Waterloo’s Powering Change program impacts youth in the Dominican Republic

Tuesday, October 31, 2023

Children playing chess and other board games

by: Krista Henry (she/her)

Co-op student on an international work term supports community-focused education

Sofiya (Sonya) Romantsov never dreamed she would have the opportunity to work abroad.

However, through the Waterloo Powering Change program, the Canadian-Ukrainian co-op student unlocked her passion for international development while working in the Dominican Republic.

A Waterloo Psychology co-op student, Romantsov (she/her) is the first recipient of Powering Change which is funded by Global Skills Opportunity (GSO).

Powering Change was founded in November 2021 and provides $10,000 in funding for in-person international work-integrated learning experiences.

Sofiya (Sonya) RomanstovSofiya (Sonya) Romantsov, Psychology co-op student 

In spring 2022, Romantsov worked as a teaching assistant and library workshop leader for the Esperanza Project in the town of Cabrera. The Esperanza Project is a non-profit organization that works with children and teens to offer affordable, sometimes free, English-based classes and workshops.

Children playing a game outside

“I was extremely passionate about making the most of the experience. I began assisting with teaching children in the age groups from five up to 17,” says Sofiya.

“For the second half of the term, I was able to do more self-directed work, creating STEM-based library workshops.”

During her co-op experience, the co-op student created targeted yet educational games for children.

Her responsibilities included planning activities like engineering bridges with blocks and toys as well as tutoring students in mathematics.


“It was amazing working with smaller groups of kids and seeing their individual progress. They were eager to learn and very curious,” says Romantsov. 

Developing cultural competency

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It was great learning about the different cultures and perspectives. I would not have been able to afford to go abroad for an unpaid internship without Powering Change. Now, I’m very interested in doing more work around the world and possibly exploring international development.


- Sofiya (Sonya) Romantsov, Psychology co-op student 

For Romantsov, working in the Dominican Republic was completely out of her comfort zone. Throughout the experience, she gained self-confidence and valuable skills. “I was around people that spoke several different languages each, Spanish and French creoles, often code-switching between the two mid-sentence. I became competent in navigating that world,” she says. Based on her own experience, Romantsov now encourages others to explore a program like Powering Change.

Children playing chess and other board games

Romantsov recently represented Waterloo at the Colleges and Institutes Canada (CICan) on the Hill conference and GSO reception on Parliament Hill in Ottawa. During the conference, she met co-op students from other universities who worked abroad as well as parliamentarians and senior federal officials. The conference highlights perspectives on how institutions can support Canadian students to gain global skills.

Powering sustainable development

A goal of the Powering Change initiative is to help students become agents of change and to advance the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (UN SDGs). “Sonya is truly a success story,” says Shabnam Ivković, director of international strategic initiatives in Waterloo’s Co-operative and Experiential Education (CEE) unit.

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It is delightful to see that through her experience with the Esperanza Project, she was able to effect tangible change. Her work in advancing SDG Goal 4, to ensure inclusive and equitable quality education, is a small step with big impact.


- Shabnam Ivković, director of international strategic initiatives, CEE 

Powering Change aims to offer 65+ international WIL experiences in more than 20 non-traditional international locations. These experiences are available to Canadian citizens or permanent residents who are Indigenous, have accessibility needs or face income barriers.