her graduate degree in College Student Development Counseling. Follow Heather on Linkedin at www.linkedin.com/in/HeatherFink and Twitter @CareerCoachHF. 

On the Other Side of a Virtual Career Fair… Q&A from an Employer’s Perspective

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So, are you thinking about participating in the Northeastern University Virtual Career Fair on March 25th?  Have you been to a virtual career fair?  Are you wondering what to expect?

As an employer, I can say we ask the same questions.  For many companies a virtual career fair is a fairly new experience.  Over the past few years, there has been a shift in recruiting across the board from print media, online job postings, career fairs to social media and beyond.  The in-person career fairs have seen a decline in popularity for a variety of reasons including tightening budgets, needing to target recruiting to specific skill sets due to shifting demand, and increases in applicant flow through traditional means.  So why a virtual career fair?

It is easy, we want to meet you!  Employers want you to have the opportunity to meet us and be connected to us for short-term and long-term opportunities.   We have the opportunity to not just view a resume but to spend time with you answering questions and engaging with you.  The best part is you don’t have to get all dressed up to attend.

I have had the opportunity to participate in several virtual career fairs over the last few years.  It is a unique experience and I have found that individuals who are successful with this medium have the following characteristics in common:

  • Strong Resumes:  candidates’ resumes have been reviewed by career services and highlight key accomplishments and achievements in a concise manner.
  • Research Conducted: candidates have researched the companies in attendance and know what the company does; this includes giving some thought as to how the candidate fits into the company from a skills and experience perspective.
  • Engaging: strong candidates don’t just hover or lurk, they approach the employer and ask questions about the work environment and culture; however, they craft the questions to demonstrate their business acumen.  Questions about vacation days may not be the best way to approach an employer.
  • Prepared “Elevator Speech”: strong candidates know why they are strong and can articulate it in a short, concise way that links accomplishments and experience with the nature of the company’s work.  Don’t have an elevator speech? Contact your career services office to help develop one.
  • Avoid “Gotcha Questions”: don’t ask questions that may put a bad light on the employer especially in front of others; you may think you have a strong question, but it may end up being perceived as negative.  Work with your career services office to develop questions that will put you in the best position.
  • Be Patient: the employer is going to be outnumbered and we don’t want to brush anyone off so if the best candidates are patient.  The employer will want to review resumes and finish out other conversations.  You may not know how many conversations the employer is conducting at one time across multiple private chats.
  • Smile:  what? It is a virtual fair.  Don’t let that stop you from smiling.  A smile comes across in how you interact online.  So, the best candidates don’t use all CAPS and are personable.

Above all, enjoy the experience.  It is an opportunity for you to expand your relationships.   You may not get a position immediately with one of the firms, but look to establish a relationship with those you engage.  Make sure your LinkedIn profile is up-to-date and connect to those with whom you meet.  A long-term professional relationship is a very valuable outcome.

Hope to see you at the fair!

Christopher Carlson is a s Sr. Manager of Talent Delivery Programs at Booz Allen Hamilton. Based in Florida, Christopher is a member of Booz Allen Hamilton’s People Services Team. He leads the firm’s university, transitioning military, social recruiting teams.  He is responsible for building strategies and relationships for leveraging these channels to ensure Booz Allen Hamilton’s position as an employer of choice and to deliver the next generation of talent to the organization.

The Biggest Lie Young Professionals Believe About Career Plans

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This post originally appeared on the author’s personal blog, CatchCareers.com on change plans comicFebruary 9, 2015.

The biggest lie young professionals believe about career plans is: that you have to have one. The second biggest lie is that the plan is set in stone and can’t be changed. Whoa, hold on; don’t X me out just yet. While having a general life plan is great, making a plan so solid and rigid that you do nothing else only diminishes the great world around you and wonderful experiences to be found if you let yourself have the freedom to explore. Here me out…

I started writing this blog at 25 and while still aimed at young professionals, I have found that the issues I face and the concerns I have in my career have changed over these 3 years.  You are no longer fresh and brand-new to the working world, but not yet settled into exactly what your path will be. There are still many unanswered questions to your career path (please your ENTIRE life) and it can suddenly feel like you have to have it all figured out. This phenomena of “having it all figured out” (and it is all perfect) is further pressurized by social media and the onslaught of perfect photos and posts from friends, kinda friends, people you went to school with, and people you met once. THEY have it all figured out; great jobs, a significant other, a puppy, a baby on the way, a brand new home. There is nothing wrong with having or wanting those things. I want them. Most people want them. The problem is our need to put them on a timeline of life milestones we must achieve by a certain age. We become dissatisfied with our great lives when we focus on the things we haven’t achieved yet.  And why, oh why, do we create these life plans and beat ourselves up when things don’t go according to plan? Isn’t the reason why life is so exciting is because we can just live it and enjoy it and see where it takes us? Why do we bind ourselves to this plan?

