When I decided to apply to the co-op program at SFU late in the third-year of my degree, I did not know what to expect. Seeking a position during the onset of the pandemic, I knew what to expect even less; an experience shared by so many students during this time. When I applied to the internship position in Düsseldorf, Germany, with Global Affairs Canada at the Consulate of Canada, I was excited by the prospect of being able to contribute to the strong, bilateral relationship that Canada and Germany share. However, knowing that I would have to settle into a new job and new city during a lock-down was intimidating. Though a move across the world during a pandemic was daunting, I was comforted by my German language ability, my experience having spent time in the country, and the strong co-op support team that stood behind me.
At the end of September, I packed my belongings in Vancouver and flew to Berlin, Germany. There I spent three months acclimatizing to life in Germany, studying online (enjoying multiple night time exams) and catching up with family that live in the area.
At the beginning of January, the time to pack up again and take the train to Düsseldorf from Berlin had come. I had secured a room in an apartment in downtown Düsseldorf over a room-finding app, and became acquainted with my roommate and his two huge water-loving cats, Dexter and Aria, quickly. I do not think I will ever get their hair out of all of my clothes. I was lucky to find a room within a 5-minute walk to the Consulate.
My first few days at the Consulate were action-packed. Luckily, the intern whose positon I was taking over was there to help me along the way and showed me the ropes the first week as I settled in. Between setting up the office, taking mandatory training courses and setting up all of the IT infrastructure, the days went by quickly. As most of the small team was working remotely, I introduced myself to everyone virtually and was able to meet those that were still coming into the office. I also got to meet Fred, our office mascot, the RCMP moose.
With the onset of spring and the start of Covid-19 vaccine deployment around the globe, I got to work on a variety of exciting and important tasks. From conducting research and drafting reports for senior management reflecting Canada's trade priorities in Germany, to assisting consular staff with reception, I helped the team with a large variety of tasks. A highlight for me was contributing to Canadian Covid-19 vaccine procurement by establishing contacts with key German ministries and industries. It was extremely rewarding to be part of international efforts to provide Canada with Covid-19 vaccine, with Germany being home to major producers of the vaccine.
At the start of summer, restrictions were loosened and a bit of normality returned to the city that had seemed asleep to me since my arrival. I enjoyed seeing the bustle of the historical inner city core return, and spent time walking and biking along the Rhine river. At work, Canada Day was quickly approaching, and though the festivities would take a different tone this year, much had to be done to showcase this event virtually for both the Canadian and German public. I developed two videos for the Canada Day website, which were posted publicly, highlighting the long-standing relationship between Canada and Germany and the services that the Embassies and Consulates of Canada in Germany offer.
I was able to spend a few weekends traveling around Germany, and even visited Majorca, Spain, and Prague, in the Czech Republic. With these cities economies depending largely on tourism, it was very strange to see the cities quieter than they had ever been. I was happy to support the suffering tourism industry while taking in all of the exciting sights these cities have to offer.
As my time at the Consulate was coming to a close, I got to aid in the hiring of the next interns arriving in the fall. I was able to share many of the things I learned with these students, not only about living in Germany, but also about working abroad, and now also hope to pass what I learned on to you as a reader:
- Ask for help and get to know your team! Make sure they know you are there and eager for work, and ask for clarification when needed. Everyone is very kind and excited to have you on the team, ready to help where needed.
- Get out of your comfort zone and meet new people. Making friends during a pandemic was not easy to say the least, but joining online groups for people new in the city and being willing to go for (socially distanced) walks with new people helped a lot.
- Challenge yourself to try new things even if you are on your own and immerse yourself in life in the new city. Using every weekend to explore something new, even if it is just a park around the corner, can make a new city feel more familiar. Having roommates who are willing to show you around who are local is a bonus!
As I reflect on my time in Germany, I realize that I am going to miss not only the team I work with and the friends I have made here, but also the exciting responsibilities and tasks I have had at the Consulate for the past 8 months. I am also, however, excited to start a new co-op term in the fall in Vancouver, equipped with all of the skills and experiences that I gathered in my time at the Consulate. I feel more confident in skills such as writing, research, and teamwork, and am excited about the many possibilities that are opened up to me having worked for the federal government abroad.
See you soon Vancouver!