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.


Preparing for International Co-op

white workspace macbookPreparation is key.

I leave for Ecuador in exactly five days and I just bought my plane tickets! I know exactly what you’re thinking, for someone writing about job preparation, she really doesn’t seem very prepared for the next four months.

Let me backtrack a bit and describe my situation. I will be on co-op with the U.S. Department of State for the next four months at the U.S. Embassy in Quito, Ecuador. I’ll be doing political work in the Embassy, which will include researching political issues in Ecuador and writing reports on how those issues affect the United States. I am beyond excited to start, but for a while I didn’t think I would get to do the work at all. I’ll talk about my experience applying for international co-op and preparation for the adventure with three simple tips.

1. Have an idea of what you are interested in doing and start researching early.

Before I left my last co-op in Washington, D.C. I had already begun brainstorming what I was interested in doing for my second co-op. This proved to be essential because I was able to get a head start on my application and was not rushed when the due date rolled around. Many international co-ops have earlier application deadlines than domestic co-ops, which is why making sure your resume is always up to date is very important. I knew I wanted to work in government in some way for all my co-ops, but I was also very keen on traveling. When someone mentioned the State Department overseas Embassy internships, I knew I had to apply. My application deadline was extremely early – July 1st for a job that wouldn’t start until at least January of the following year. While this early of a deadline is unusual, other international co-ops can have early dates because of visa issues. Making sure that you do your research early so that you are aware of any special deadlines is crucial if you are considering an international co-op.

2. Keep an eye on your inbox and make sure you respond to emails from your employer right away.

This is key for any job, but especially if you need special paperwork for your international co-op. In my case, I had to complete extremely in-depth paperwork so that I could obtain a security clearance as well as get fingerprinted by the police. Both of these things were very time sensitive in my case and responding early to those requests is what allowed me to get my clearance in time to start my co-op as planned.

In other cases, you might have to deal with background checks, visa issues, and international housing; all of which take time to figure out. Don’t wait until the last minute or your plans for international co-op could be ruined.

3. Be patient.

This is perhaps the best piece of advice I received and that I could give to someone. Even though I accepted my co-op back in July, it was not official until I was granted my full security clearance the second week of January. This whole process has taken six months to get set up and so much of that time was filled with uncertainty. I won’t lie – I had many freak-outs over the past semester when I thought my clearance wouldn’t come through in time or when I was sure something was going to go wrong along the way to prevent me from ending up in Ecuador next week. Patience is key, especially when you are traveling and working internationally.

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 and on Instagram @roselandis.

Keep Calm and Move to Africa


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