Co-op students make a difference

May 12, 2005, vol. 33, no. 2
By Caroline Wakelin



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Each semester a handful of co-op students express interest in finding a co-op job that is less about making enough money to pay for next semester's tuition and more about making a difference in the world.

This semester, geography co-op student Jay Chou wanted to make a difference when he decided to leave the comforts of home to live in a refugee camp along the Burmese/Thai border and teach English to Burmese refugees.

Although Chou is teaching English, his lesson plans cover much more than the alphabet. About 300,000 Burmese refugees live in Thailand, India and Bangladesh, but education above Grade 9 is prohibited in most camps. For Chou, sharing a language that will enable his students to communicate and raise awareness about their plight is essential.

Subjects such as politics, history and human rights are frequently incorporated into his classes. He also provides information and educational opportunities that are not available to students in their own languages. Learning English also helps them access funding from abroad.

Teaching the simplest English phrases has meant a great deal to people with so little. For example, Chou recently received an email from a student who successfully relocated to the U.S.

The student wanted to let him know that as she was flying over Canada, she thought of how grateful she was to him for teaching the language she needed to make a difference in her life.

But as much as Chou has helped transform the lives of others he is also leaving his work term changed. This experience has made him realize how fortunate he is to be born in a country where he can choose whether to pursue an education or not.

It has also confirmed his desire to continue in international development.

He is currently considering a job with EarthRights International, a U.S.-based environment/human rights group.

For more information about international co-op visit: www.sfu.ca/coop/international.

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