International Relations Co-op in the Middle East

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 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 for any questions ranging from resume writing, job searching to her experiences.


“Show Your Face” and Other Lessons from Psych Alum Samantha

Sam Collage for blog

This post was written by 2009 psychology alum, Samantha Bracy. She is currently a special education teach in Newton, MA. 

It wasn’t until my good friend Kelly so kindly asked me to write for this blog that I even became consciously aware of how long I’ve been out of college.  As we approach the anniversary of our graduation, of course all the good memories flood my mind – celebrating graduation with my friends, living in an apartment on Symphony Rd., late nights at Punter’s.  Five whole years ago we were walking up and down Huntington Ave. in the freezing depths of winter (OK, let’s be real – anything below 40 degrees and class wasn’t happening); picking up overpriced groceries at “The Wo” (Wollaston’s for all of you who don’t speak solely in abbreviations); and last but not least, navigating what in the world we were going to do after graduation (OK, I suppose that might be the most important one).

I always considered myself one of those rare, lucky students who always knew what I’d do with my professional life.  My mother tells me that ever since I was a little girl, she knew I’d be a teacher (read: I was really bossy as a child) and as I made my way through NU, I knew it too.  I studied psychology and elementary education, coming out of college with a plethora of co-op and fieldwork experiences to add to my resume.  I felt fortunate to have spent time working in Boston Public Schools, at various community centers across the city, and at a private special education school.  My experience was – in every sense of the word – “well-rounded” and I had NU to thank for that edge.  What I didn’t realize at the time was the importance of networking.  I know, I know…such a buzzword these days.  But when people tell you “it’s all who you know”, they’re being completely honest with you.

Make a good impression at your co-op.  Do not show up looking like you were out all night (hungover or otherwise).  These people may be your future, long-term employers (I have friends who are currently employed at one of their co-op’s, years later).  This organization may be a jumping off point for your career.  And you probably want to be able to ask your supervisor for a recommendation one day.  I know you all took Intro to College or got a lecture from your co-op advisor about being professional, but let’s be real – when it’s Marathon Monday and you called out of co-op because you were the only one who didn’t have it off, do not post selfies on one of the various social media platforms.  Lesson learned.  Make a positive, lasting impression and you will always have that organization supporting you, be it by way of an actual job or kind words for a different employer.

If your employer asks you to stay on after your co-op, you do it.  Even if they say it’s unpaid, even if it’s full-time, even if you have to take the T at 5:30 am.  I completed my student teaching at an amazing Boston Public School, a school that I still dream of working at.  After my semester ended, I was asked to stay on as an unpaid aide and I turned it down because I needed to work full-time and actually earn money.  A girl who was in the same boat as me took an unpaid aide job and now has her own classroom at said school.  I doubt if I went back there today anyone would even remember me.  If you have a way to take an internship, an experience, a co-op, anything and make it into something more, an opportunity for you to shine and for people to truly remember you, do it.

Show your face.  In college, my friends and I (count us: 1, 2, 3, 4) kept to ourselves.  We certainly weren’t homebodies by any means – we went out, had fun, lived it up Husky style.  But we weren’t really involved in any groups, clubs, networking events, or anything of that nature.  We didn’t go to sporting events or formals.  We didn’t really branch out beyond each other and some satellite friends we hung out with on occasion.  Now, with things like Facebook, Instagram and LinkedIn, it’s so easy to reconnect with people you went to school with.  People who may have plush corner offices that can hook you up with an interview at that firm you’ve been eyeing (see where I’m going with this?).  But guess what?  If you don’t actually talk to anyone, you don’t really have a lot of people to network with years later.  So even if you aren’t a social butterfly, it wouldn’t kill you to attend a few events, make some new friends, or even sit with a stranger in Snell.  You never know who your new friends will turn out to be down the road so don’t be afraid to branch out.

Samantha Bracy is a special education teacher in the Newton Public Schools.  She received her BS and MEd from Northeastern.  She is the proud mother of a little girl with another baby on the way and enjoys trying to maintain her sanity as she balances life and work.  Feel free to contact her at