The Four People You Meet in Foreign Countries

International Travel

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Post-Co-op Reintegration

Library SchoolLike many of you, I am back in classes this semester after completing a spring co-op. Here is a list of the good and the bad revolving around returning to classes after experiencing work in the real world.

  1. A new light is shed on your studies. Whether you realized how little or how much class material you used during your co-op, this will affect your study habits and your outlook on your undergraduate degree. You might realize that you’re studying and working towards a degree for a purpose, or that it is actually completely misaligned in your field of work. You might decide to change your major, like I did, or take more interesting classes that focus on things you experienced during co-op.
  2. New-found motivation. It’s hard be motivated to do well in classes after coming back from co-op. You just spent six months working as an actual adult (!) and didn’t have to worry about midterms, homework assignments, or group presentations. Personally, I’m having a tough time memorizing terminology on bone formation and muscle contraction after spending a semester catching babies in delivery rooms and planning malnutrition programs for impoverished villages. It feels somewhat backwards, but also made me realize that I should have learned about human anatomy and international health care systems in class before doing the hands-on work in a practical learning environment.
  3. More direction. Did you enjoy your co-op? Is it something you’d like to do in the future? Or did you completely hate everything about it? No matter how your experience was, you’ll know what to look for in your next co-op or your first job. With co-op under your belt, you have the right to be more selective in the future instead of shrugging and thinking, “sure, why not?” to any job offer that comes your way.
  4. Networking. Unless you spent a solitary six months working by yourself with no communication with the outside, you interacted with different people every day. New connections, both professional and personal, arise from co-ops. Stay in touch with these contacts, because you never know when something might come along – a collaboration on a paper, a part-time work opportunity, or a conference that you could attend. You also want to be able to approach your supervisor for a recommendation for future job opportunities or ask him/her to connect you with others in the field that you could benefit from meeting.

You already have half a year of professional work experience and that is definitely something to be proud of. Enjoy college life while you can, and keep these things in mind if you ever feel frustrated about going back to classes after co-op.

Next Stop: The Real World

Despite the fact that I’m in my fifth year at Northeastern and graduating this upcoming May, the thought of a real-world job offer seemed so far in my distant future. Yet when I was approached recently about full time positions after graduation, it seemed as though the real world came and hit me like a ton of bricks. Cue the panic.

Wake Up, Neo

While I did allow myself a few moments of total “What is happening?”s and “What am I going to do with my life?”s, I decided to buck up and prepare.

Prepping for your job search doesn’t have to be miserable. Here’s how:

  • Stay organized. If you’re anything like me, you find making charts in Excel to be extremely therapeutic. While I realize most of you probably aren’t like me, just make sure to stay organized. Keep note of what company you’re applying to, the title of the job you are applying for, any information they provide you, who your contact at that company is, and a record of your correspondence. It sounds overwhelming, but it will be absolutely worth it in the end.
  • Nurture your network. You’ve done amazing co-ops and internships, but don’t let all the valuable connections you made during those experience lay dormant on LinkedIn. A friendly email never hurt anyone, and it helps to show that you’re interested and proactive.
  • Be a little bit selfish. Job searching can be overwhelming and some people (read: loving family and friends) love asking about your search and telling you what they think is best. While they may have valuable advice, really think about what you think is best for you. Has it been your life dream to move to Seattle post-grad, but your friends want you in Boston? Evaluate your goals versus the goals that others set for you. It’ll hugely impact your happiness in the long run.
  • Most importantly, get excited. Don’t let stress shadow the excitement of these next few months. You’re going to be so prepared to take on the world, so get excited.

While the real world comes and often catches you off guard, it doesn’t have to a horrible and scary place. Have any tips to add? Leave them in the comments below.

Happy job hunting!

Jessica Mertens is a senior studying Communication Studies, Business Administration, and International Affairs. With experience in PR, internal communications, and CSR from Metis Communications and Staples, Jessica is now in an eternal state of wanderlust at Travel + Leisure. Offline, you can catch Jessica exploring NYC, binge-watching Scandal, and planning her next world travels. Connect with Jessica on Twitter @jessica_mertens and LinkedIn.