How to Get the Most Out of Your International Co-op Term

In late 2017, I spent four months Hong Kong completing an internship with the Canadian Chamber of Commerce. I had such a blast, it is hard to believe I almost didn’t go.

Because it was last minute posting, I had already submitted my application to graduate and was well on my way to walking across the stage when I received the offer.

You see, in Economics 11 we learn about a concept called opportunity cost. To put it simply, it is the loss of whatever value you would have gained if you chose the next-best alternative.

In my case, it was a question of whether the value gained from an international internship would be worth the work experience lost by not starting a full time job a few months earlier.

But with a little prodding from my family and a very generous arrangement from both the Simon Fraser University Co-operative Office and Hong Kong Airlines, I decided to go for it.

Thank goodness I did, because it was worth every minute.

Remember, you’re traveling

Let’s start with the obvious one: you’re going somewhere new and exciting. While a standard co-op term is typically with a local firm, an international co-op is an exciting opportunity to experience a new company, with new people, in a new place. Take advantage of it by exploring and soaking in the city’s energy.

As mentioned earlier, I was afforded the chance to go to Hong Kong. Now, I lived in the city for a few years in high school so it wasn’t entirely new; still, I was out and about every weekend, bouncing from place to place with my fellow interns.

Make it count

Much like a standard co-op, international co-ops give you a chance to use tools that professionals rely on everyday, and with very real results. It isn’t some hokey school project with a hypothetical situation which you navigate through while going through the coursework; no, this is challenging yourself by finding your own solutions to real-world problems. Give it your all, and be proud of everything you accomplish.

At the Chamber, I had the opportunity to learn tools such as MailChimp, NeonCRM, and the Adobe Creative programs with an incredibly supportive team. Furthermore, I had the chance to observe and contribute to projects with tangible effects on the organization’s bottom line.

Gain new perspectives

Take a look at those around you during your term. Listen to their viewpoints and respect their opinions. They grew up living a completely different life, and probably have some wild ideas. Appreciate them, learn from them, and don’t forget to give your perspective as well. It’s a big world out there, but it grows a little bit smaller every time we share our ideas.

The intern cohort during my term consisted of two UVic students, one UBC, and another from the University of Alberta. Needless to say, we all seemed pretty similar at first. It’s only when we went out to observe the city around us that it became apparently how differently each of us saw the world, and how much we could learn from each other.

Take Risks and Don’t Look Back

You own the results of everything you do, and that can be a little daunting. I’m not going to say that mistakes won’t be made, because they will. But it’s okay if you make mistakes because that’s how you learn and grow. So with that in mind, put yourself out there and don’t hold back. After all, the you’ll be headed back to school after your term is complete so what do you have to lose?

I’ll admit that I was nervous of screwing something up and always took the safe route during my first few weeks. However, my manager was constantly empowering me with decisions and supporting my choices, leading me to become increasingly comfortable doing what I thought was right. I made some wrong choices, but mistakes, once you learn from them, are just called experiences.

Make memories

Make the most of every minute, from the moment you receive your offer to when you touch down back home. You are embarking on an experience of a lifetime, so become Jim Carey in Yes Man and take things as they come.

Seriously, I cannot stress this enough. Break out of your comfort zone. Visit a flower exhibition, wine festival, or magic show. Participate a hike, pub crawl, or e-Sports tournament. And if something doesn’t work out? Well, just leave it behind. You’re only here for a few months after all.

You have an unparalleled opportunity to learn, grow, take risks, make mistakes and – at the end of it all – board a plane back to real life.

Take advantage of it.

Just be sure to check the baggage weight limits for your airline because you’ll be heading home with a ton of fond memories. ∎

cheesy

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Derek Woo

Like many other recent post-secondary graduates, I am still trying to figure out what the heck to do with this business degree. All I know is that I love taking in the world around me and putting the my feelings into words. Life is crazy, and there's always a story to tell.

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