The International Experience Melting Pot

The International Experience Melting Pot

By: Jiwon Lee | English Language Instructor
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Jiwon Lee is an English student who did her co-op in Korea, where she taught English to school children. She shares what it's like to do a co-op on the other side of the world!

Living internationally is something university students dream about. Just think – how amazing would it be to live in a country half-way around the world? How amazing would it be to delve into a foreign culture, make new friends – and most importantly – to gain work experience on an international level? From Chile, to Germany, to Japan, the Co-op program offers so many opportunities around the world for us to do just that, and more. For myself, I was lucky to be employed by the TaLK program: Teach and Learn in Korea.

The TaLK program is pretty unique. Under the sponsorship of the South Korean government, the program was created to cultivate English education in rural South Korea – areas in which it’s unlikely people have ever met a fluent English speaker before, let alone a foreigner. Before I began working, I didn’t know what to expect. Four months ago, I was scouring the internet for the smallest details about life abroad. What was the culture like? The weather? The people? The minute I learned of my acceptance into the program I hastily searched online for pictures of where I was going to live, and I was filled with the mix of trepidation and excitement as the page revealed images of tidal flats and lotus fields. I had so many scenarios running through my mind about what I’d do, who I’d meet, what professional impacts I could make, and if I would change. 

I never expected to fall in love with my job. I never imagined I would feel at home in a small town in Korea, located over 8,000 kilometres from Vancouver. But, with four months of retrospect, both of these things have come true.

This is because an international Co-op provides you with the chance to experience tremendous personal and professional growth. If you make the effort in and outside of work, you can build up a foundation of invaluable skills. You will learn to adapt quickly to new situations, as foreign and unnatural as you may feel, because 24/7 you’re constantly learning and living in a new environment. And you will learn to speak confidently to people who may or may not fully understand you, from your co-workers to the cashier at the local market.

There will be days where this might seem daunting – days that you’re struck with homesickness and an intense craving for food that you can only get back home. On these days, living and working abroad can feel overwhelming. After all, doing an international Co-op means entering a melting pot of new experiences, and sometimes that pot may be filled a little too close to the brim.

But in the end, it’s worth it. You will create unforgettable memories during your work term – some of which will be made outside of work hours, during the weekends when you can venture off to create your own adventures. International Co-op can be unbelievably rewarding, and it’s up to you to take advantage of the opportunity.

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Posted on January 08, 2015