Teaching in Asia new rite of passage

March 22, 2006, vol. 35, no. 6

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“Teaching in Asia is the new backpacking around Europe,” says Laura Buchanan, a program assistant with international co-op.

It's no longer the university students' rite of passage to strap on a heavy backpack and sweat their way around Europe for a few months after graduation, she says. Instead, many are opting to pack their suits and ties and go to Asia.

When criminology student Martin Kiszka accepted an English language teaching co-op position with Peppy Kids Club in Nagoya, Japan three years ago, he planned on staying one year, but ended up extending his stay two more years beyond his co-op term so that he could further explore the culture. He has just returned to his studies at SFU.

Buchanan says that more SFU students are leaving behind the comforts of their familiar lives for the unknown than ever before. Last year, there were 139 international co-op placements in 22 countries. She expects that an even larger number of students will take up international co-op positions this year.
“With today's globalized workworld, it's not only becoming more common, it's almost expected that you have some level of international experience on your resume,” she says.

While Kiszka initially found himself in the midst of a perplexing culture, he quickly acclimatized. He recalls the awe he felt when he first confronted the Japanese transit system. He was overwhelmed by the violent efficiency of the Japanese as they boarded crowded trains. “What do we do? How do we do it? How does everyone else seem to know what's going on?” He was left immobile at first but, he says, “one of the great things about Japan is that if you stand there looking confused, someone is guaranteed to help you.”
The first three months of Kiszka's co-op term passed smoothly, he says, but as life in a small town became mundane and the kids started acting out more in class, he found new challenges, which he overcame by fostering new ties in the community and learning new teaching strategies.

Kiszka's parents kept wondering when he would finish his degree. His reply, he says, was “later, later.” One year wasn't enough, he says, to experience everything that Japan had to offer. What's more, he found he enjoyed teaching and wanted to become more proficient in it.

It's a common refrain, says Buchanan. “A lot of university students fail to take advantage of the fact that they do have time,” she says. “Many want to get in and across that convocation stage with a degree in hand as quickly as possible.”

To join co-op, visit www.sfu.ca/coop/. For more information about international co-op visit www.sfu.ca/coop/international/.

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