By John Shmuel
Building internet cafés in Nairobi, teaching English to high school students in Tokyo and educating about AIDS in Uganda are all situations you might find yourself in when working internationally.
The final result is an unforgettable experience. It can also be an attractive resume entry that sets you apart.
Andrew Smith, 24, graduated from Ryerson in human resources earlier this year.
He spent the summer helping to build an internet café and teaching AIDS awareness to school children in Kenya.
“It was literally a life changing affair,” he said.
Smith worked for four months with women’s groups and youth organizations in Nairobi. He secured his internship through AIESEC, a global student organization that arranges international internships for students and grads.
“The only negative experience I had was [getting] my camera stolen,” he laughs.
Marco Arguelles, 23, another Ryerson grad, has been working with the Japanese exchange and teaching program (JET) since early August, teaching English to Japanese high school students.
“It was a bit intimidating at first,” Arguelles said. “Japan’s very different [from Canada].” He said working with JET and teaching English in Japanese high schools has been a phenomenal experience.
“One thing I can say is that the JET Program really takes care of their applicants,” said Arguelles.
Part of working internationally means getting used to the transition. Arguelles noted some aspects of Japanese everyday life took getting used to. “I pay my bills in a convenience store, which also acts as my post office and bank and grocery,” he said.
International work experience can have several benefits, says Linda McGrath, coordinator of Youth Employment Partnerships, who helps place 15-30 year olds in Toronto businesses.
“Youth who have worked outside of Canada often have innovative ideas they can share based on their international experience,” she said.
David Begg, Program Administration and Communication Officer of International Affairs, agrees.
“HR reps have been quite outspoken, (saying) if one (student) has international experience, that’s the one they’ll go after.”
He adds that students should do their own research when seeking to work outside of Canada.
“Students (shouldn’t) go with the assumption that they’re going to solve the world’s problems overseas,” he said.
Tammer Mikhail of AIESEC said the opportunities for work experience are endless.
“Whatever you’re studying, there will be some opportunity for you abroad,” he said.
AIESEC is an organization on campus that can help you learn more about international work. Others include the office of international affairs (OIA) and the career centre. Both provide information on placements and internships.
Funding is available to many students who chose to take part in international work opportunities. The government and Ryerson can offer to pay for part of your internship depending on your financial situation or where you go.
Programs funded by foreign governments, such as JET, often offer a good salary and are mostly geared toward recent graduates.
More than 46,000 graduates from 55 countries have participated in JET since its inception 20 years ago. There are also similar programs available in South Korea.
The value of international experience on a resume is all about how the worker chooses to advertise the opportunity.
“Human capital is as the candidate sells it,” says David Smith, vice-president of Mandrake, one of Canada’s largest placement firms.
“Selling [international work experience] as an ability to work with a diverse group of people can be an asset.”
For Andrew Smith, his time spent in Kenya has opened up new opportunities that he never even thought about.
He plans to apply the knowledge and experience he gained overseas in a teaching job in South Korea.
“I graduated in human resources,” Smith said. “But I realized after my internship in Nairobi I probably want to do something different.”
– With files from Alexandra Yeboah