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SFU Co-op Student

Australia sunset
The best part about all the jobs at the YMCA and Health by Design was that I really felt that I was learning every day, that my skill set was broadening and that I was being taken seriously as a health professional by my co-workers, the clients and patrons of the facilities.

Why Australia?

I chose to do a self-directed work search in Melbourne, Australia because I really wanted to go there. I wanted a chance to experience a culture that was different from Vancouver but not so different that I would be spending more time learning a new language than broadening my skill set. I wanted someplace warmer than Vancouver, and I also wanted to escape a Vancouver winter! Working holiday visas are only available until the age of 30 and I wanted to take advantage of it before I was no longer able to do so. I had been applying to jobs for a few weeks before I got there and by taking this initiative, I had scheduled four interviews within my first week of arrival in Australia.

Before I left Vancouver, I also joined an organization called "Exercise and Sports Science Australia" as a student member to take advantage of their member-only job bank. In the end, I didn't really find doing this too helpful as most of the advertised jobs were for those with a completed undergrad degree or for more experienced workers, such as those which could be licensed exercise physiologists.

Seeing as I was under qualified for the exercise physiologist positions, I decided I would apply for work as a personal trainer as I wanted to further my skills and experience in that field. I have my BCRPA Personal Trainer certification and had been training clients for 2-3 months allowing me the get my foot in the door before I left.

Working at Health by Design

It is a personal trainer studio that does not offer gym memberships and the facility's focus is only on personal training. As this was my first employer, it was easy to schedule in clients quickly. Something that I found valuable right from the beginning was that while almost all PT jobs have a formal interview followed by a skills assessment interview (mock training session), this company allowed us to shadow the current trainers' sessions before doing our mock session. Not only could I see how someone with more experience than me would respond to a situation, but I could also see how the clients were expecting the sessions to be delivered. It pretty much guaranteed me the position once I did my mock session as the interviewer quite enjoyed my "keenness" and desire to learn. It also helped that the clients I met for the trainer whom I was replacing all seemed to like me from the beginning.

Working at the YMCA

The second employer was Brunswick City Baths, one of the many YMCA locations in Melbourne. When I was hired at the Y, I was actually hired for three different positions as a health and fitness instructor, a personal trainer and as a programs officer.

Working as a Health and Fitness Instructor

As a health and fitness instructor, I was basically a gym floor supervisor, the person that has to clean and maintain the equipment and the appearance of the facility and the consultation offices. One of the benefits to having a Y membership is that all patrons can get free health assessments, program inductions and re-assessments, which were appointments that the instructor had to administer. During a shift which would be either 4 or 5 hours, one might have 1 to 4 appointments during that time. The assessments included a health/medical questionnaire, documenting their health and fitness goals (what they want to achieve from their program), a daily eating habits questionnaire and a weight, height and girth measurement. After the health assessment was complete, a gym program was designed for the patron. The patron would then make another appointment for their program induction where I or another instructor would take them through their program. This could be extremely frustrating as most of the time I did not think the program given was appropriate for the patron, and would spend a lot of time changing what was written. This is normal protocol, however, and was up to the person administering the program to decide if they wanted to change it. Patrons are recommended to do a re-assessment every 2 months and can request guidance on their program at any stage.

Working as a Personal Trainer

The personal trainer position was similar to the one at Health by Design, the only difference being should the client choose to exercise in their own time without the trainer, their unsupervised workout facility is the same one where they see their trainer at as well.

Working as a Programs Officer

A programs officer is responsible for the design and implementation for a special population or group of people who came to the centre. My major role as a programs officer was to do the Active Adults and MS/Stroke groups. As it was when I came in, there was no program in place. There was time allotted and there were advertisements circulated for these groups to come into the gym but there was no instruction or planning for any of the instructors to follow. All the previous instructors had done things differently and none of them had made any documentation of assessment protocol, program protocol, or anything of that sort. It was very scary and exciting to feel like I could develop a program to address these populations alone!

I had to create an assessment protocol that allowed for complications in people's health as they get older and if they do have MS or have had a stroke. I also designed a falls prevention program and created some general fitness cards for the participants. My other roles as a programs officer included being a fill-in instructor for a group called Brunswick Industries, a factory where a lot of developmentally disabled or people who reside at one of the supported residential services lodges worked, and they did a "fitness" class for an hour once a week.


The best part about all the jobs at the YMCA and Health by Design was that I really felt that I was learning every day, that my skill set was broadening and that I was being taken seriously as a health professional by my co-workers, the clients and patrons of the facilities. I enjoyed going to work every day and I will miss everyone that I am leaving behind. My bosses were all pleased with my contribution and were sad to see me leave so soon. The work was very rewarding and it was very affirming that I was on the "right path" for my career choice of doing fitness with complicated population groups.

The worst part about all the jobs is that:

  • I was working casually and that my hours were mostly really early in the morning and in the evening with no work in the afternoon.

  • A lot of my days involved me getting up at 5am to go to a personal training client at 7am and then I wouldn't get home until 10pm if I worked an evening shift at the Y, and frequently with 8 hours off in between. The bonus to that was that it always gave me time to exercise; there were lots of runs in the middle of my days.

  • Only some of my hours were constant: my hours for the Active Adults program and another Y location in Carlton where I worked as a health and fitness instructor. Even with those guaranteed hours though, I was still only getting 15 hours a week.

  • Personal training clients are not something that was easy to rely on as my source of income, as they would frequently go on holiday during that time of year.

Overall, it was a GREAT experience and I am really glad I did it, but working casually is much easier when I can combine it with being in school full-time because then I also have loan and grant money to survive on. If I came back to Australia to work, it would need to be something full-time because living in Australia is expensive (though wages were almost doubled what they are in Vancouver).

SFU Co-op Student

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