I decided to take part in Foreign Affairs Canada's Young Professionals International Program (YPI) which is funded through Canada's Youth Employment Strategy (YES) Career Focus Program. Foreign Affairs funds different organizations across Canada that hire interns like me and send us to work with one of their sister organizations in a foreign country.
I applied for a position with COL the Commonwealth of Learning here in Vancouver, which placed me in Barbados with the University of the West Indies Distance Education Centre (UWIDEC). COL and UWIDEC were co-hosting the Fourth Pan-Commonwealth Forum on Open and Distance Learning to be held in Jamaica in October 2006 (UWIDEC decided to host the conference in Jamaica due to larger venues and lower costs). Having graduated in Communication with three Co-op terms experience in public relations and event planning, I jumped at the chance to help coordinate this biennial event.
I arrived in sunny (and extremely hot) Barbados on July 3, 2006, and was immediately put to work as the Planning Assistant to the Chairman of the conference. Not only did I experience a new living environment but a completely new working environment, which included finding ways to pass the time when the power would go out in our building every week due to hurricane winds and rain.
My main roles as a planning assistant were handling registration, payment, hotel accommodation, flights, sponsorship, marketing, technical and security issues, as well as the organization of conference papers for over 520 delegates from over 64 countries. The most rewarding aspect of my experience was communicating with delegates from around the world via email and phone and then finally getting a chance to meet each one in Jamaica where they came together to share their ideas and projects on how distance education is contributing to the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals. Additionally, I had the opportunity to travel back and forth between Barbados and Jamaica three times for the conference! Ya mon!
The conference was a huge success; never before had I witnessed such kindness and gratitude from people who without opportunities like this conference, would never have had the chance to travel and network.
When I reflect upon the experience and the time and effort it took to land the job, as well as complete the internship successfully, I know that I would not have had the confidence to have done it if I had not been involved in the Co-op program at SFU. Co-op taught me that I needed to show employers what was unique about me, and why they should hire me over all the others. My co-op experiences also demonstrated to me what my strengths and passions were so that when I began my career, I had a more clear vision of what my dream job would be and what I would need to achieve my goals.
In between work and travel, I did manage to lie on the beach a few times (ok, more than a few times), and experience the vibrant and lively culture of Barbados. The most challenging part of the culture shock was getting used to the slower pace of the Caribbean and its people, which is much different from our busy, hectic lives here in Vancouver. In the end, my experience not only allowed me to gain more skills and knowledge for my professional career but forced me to relax, enjoy life!
Beyond the Blog
Thinking of travelling, but don't know where to start? Check out these International Articles and see what SFU has to offer.
Do you want to travel like Katie? Visit the Commonwealth of Learning International Attachment program website.
Or take a look at the Canadian Government's International Youth Internship Program.