In 48 hours, I’ll board a plane destined for Cape Town, South Africa to begin my first co-op. My bags are packed, my passport is ready, and my movie playlist is prepared- yet I feel strangely apprehensive. I’ve worked abroad before, however, I’m now under more pressure, and more stress. Any Northeastern student can recognize this bizarre feeling of elation, curiosity, and uneasiness. This is co-op. And to add, this is Africa.
Looking back on all of the moments I’ve left my comfort zone, I think to myself, how did I do that? Mustering up the courage to move is difficult, emotionally exhausting, and just scary. Add in a full time job and the stress doubles. To ease my pre-travel butterflies, I’ve given myself four reminders- four sentences that will ground, gratify, and calm my million-miles-a-minute mind. Four ways to give myself a break during the circus which is international co-op.
I will mess up both professionally, and personally.
But that only means that I’m trying. Expectations often create unattainable standards that we don’t realize we have set for ourselves- until we don’t reach them. I want to keep myself motivated, happy and healthy at work. I want to challenge myself, I want to take on new tasks, and I want to interact with exciting youth and inspiring coworkers. Holding myself to perfection is both limiting, and destined for disappointment.
Embrace my difference and run with it.
There is something both absolutely terrifying and absolutely beautiful about being a foreigner. What I’ve come to realize is that my difference is my greatest asset, and while it’s sometimes simpler to run away from it, the most rewarding route is to run towards it. My American perspective brings new ideas and new ways of doing things to my workplace. Why not capitalize?
Work is just going to be work until I make it something more.
Who says you can’t benefit personally from your job? I’ve realized that loving a job not only makes the work day go faster, but makes the work mean something. I want to savor every meaningful experience I have- whether it’s learning from my phenomenal coworkers, facilitating a successful workshop, or finally figuring out what a new South African word means. Every single moment should be more than “just work.”
I’ll get it- eventually.
I’m new, and eventually, I’ll understand. It may take some time, and it may happen after some embarrassing moments and misunderstandings. The beauty of working abroad comes from learning, growing, and exploring- not from being an expert from the start.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.