Make the Most of Working from Home

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Blank notepad over laptop and coffee cupWith Boston still enduring what is already it’s snowiest month ever leaving many college students and professionals stranded in their homes, it’s time we take some tips from telecommuters. According to The New York Times, telecommuters now make up 3.2 million American workers and is on the rise. But how do they manage it all from the comforts of home?

Here are some tips on how to not only stay on top of your work from home, but make the most of it:

  1. Get Dressed

Sorry, no pajamas here. Getting dressed and ready for the day just as if you were heading into the office can kickstart your morning and help you shift your thinking into “work mode”.

  1. Designate a Workspace

No desk, no problem. If all you’ve got is a kitchen table, make do with that. Clear it off and set up your computer, files, notepads, etc. similar to your desk at the office. Free your makeshift desk from clutter to free your mind from clutter, too.

  1. Set Working Hours

Usually at work from 9 to 5? Work from home from 9 to 5. Have class at 9:50, stay in the habit and work on coursework or reading during those hours. It’s all about staying in routine and keeping the habits going, despite the location.

  1. Keep in Touch

Cutting off communication isn’t an option even when you can’t walk up to someone’s desk. Use tools like Google Hangouts for text and video chat. Email your boss or coworkers regularly to update them on your work and see where they are on theirs. Pick up the phone if you need to!

  1. Make a To-Do List

It’s easy to lose track of what is a priority when you’re away from the office, so write out a to-do list. Avoid vague descriptions so you can refer back to it and know exactly the project you were talking about.

  1. Avoid the Kitchen

Mindless snacking happens to the best of us. If you avoid the cupboards and set regular meal times and coffee breaks, you can avoid the Freshman 15 of the work from home world. It will also keep you more focused on your work when you stay on course with your usual schedule.

Let’s hope the worst of the snow is behind us! But if storms or public transit keep you from the office, these tips will keep you working at full force.

5 Common Misconceptions About the Nonprofit Sector

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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

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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. 

We’re Thinking About Networking All Wrong

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artifact-uprising-no-mapimage via Artifact Uprising

Why is networking so awful? Why does the word “networking” make us want to run away from any and all responsibility? We see it as a necessary evil, but not something that should ever be fun or exciting. During our last year of college or when we’re looking to make a career move, we flock to networking events to shake hands and swap business cards so we can get that LinkedIn connections number of 500.

We’re thinking about it all wrong.

Networking should be about sparking meaningful connections and conversations so you can really begin to understand the person on the other end — their personality, their interests, their likes and dislikes — so you can help each other along this crazy career adventure you’re both on.

Starting conversations, especially at networking events, is hard. Here are a couple of ways to make friends, build connections, and just charm the heck out of everyone:

Keep interesting news tidbits on the brain. In December, China banned puns in the news. That’s hilarious. I started so many conversations with, “Did you guys hear China just banned puns in the news?” And that’s it. People are going to toss that one around for a while. It’s weird, it’s funny, it’s current, and it’s not the weather. Reading the Skimm is a great way to keep some of these on the top of your brain.

Don’t start by asking what someone else “does.” This is the networking equivalent of going up to someone at a bar and asking, “What’s your sign?” It’s a boring question. Start with something else – anything else – and get to careers later. It will be a refreshing break, especially when everyone else is starting their conversations with, “So what do you do?”

Talk restaurants. People like to eat. And people generally get excited talking about their stomping grounds, so ask them about their favorite restaurant in the neighborhood where they live. Once you get a good idea of their taste, make recommendations if you can: “There’s a place near me with an awesome beer selection,” or, “I live near this taco shack with an insane enchilada recipe.” Giving recommendations shows that you paid attention to what they like.

Don’t think about networking as networking. Think about it as making a bunch of friends all at once. At networking events, don’t just talk about yourself for five hours. It’s not fun and nobody cares. Push networking small talk under the bus. You’re better than that.

