The co-op work term takes place in the fourth year of a five-year program. During the first three years, students prepare for the experience by learning theories of international development and completing courses that provide a foundation in practical skills, such as project management and research. There is a specific co-op preparation course that focuses on résumé and cover letter writing, as well as a full-year course that prepares students specifically for working internationally.
The internationally focused course centres on cross-cultural training through guest speakers, budgeting strategies, and self-care guidance so students have adequate supports in place before they leave. This course also includes interaction with fifth-year students who have recently returned from their work term.
The experience is an 8-12 month co-op work term with an organization involved in international development. Students apply and interview for jobs that interest them in a typical job application process. The experiences are very different depending on the location, partner need, and student skillset. Students also spend 20% of their time conducting research they will complete upon returning to campus for their final year of study. All students are assigned a faculty supervisor who supports them during this process.
Students submit a progress report to the Program Coordinator every two months. There is also a mid-term and final report provided by the student, and an evaluation of the student provided by their supervisor.
Students are provided reflective resources when they return to Canada. Once back on campus, there are structured debrief sessions focused on two key areas: reflecting on the co-op work experience and reflecting on the cultural experience. This provides a space for students to be supported as they integrate back into Canadian life. These activities allow students to reflect on their work and challenges they faced, changes to their perspectives on international development work, and how to move forward considering a career in this field.
Key success factors
- We intentionally support students through the experience with pre-departure training and awareness, 24/7 access to the safety abroad office, coaching for placement supervisors on how to support students in a new environment, and additional support from the IDS program office through check-ins. Students can confidently embark on this experience knowing the have access to these resources.
- We develop relationships with partners so they create meaningful work opportunities, support student development, and return to the program annually.
- Students complete significant reflection post-experience to integrate their learning on a professional and personal level.
- The program includes content regarding the ethics of professionalism in international development work and cultural sensitivity, which is designed to help students recognize they are working in a new context with complex history.
- The length of the experience allows students fully immerse themselves in the culture and take on large, meaningful projects from start to finish.
- There are academic requirements to help better prepare students for working internationally, such as taking a language course. The preparation course also integrates unique assignments to help students prepare for culture shock. For example, students might reflect on taking periods of time away from the internet and devices, as they may not be available in places where students are working.
- While on the placement, students complete research used for their thesis or major research paper in the final year of study.
- The experience is a co-op work placement, rather then a volunteer experience. Students are treated as professionals and apply knowledge from their program.
- The placements are typically paid through a living allowance or stipend. Although the payment is not intended for students to make money, this makes the placement more accessible for students.
- The key challenges of this program are related to the cross-cultural aspects, which adds a level of complexity to the process.
- It can be difficult to develop clear, mutually beneficial partnerships with placement organizations. Phone and email are predominantly used because of the distance.
- There's a geographical challenge associated with having students around the world. Although every effort is made to keep students safe, the risks are higher.