Many Northeastern students are about to begin their first international co-op. To help them maximize their experiences, we asked six students who have done global co-ops to share the wisdom they’ve cultivated from having lived and worked abroad.
Evan Bruning, SSH’17, who worked on international co-op at the Office of the High Representative in Bosnia and Herzegovina:
Read up on the country’s culture and the lifestyle, but be prepared to experience something very different from what you’re accustomed to. To make new friends and cultivate connections, join a meet-up group or go out for dinner with your colleagues. When I was working at the Office of the High Representative, my colleagues were really open and honest and gave me some fantastic career advice. And don’t be afraid to take the initiative; two months into my international co-op, I began organizing weekly meet-up sessions, which helped me get to know many other young people.
Aline Bissell, DMSB’17, who worked on international co-op at JVWEB, an e-marketing agency in France:
Talk with your colleagues outside of the work setting and see if your manager would be willing to be a kind of cultural advisor for you. But don’t put too much pressure on yourself and give yourself time to adjust to your new environment. Join an activities group or ask the Global Experience Office to connect you with other Northeastern students who might be working or studying in the same country.
It’s an amazing thing to have a group of people you can reach out to, with perspectives from all over the world.
— Kara Morgan, SSH’17
Montana Fredrick, SSH’17, who worked on international co-op at GuestToGuest, a home exchange company in France:
Develop a deep relationship with your co-workers, and try to find one or two people within the company who can advocate for you and teach you as much as possible. When you’re out of the office, walk around and explore your neighborhood. Go grocery shopping and visit museums or other attractions to familiarize yourself with the country’s nuances.
Arrive ready to dive into a new culture and meet new people—and don’t shy away from asking the locals for help. Have confidence in who you are, and share where you’re from with your colleagues. You didn’t go abroad to isolate yourself in your room, so go out and approach others. When I was on co-op in the Netherlands, I worked with a lot of people who were a little bit older and went home to their families after work. So, to meet new friends, I went to the food court and struck up conversations with several groups of interns. You might be a bit scared at first, but you should always travel with an open mind.
Arrive ready to dive into a new culture and meet new people—and don’t shy away from asking the locals for help.
— Mohit Bhardwaj, E’17
Audrey Pence, SSH’17, who worked on co-op at the Fuller Project for International Reporting in Turkey and then discussed her experience with news@Northeastern:
Keep an attitude of adventure above all else. From my own experience, you’ll likely face a series of obstacles to overcome. However, you will come away with so many lessons and so much more confidence in your own ability to adapt to different circumstances. Make sure to appreciate the trials because they will certainly serve you in the future, and although you may not be able to control some of the situations you will find yourself in, try to maintain a positive attitude and see the lessons in every experience.
Kara Morgan, SSH’17, who worked on international co-op at the Cambodian Center for Human Rights and the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project in Bosnia and Herzegovina:
Stay away from your computer as much as possible; it’s easy to watch movies on your laptop when you’re bored, but try to get outside and meet new people instead. Get to know your co-workers and ask them questions with genuine curiosity and lack of judgment; they’re from the area and can likely give advice on what it’s like to live there. Going on international co-op is kind of like hitting restart button on life, and it can be hard to start over. But there are a lot of people out there willing to help out.
Once you leave your international co-op behind, remember to stay connected to the people you have met. You never know when you will have the chance to see them again in person, but it’s an amazing thing to have a group of people you can reach out to, with perspectives from all over the world. If you have the opportunity, don’t hesitate to return the favor and share your own lessons learned.