LinkedIn is More Than a Recruiting Tool

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LinkedIn is typically stereotyped as a recruiting platform for where you should upload your resume when you’re on the job hunt.  Sure, this may be the case at one point but over the years LinkedIn has grown to be way more than that. Your LinkedIn profile is a major component to your personal brand and you should give it the same tender love and care that you do for your Facebook page, maybe even a little more. I say this because typically the first thing that comes up when I google someone’s name is a link to their LinkedIn profile page. This isn’t by coincidence either, it’s a partly due to Google’s search algorithm that pushes SEO and Social content to the top of the search results page.

LinkedIn

So now what? You might be wondering what the purpose is for LinkedIn other than getting noticed by recruiters. Well, LinkedIn has grown into a special community for professionals and industry leaders to play and connect online. Taking full advantage of LinkedIn’s features will really help establish yourself as an expert, build your network, and impress your future employer.

Here are 5 ways to build your brand by using LinkedIn. 

  1. Start with the basics:  Make sure you have a good profile picture that represents you professionally. Edit your headline, work summary, work experiences, and add a memorable background picture or cover image. Don’t just copy and paste your resume on your LinkedIn profile. Use this space to show your creativity while maintaining your professionalism. Make your headline sound attractive, unique, and thoughtful. You want to call out your value proposition and what you have to offer in your work summary. For your work summary, I recommend summarizing your experience in bullets or in one paragraph. Don’t leave it blank. A blank work summary can come off as lazy.
  2. Share content:  It’s not enough to just update your profile, you need to share meaningful and thoughtful content that pertains to your audience.  Are you going to be a marketer, finance wiz or health professional? It might be wise to start reading industry related sites or blogs and share them on your profile. By continuously sharing meaningful content, you are showing your network and potential employers that you’re educating yourself on industry trends and topics.
  3. Don’t just be a microphone, engage with your connections: While it is important to share great content, definitely don’t limit yourself to that one action. With so many automated sharing content tools, it’s easy to tell who has gotten lazy. Laziness weakens your credibility. You want to engage in conversations with your connections by either commenting or liking their posts.
  4. Join A Group: Are you an aspiring journalist? There’s a LinkedIn Group for that. A business and finance professional? There’s a group for that! LinkedIn Groups are a special place that caters to a niche audience where you can ask questions and engage with people in the field. Joining a group can also lead to great connections. For instance, a great group for Womens Professional is Connect: Professional Women’s Network, Powered by Citi.
  5. Get with the Pulse: Pulse is LinkedIn’s blogging platform and anyone is allowed to post on there. I recommend writing about the industry to help add credibility to your personal brand. This will help you build a following and strengthen your networks.  Also if a potential employer is asking you for a writing sample, you can easily just link them to your Pulse articles.

Start Early and Set Yourself Apart: An Interview With an NU Alum

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Jay Lu received his BSBA in Accounting and Marketing in May 2014 and MS in Accounting this past August, 2014. During his time at NU, he held numerous positions both on and off campus and internationally. Jay successfully completed three separate co-ops at large multinational companies with experience in audit and assurance, tax and operations. Jay recently completed the CPA exam and his currently working in audit and assurance at a CPA firm. In his spare time, he enjoys volunteering, reading and sports. To learn more about his professional background- check out his LinkedIn profile.

When did you first come to the Career Development office?

It was for the Career Fair, freshmen year.

Why go to a career fair? Most freshmen would wait until later for this.

I had no risk.  I didn’t feel pressured.  I didn’t need anything out of it.  I wanted the practice of the experience. It’s kind of like a festival, with everyone dressed up.  It can be a fun event when there isn’t pressure.  I didn’t have a suit back then.  But I went in and just talked with a couple of recruiters.  At this point I didn’t have a resume.  But later on I learned how to create a resume, and how to make a good impression.

What else did you do early on?

Early on I went for an appointment about career direction.  I wasn’t sure how to explore my options.  Through my career counselor I learned about informational interviews.  In fact I even did one for an RA position.  Ended up getting the job because I was more prepared and had someone recommending me from the info interview.  I also got into LinkedIn early on.

From these early experiences, what do you recommend that students do in their 1st or 2nd year?

