By Namish Modi and Judy Lee
A landmark international student work/study exchange program is being lauded for its achievements as it celebrates a decade of successful experiences abroad.
The Canada-Europe (CANEU) Co-op program has been awarded the 2020 Canadian Bureau for International Excellence (CBIE) Panorama Award to recognize innovation and excellence in design, planning, implementation and management of high quality endeavours in international education with programming that focuses on academic, extracurricular, capacity-building and/or learning abroad. A partnership between Waterloo, the University of Victoria (UVic) and two European institutions, CANEU Co-op brings together students in Canada and Europe for memorable work-integrated learning and study abroad experiences as part of a hybrid exchange program. Canadian students travel to Europe for co-op work terms, while European students come to Canada for study terms.
“It’s wonderful to be acknowledged for this award and to recognize that the reason why these programs are so important is to not only bring institutions together, but to really set the foundation for exciting and powerful transformative experiences for our students,” says Norah McRae, associate provost of Co-operative and Experiential Education at Waterloo.
Students from Waterloo and UVic participate in this memorable experience with partner institutions FH Joanneum University of Applied Sciences in Austria and Baden-Wuerttemburg Co-operative State University in Germany.
It really should be about developing intercultural effectiveness and capabilities,” McRae says alluding to the benefits students can gain from the experience. “We have more of a global workforce and have a need for global citizens and global worldviews. We really need our students to have these capabilities and develop them, and that was one of the driving forces behind the project.”
The CBIE award ceremony was held virtually on November 18 which allowed founding partners to attend and celebrate regardless of location.
The founding partners of CANEU Co-op, which was launched in 2009, already celebrated virtually this past July, reflecting on their work together over the past decade.
“Everyone brought their willingness and innovative mindset to get this project working, rather than to be held back by any stumbling blocks or procedural issues. There was a real desire from everybody to make it happen,” says McRae. “The success of CANEU Co-op has been serving as a lighthouse project, opening the door for many innovative programs at Waterloo.”
In addition to providing students with valuable international experiences, there are three innovative concepts that helped this program win awards.
The first winning concept is the idea of “twinning” European students with Canadian students throughout the eight-month program. Together for both the academic and work portion of the experience, each student could help the other with integration issues, be they learning the Canadian academic system, or learning the ropes in a European company. Second is the agreement being exclusively “hybrid” in that the agreement allows Canadian students to travel to Europe for work terms exclusively, and European students would benefit solely from study terms in Canada. The last concept focused on incorporating Cultural Intelligence (CQ) research with the participating students to further understand the relationship between international experience and the development of cross-cultural competencies.
“The CANEU Co-op program was one of UVic’s first international co-op exchanges to combine the competency assessment framework with a hybrid-exchange model,” says Karima Ramji, manager of International Programs with UVic Co-op. “We built in this research dimension into the project right from the beginning. It forced us to be more thoughtful and reflective about the program. We were also able to publish a paper afterwards.” The students who complete international co-op terms are encouraged to reflect how their own cultural assumptions over time and work hard to adapt to other cultures in the workplace and beyond.
“This experience was a real eye-opener. I hadn’t left North America by the time I joined the CANEU Co-op program, so I had very limited interaction with the rest of the world,” says Ben McDonald, a Waterloo alumnus who participated in the first round of the program.
“The transfer of knowledge between my twinning buddy and myself was the beginning of building a better self-awareness and intercultural awareness of others. Looking back at this experience after 10 years, I think I hadn’t fully appreciated how much of an impact this program changed the personal and professional choices that I’ve made since.”
“In addition to the positive feedback from students, CANEU Co-op certainly has made a significant impact at an institutional level. CANEU Co-op paved the way for some additional success stories at Waterloo.” says Lisa ter Woort, one of four founders of CANEU Co-op and account manager, international, Cooperative Education (CE). “CANEU Co-op is still unique. It’s the only consortium agreement we have at Waterloo. CANEU Co-op was in itself such a great opportunity to work with people at very different levels within their institutions, and with such different institutions, and to see how, together, we grew such opportunities for students from all of these institutions.”
CANEU Co-op milestones
Over the last 10 years, 163 Waterloo co-op students have undertaken transformational work terms in Germany and Austria. Historically these jobs have been predominantly Engineering focused, with recent successful efforts to expand work opportunities for students from other Waterloo faculties, with a focus on business.
“Looking back, so much has been achieved in 10 years! The students, supervisors, the teams, the companies—everyone who has contributed to this program is a champion,” ter Woort adds. “Cheers to all that we achieved collectively, the friendships that were formed, and a wonderful 10 years of working together across borders. And cheers to the next 10 years.”
With such continued goodwill, CANEU Co-op can look forward to providing excellent international opportunities for the students of this dynamic institutional consortium for years to come.