One of the hardest things in life is letting go.  From that tattered old sweater you love, to a favorite menu item being discontinued, it is hard to accept that something that was once important to us is now gone. Beyond physical objects, there is also the letting go of emotions and plans, that is equally, if not more so, difficult. It can be heartbreaking to try to accept that something you craved or wanted will no longer come to fruition.  Further it can be difficult to accept for ourselves that something we once wanted, we no longer want. Maybe this is why it is so hard to step back from the plans we made and say “this is no longer what I want, and that is OK.”

What do I mean by all this rambling? Well, 5 years ago at the age of 23 I was: scared of dogs, was SO done with school (who needs graduate school?), thought my life’s career would be in manufacturing, and thought I’d be all Carrie Bradshaw like in my singleness.  Here’s a little update from 28 year old Christina: while I don’t want my own dog, I do love them now. I’m in graduate school and I love it (great decision to go back). I started dating, and it was wonderful. And I’m happily employed as a consultant in the finance industry, read: not manufacturing or even close to it.  While I do have some new life goals at 28, it very well may be that 33 year old Christina has changed them. AND THAT IS OK. Life plans are NEVER FINAL and NEVER DONE.

Embracing the unknown scares us. Even acknowledging it really; we like to pretend it isn’t there. Plan the best you can with the knowledge you have now, and be open to letting new ideas, experiences, and plans into your world. It is ok if last year you hated sushi, and this year you like it. That doesn’t make you weak or indecisive. People change, grow, find new interests, and grow tired of old plans and activities. Isn’t that why life is exciting? Remember the saying “Life is what happens when you are busy making other plans.” If we get so hung up on trying to live according to this plan we’ve laid out for ourselves, we miss out on the opportunities and experiences we didn’t see coming which can be just as, if not better than, what we planned initially. We may lose the chance at an even better life by trying to stick with our predetermined script.

Take Away: If you change plans or change course in your life, that doesn’t mean you are weak. It doesn’t mean you gave up. It doesn’t mean you are no longer destined for greatness. It doesn’t mean you failed or copped out. It simply means you grew and changed in your life and you need to refit your plans to best fit you in today’s moment.

Further Reading: http://www.careerealism.com/professional-development-plan/

Christina Kach is an Associate Consultant on the Continuous Improvement team for a financial services company in Boston, MA. Prior to this role, she spent five years at a Government Defense Company focusing on Lean and process improvement in a manufacturing environment, while also completing an Operations Leadership Development Program. Christina holds a Bachelor of Science Degree in Industrial Engineering from Northeastern University and is currently pursuing a Master’s Degree in Engineering Management, also from Northeastern.

Christina invites you to connect with her via Twitter (@ChristinaKach), email (Cfkach@gmail.com) or at her blog for young professionals www.catchcareers.com

Image source: MealsandMiles.com; 5 Confessions

​Don’t Be Afraid to Ask Questions! Branching Out in the Workplace

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hello my name isEveryone who has worked in an office, whether that be for a co-op, internship, or full time job, knows that the first month in a new setting can be overwhelming, intimidating, challenging, and full of surprises. You still don’t know what’s good in the cafeteria or who it is appropriate to address by their first name. You’re still labeled as the “new person” and it can be exhausting making sure nothing goes wrong your few few weeks or months in the office.

But now we’re halfway through the semester and everyone is getting a little more comfortable with the work and with their colleagues. I know at least that I feel much more comfortable at my co-op at US Embassy Quito and I’ve established a rhythm for both my personal and professional life abroad. I’ve figured out the difference in addressing my supervisor, the Ambassador and the Marine Security Guards who protect us. I can easily get around the Embassy compound without getting lost. And I feel like I finally understand the nuances of the Ecuadorian political system, making my actual work 100 times easier!

I’m sure most of you who are out there on co-op, whether it be domestic or international, are finding your rhythm too. But for those of you who still feel a little lost, or those who have been lost int eh past, here are a few tips on branching out in the workplace so that you have the most enjoyable time possible.

1. Introduce yourself and ask questions.

This might seem obvious, but the first week or month of co-op can feel a bit like freshman year all over again. If you are the only co-op or intern at the company, lunchtime can feel lonely if you don’t feel comfortable asking coworkers or your supervisor if you can sit with them. Here’s my advice coming from someone who felt that exact same way a month or so ago – lunchtime doesn’t need to be the first time you approach someone. If there is someone who does something you’re interested in in the office or someone who you aren’t quite sure what they do, approach them during the workday and introduce yourself! If knocking on their cubicle wall isn’t really your style, shoot them an email asking if you can sit down for a short meeting to find out more about what they do. I guarantee almost everyone will say yes, and just like that, now you know someone else in the office!