Don’t think that just because it’s your first year that you have all the time in the world.  You’ll be graduating in a flash.  When you start early, you’ll be ahead for when you need it. When there is less pressure, when you don’t need a job yet, get advice then.

How can students have an impact on potential employers?

A lot of employers want to know if you want them.  It’s not just about your skills.  To stand out, make a good impression early on with them. Be genuinely interested in the field, which should be a natural feeling if you chose a major you are passionate about. Have people warm up to you, and your personal brand early on, even if you might not be fully certain what that is yet.  The idea here is to build your network before you need it.  Things get a lot more competitive, when you are a senior.  Everyone is going after these connections.  By starting early you can set yourself apart. They will be impressed that you are being so proactive.  Another point is that there is more leeway if you mess up, employers will more likely overlook this when you are younger.

How can students make more employer connections?

Go to career services and alumni events.  Do these while you are still on campus.  Once you graduate, it’s harder to fit these in.  Also, the further along you get in college, there are more expectations put on you (from recruiters, parents, peers), compared with when you are in your 1st or 2nd year.

What can you gain from this early networking?

When you chat with recruiters, they might open you up to other career paths that you didn’t know about or hadn’t thought of.  The more exposure and more conversations, the better.  You can never know what you’re going to do, exactly, but you can learn more early on to help.  It’s great if you can find out sooner what you might value in a career, while you can still make changes to your academic or co-op path.  You might save yourself time and heartache.  The more people you talk to, the more confident you’ll be with your choices.  You want to find those people that are in your potential career path, since they’ve already been there and you can learn from them.  Would you want to be in their shoes? Talking to them gives you a chance to find out.

During your senior year, how did you approach your job search?

I didn’t have too much trouble.  I had already been to 3 or 4 career fairs, and I already had quite a few connections from co-ops and various other events. If you have done everything early on, at this point it should be a relaxing year. At my last career fair, I received an interview call in less than an hour after the fair ended.

How do you maintain your network?

Always follow up after any professional encounter. Send a thank-you note after meeting someone at a campus event or any professional encounter.  For example, after attending the Global Careers Forum I sent an email to one of the guest speakers saying thank you.  I didn’t ask for anything in that moment. It might come later. Northeastern makes sending thank-you letters after co-op interviews almost religious, I try to use this same mindset. I always like to think of the story of one interviewee’s thank-you letter being a PowerPoint that showed how he would tackle a current problem facing the company. Now that’s hitting the ground running!

Is there anything you wished you’d known sooner?

Don’t take your professors for granted.  They can be some of the best resources.  They are there for you, and they want to help you.  I made a habit of seeing my professors every semester, even just to chat with them (while you are in the course and sometimes even after).  One professor sent me details about an internship that had been sent in by an alum.  I was given the details about this opportunity because the professor knew me well, and he had confidence in me. In addition, if I had more time, I would’ve joined more organizations that were related to my major.

Anyone you stay in touch with?

One of my accounting professors I went to see a lot.  He had great industry advice about how to get started, he recommended good organizations, and even suggested events to attend.  I sent follow up messages to thank him and to let him know I attended the events he had mentioned, I also shared some information that I thought would be useful for his current students.  It’s important to let people know that you followed their advice, and if you have something you can share, then include it.

What’s your finally advice to students, especially when it comes to networking?

Start early and don’t stop.

5 Questions to Prepare for Career Fair

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image source:

I had the opportunity to speak with Neil Brennan of Meltwater recently about campus recruiting and career fairs. In five quick questions, he nailed down the best (and worst) things you can do at a career fair.

Without further ado, here they are…

1. What types of skills and qualifications do you look for in new graduates?

Well, we’re not really looking for specific degree discipline. We’re looking for people who have graduated top of their class. They typically are also active and involved in other things besides just their studies. Our graduates who come on board have some leadership experience as well. Whether it was a captain of their team or in charge of their sorority.

