As a fourth-year Systems Engineering and Business Minor student at SFU, I was having a difficult experience finding a co-op placement. I was forced to look outside Vancouver and eventually received a 16-month contract with BlackBerry in Waterloo, Ontario. My job title was Regulatory Compliance Student, and I would be performing radiated Electromagnetic Compliance testing in a semi-anechoic test chamber, along with writing reports and other administrative work of that nature. I will not be focusing this post on job details, as technical experience is available wherever your placement will be, instead, this article will cover the benefits of doing a co-op outside of Vancouver. Although I didn’t want to originally move away, I later found it to be a fantastic opportunity. Here’s why:
1. Grow Your Professional Network
One of the first things you will realize when you move away and start your job is that you don’t know anybody! But don’t worry- it’s okay! This is the perfect opportunity to develop your network before you finish your program and enter the workplace as a professional. For example, at my job I’ve met numerous students from various universities in Ontario, as well as other students from SFU I may never have talked to. I also developed relationships with the professionals at BlackBerry. The thing about developing your professional network is you never know where these students and professionals will end up in the future and you may once again cross paths. Having connections at different companies can only help your career.
TIP: Don’t be shy, no one bites!
2. Experience A Land Far, Far Away
Who knows where Waterloo, Ontario is? I didn’t know, and I probably would never have gone there in my whole life. Living in one of the largest countries in the whole world makes it extremely difficult to see it all. Thanks to co-op, I’m spending 16-months in a completely different climate. I’m moving away from rainy Vancouver, which had a day of snow last year, to Waterloo, which experienced sub-zero temperatures for the entire month of February. I went to the largest Oktoberfest in the world outside of Munich and shopped for fresh produce from some of the prominent Mennonite community at St. Jacob’s Farmer’s Market. I skipped off to Toronto and Montreal and relaxed at some of the local cafes. I became a beast in the east and made memories that will last a lifetime.
TIP: Ditch your map and get out there!
So far I have written about what you will gain and experience when moving away for co-op, but it’s important to remember what you will be leaving behind. Gone will be the landscape, skyline, and familiar faces of friends and family. It won’t be for everyone, but I encourage people who like to explore and experience new things to give it a try. Getting outside of your comfort zone isn’t only an opportunity to grow your professional network and explore, as mentioned earlier. It’s also a chance to focus on yourself, to self-reflect, to develop ideas for life after graduation; it’s a chance to pursue other hobbies or interests that you would be too busy or preoccupied to do at home; it’s a chance to be responsible and develop skills in budgeting and time-management. We won’t all have the privilege of working where and for whom we desire, but these are life skills that will help you no matter what your future will offer.
TIP: Cut your own path!
I hope this post offers another perspective on what a co-op placement may entail. It’s definitely worth considering not only the nature of your placement’s company and responsibilities but also the experience as a whole.