Sometimes the best experiences you will get in life only occur outside of your comfort zone. That is how International Co-op can provide you with life-changing experiences, if you are willing to sign up for more than just a long vacation. One of the national programs that SFU cooperates with, Co-op Japan, is a perfect way to open doors to new possibilities for co-op students. Co-op Japan was created with a goal to establish ongoing relations between Canada and Japan, as well as give students opportunities to gain valuable work experience in the Land of the Rising Sun, when otherwise it would be almost impossible to do so. From the last year of participants, SFU students accounted for 20% of overall placements in the program; 15% of graduates returned to work for companies in Japan; over 90% maintain contact with people they worked with in Japan; and 100% of the students indicated that their internship was an important experience in their lives. Aside from the work experience, you would obviously get a chance to travel and visit Japan’s diverse cities, from the cutting-edge technology of Tokyo to the traditional arts of Osaka.
One of the companies that participates with the program is ATR (Advanced Telecommunications Research Institute). It is an independent organization that conducts Research and Development projects in telecommunications. Their projects range from interactive robots to tongue-controlled wheelchairs, and with these tools they continue to develop the relationship between technology and human usability. Carson Leung and Yasaman Mohammadi share their experiences from their Co-op Japan work terms with ATR.
Carson Leung is a fifth year student in engineering who returned from his seven-month work term in January. Working for ATR gave Carson the opportunity to work with state-of-the-art humanoid robots, some of which are now the main attractions at the Aichi World Exposition in Japan. Essentially, Carson’s research focused on the interactions between humans and humanoid robots using motion captured data of the motions of a human and robot interaction. Being a Systems Engineering student, he was able to apply what he had learned in theory to the leading edge robotics industry of Japan.
He found the locals extremely friendly and despite the dense population (Japan has nearly four times as many people as Canada!), it was a relatively safe place to explore. Japan’s renowned bullet train was an easy way to get around, which, as Carson mentions, is worth riding at least once during a stay in Tokyo. Over the weekends, he always made sure to save money for remarkable expeditions to different parts of Japan, such as taking a seven-hour hike up Mt. Fuji and watching an awe-inspiring sunrise at the top. Carson grew close to the friends he made while playing basketball, one of his pastimes back at home. There were many hours spent with his co-workers outside of the workplace as well. Reflecting on the contacts he has made, the people he worked with, the projects he worked on, and the incredible sights that he’s seen, Carson can confidently say that his co-op work term in Japan was a life-changing experience.
In March, Yasaman Mohammadi (also in engineering) returned from Japan with an invaluable understanding of a different working culture gained from her work experience at ATR. She quickly observed that the work environment and expectations differed from those in Canada, and she became very mindful of communication barriers with her co-workers. Extensive hours in the workplace helped develop her Japanese language skills, as well as determine her employer’s goals, methods, and work ethic.
Seeking out her interest in salsa dancing in the city, Yasaman quickly developed friendships with people who taught her a lot about the local culture, and vice versa. When she wasn’t traveling through the city on her bike, the time off was spent visiting several shrines, temples, and festivals throughout the country. The experiences all taught her more about world cultures, and even more about herself. Yasaman highly recommends the Co-op Japan program to the adventurous and adaptable, as the program is more than a way to add an international job to your resume; it can also be a trip of self-discovery.
This program is certainly not for everyone, as it requires a great deal of commitment that some people may not be able to dedicate to (most jobs last for seven to eleven months, and you are required to apply a year in advance). However, if you are willing to make the sacrifices, you will gain an abundance of lessons and broadened horizons that you would not be able to achieve at home.