2. If you had one piece of advice for a student navigating the fair- what would it be?

I think that if a student is attending a career fair, they should want to make an impression when they talk to an employer. There are those who go there to extract information and those who go there to make a strong impression. If I could give advice, it would be to go there and do both. They should really be aware of the fact that they should leave the employer with the strongest impression of themselves

3. What is a Career Fair “no-no”?

If you want to work at a company where you would wear a suit to work everyday, go to the career fair wearing a suit. We are looking for students to dress to impress

4. What do you recommend students bring to the career fair?

Definitely recommend bringing a cover letter if possible as well. We’ll accept resumes, cover letters. For strong candidates we use those later on if they reach out to apply for a position.

Bring a level of research with you. When you do approach and have a conversation with the employer, it’s very obvious you know about the company even if you may have questions still. That will go a long way to make you stand out.

Bring a general level of interest. One mistake is a candidate can make is standing there and expecting the employer to impress them. Bring energy, enthusiasm, and questions.

5. How does a student stand out from the crowd?

One simple piece of advice, obviously almost like a cliche, but first impressions do count. Go up there, make an impression, say hello, shake their hand firmly, and start a discussion rather than hanging back and waiting for the employer to approach you.

Mindfulness in the Office

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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.

3 Tips to Maximize Week One in the Workplace

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Rose pic 2_Fotor_CollageI’ve officially made it through week one at the U.S. Embassy in Quito, Ecuador and I have to say, it has surpassed every expectation I had. The community here is unlike anything I have ever seen – being some of the only Americans here breeds a strong sense of camaraderie. I feel extremely lucky that I have been welcomed so warmly into the community, both professionally and personally.

Maximizing your first week in the office is incredibly important. It sets the tone for the rest of your co-op and you don’t want to get off on the wrong foot. Here are three tips to get the most out of your first week and to set you up for a great co-op!

1. Soak in everything that is going on around you.

Starting a new job, wherever it is, means there are tons of new things to take in. You have to learn how the office runs, what is expected of you, who are the key players in the organization, and where basic things (like the bathroom and the cafeteria) are. Compared to Capitol Hill, where I worked for my first co-op, Embassy Quito is small. There is little opportunity to get lost, but the amount of other things to learn is vast. I spent most of my first week trying to figure out exactly how everyone fits in to the Embassy structure and what each office does. Even though it can sometimes be hard to ask your new co-workers to explain the basics of what they do, it shows that you are interested in getting to know your new surroundings and the work that is going on all around you.

2. Meet everyone you can and start to build important relationships.

Your new co-workers are the start of your new network. It is critically important that you start to build these relationships as early as possible. Whether you have four months or six on co-op, time will go by quickly. You don’t want to wait until your last week to start building relationships with your co-workers in order to get a good letter of recommendation. Meeting your colleagues early on will not only provide you with a strong base for networking, but it will also make your work experience more enjoyable.

I was able to sit down and meet with the US Ambassador to Ecuador on my second day in the office and it gave me the confidence I needed to ask to sit down with the other department heads to learn about what they do every day.

3. Be flexible about your assignments, but don’t be afraid to speak up

Learning about what exactly you will be doing on co-op is a very exciting time. You might not get to do a lot of actual work your first week as your employer gets everything set up for you. This was especially true for me this week – my office had to schedule briefings and meetings for me, figure out how to set up all my computers and email, and show me around the Embassy compound.

Understand that as the co-op or the intern, you are most likely at the bottom of the office hierarchy. Take the work that is given to you, even if it not what you originally expected, and make sure you do it to the best of your ability. This will show your supervisors the quality of your work and instill confidence in them about the work you are capable of. Speak up if there is something you see going on in the office that you want to be a part of. Don’t expect that people will read your mind about your interests; you have to let them know what you want to work on.

This week I’ve been able to work on research about NGO funding to Ecuadorian programs, but I was able to sit down with my supervisors and discuss my interests in issues affecting disadvantaged populations. Now that they know what I want to work on, we are talking about the research I can do on human rights abuses in Ecuadorian prisons or the issues surrounding indigenous populations.

No matter what kind of job you’re starting, keep an open mind about your workplace and be open to whatever work comes your way!

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.

Minding the Gap

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"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.