When and where did you work abroad? What was your position?
While I was a student at the University of Waterloo, I undertook a four-month work term as a Student Life Assistant at Leysin American School in Switzerland. I acted as a mentor to approximately 30 high school students, and assisted with recreational programs. As part of these programs I took on the role of ski instructor, and also helped plan large-scale school events.
What made you want to work abroad?
Several things. Firstly, I wanted to gain more from my work term than what I would gain by completing one in my hometown. Secondly, I wanted to travel to Europe – I wanted to visit somewhere I had never visited and do something I’d never done. Thirdly, had I not worked, I would not have been able to afford traveling to Europe. This job paid for my travels, so it was perfect!
How long did it take you to find a job and what job-search strategies did you use? Did you work in your field of interest?
Through the University of Waterloo, I used the site WaterlooWorks (formerly JobMine), which all the co-op students have access to. It just so happened that the job was posted, and they were accepting applicants with EU passports. I’m studying recreation and business, so this job seemed to fit with my field of interest. I’d get to work in the outdoors, support students, and motivate them to partake in recreational activities around the school. I also saw how much people are willing to pay to participate in recreational activities during high school!
What was the biggest surprise about your work experience abroad?
The biggest surprise about my work experience was the price of airfare. The flights between countries were so cheap! I couldn’t believe how I could spend so little money traveling within Europe, when it costs so much money just to get around within North America!
What was the biggest challenge in adapting to your international work environment?
One of the challenges within my workplace was that my colleagues were also the people I lived with. It was challenging to have my “colleague lenses” on, rather than my “friendship lenses.” I found it hard to differentiate sometimes because we all spent too much time together. We got to be so close that sometimes it was hard to be completely professional while working.
What did you miss most about home?
One of the things I missed most about my home was the ease of doing things. I was in a small town in Switzerland, rather than a big city. At home, it is easy for me to walk no more than thirty minutes and get anything I want. In Leysin, I had to walk more than thirty minutes just to get to the nearest grocery store, and if I wanted to buy anything more I had to go to the next town, more than an hour away by car.
Do you have any final thoughts on your experience?
Being in the heart of Europe, traveling to surrounding countries was easy and inexpensive. I was on co-op with nine other students, and we traveled to many cities in surrounding countries including London, Amsterdam and Berlin. Each country gave me a different perspective. My work term also allowed me to develop an understanding of the way different cultures participate in recreational activities. I can now apply these experiences to my education here at home. Also, I am aiming to start my own fitness company upon graduation, and I now know how I must formulate a program to appeal to teenagers! This experience was very rewarding because I was able to help students build self-esteem while experiencing a different part of the world. It has inspired me to help change people’s lives through recreation.
What is your number one tip for anyone hoping to follow in your footsteps by working abroad?
My top tip to anyone who might plan to follow in my footsteps, or do something similar, is to travel to other places while you’re abroad! I know it can be a bit pricey, but it is worth every penny! These experiences are for ones that you’ll remember for the rest of your life, and are some of the best moments you’ll ever have. Make friends, work, travel, and enjoy!
What are your future plans for going abroad and for your career?
An international work term is one of the best things that I have ever done with my life, and my education. I know I want to travel more, and see the rest of the world. For me, education is a lifelong process, and this is only the beginning. I am already planning an international exchange to the University of Wollongong in New South Wales, Australia! This will surely give me even more of an understanding of how different cultures approach recreation – and it will help me to open my own fitness-related business!
It sounds like Rebecca had an amazing time in Switzerland, working and learning about the local approach to recreation. Rebecca combined travel and work in order to finance her travels, which is something more students should consider. Even if you can’t afford to go abroad on a volunteer or co-op program, consider finding your own source of income by planning a working vacation. You’ll have the satisfaction of knowing that you took matters into your own hands and built an experience where others may have given up. Rebecca is wisely adding a career-boosting focus to each of her international adventures. By learning about the professional culture of each country she visits, she’s greatly increasing the chances of finding international work and building an international career. Here are some resources for those of you interested in going abroad to work while experiencing a foreign culture. (Note: You must log in to MyWorldAbroad to access the links below.)
- Read How to Find a Working Vacation Job Before You Go Abroad to get the basics about going abroad without spending a fortune.
- Find out how you can teach English abroad to finance your overseas travel while building career experience with Teaching English As a Stepping Stone to Your International Career
- And for anyone who, like Rebecca, has an interest in recreational activities, consider the organization Right to Play International (RTP), which assists children in developing nations with confidence-building recreational activities.