I want to join the Foreign Service when I graduate from Northeastern and am seizing the opportunity while here to sit down with every Foreign Service Officer and ask them about their job and their career path. Since I am the intern, no one has said no yet and it has opened my eyes up to all the different tracks I could pursue at the State Department as well as providing me with personal networking connections.

2. Form personal connections with your colleagues.

This means extending beyond small talk about the weather outside or if it is going to rain later. Ask your coworkers about their weekend when you come in on Monday. Find out what sort of sports your supervisor likes. It shows you are interested in who they are as people, not just someone else you email about the status of your latest project.

A word of advice however, don’t bombard people with questions and be very careful not to sound insincere. I have seen interns try too hard to become best friends with their supervisors and it can hurt you professionally and personally. Make sure you share a bit about yourself too, so your coworkers can get to know who you are as well.

I’ve found this is be very helpful in making my overall time in Ecuador as enjoyable as possible. One of my coworkers invited me to a friendly soccer game of Foreign Service Officers and Marines against the local Ecuadorian staff a few weeks ago. Even though I hadn’t played soccer since I was 8 years old, I went and had a great time even if I was awful at the actual game! As we approach the next match, colleagues have been approaching me all week asking if I am coming again – we were able to form an outside of work connection over this game and it can serve as the base for other conversations and stronger connections as the months progress.

3. Take initiative.

If there is an event or meeting that you see on the calendar, ask if you can attend too! Unless it is inappropriate for you to be there, most supervisors or coworkers will be impressive at the initiative you took to ask about the meeting and let you tag along. Use these opportunities to meet colleagues in different departments or from other offices. You’ll learn a lot from the experience and it will give you a more broad understanding of the organization you work for and the people you work with.

Recently, I was asked to do outreach to local Ecuadorian high school students about the United States and Presidents’ Day. Even though this was not my department, I thought it would be a cool experience and agreed to present. Working with my colleagues in Public Diplomacy opened my eyes to the events and programs they sponsor and gave me a strong base connection that I plan to build off of in my last two months in Ecuador. And as an added bonus, I even made it into the Ecuadorian newspaper as a promotion for the Public Diplomacy programs the Embassy has!

In conclusion, ask questions, put yourself out there and take the initiative to learn more about your surroundings! You’ll be happy you did!

Rose Leopold is a third-year political science major currently on international co-op with the U.S. Department of State at the U.S. Embassy in Quito, Ecuador. Prior to this experience, Rose spent her first co-op in the office of Senator Elizabeth Warren in Washington, D.C. Follow Rose’s adventures through her blog justsittingontopoftheworld.wordpress.com and on Instagram @roselandis.

Image source: LinkedIn, How NOT to Introduce Yourself by Bernard Marr

LGBT Job Search Tips

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Job searching in general can be its own challenge for any student and let’s face it, deciding how “out” you want to be during your search and in your career can be another variable to throw in the mix that you may not have previously considered.  On the other hand, you may be thinking about identity a lot in the workplace, but are unsure of the best way to address it during your job search. Never fear – Career Development is here! Here are a few things to start thinking about:

How does the company celebrate LGBTQ employees?

Photo source: https://twitter.com/pridenu

Photo source: https://twitter.com/pridenu

Working for an organization that supports you not just as an employee but as a person (identities included) is paramount for some graduates today. Does the company you want to work for have an affinity group or resource group that is active and valued? This is a great way to take a temperature of how supportive a workplace can be. These groups allow for positive celebration and inclusion of identities, and act as a way for employees to voice their opinions within a business. It’s also a great way to meet other likeminded employees who identify in the LGBT community.

How does the company protect LGBTQ employees?

While celebration is important, having appropriate rights is equally critical! Refer to the organizations antidiscrimination policies to see whether or not there is specific language for LGBT individuals. How about benefits packages? Are partners covered under insurance plans? What about hormone treatment for medical coverage?

Still having trouble finding information?

If you are unsure of where a workplace stands on LGBT rights, find some current employees and pick their brains. A good old fashioned informational interview is always a simple approach! If you aren’t comfortable talking about LGBT specific topics in this situation, try asking more general questions like “What kind of diversity initiatives does your company support?”  There is a plethora of online resources that can be found on our website. Consider getting involved with NU Pride, the student organization Northeastern for LGBT students.  Don’t forget about making appointments with our staff. A majority of our counselors are Safe Zone certified and would be happy to work with you to begin your job search right!

Mike Ariale specializes in disability employment, self- advocacy, disclosure and accommodation strategies for the workplace. You can schedule an appointment with him through MyNEU or by calling the front desk at 617-373-2430.

The Halfway Mark- 5 Things I’ve Learned While on International Co-op

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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

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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.