An international co-op education experience – University of Victoria
Twenty-four-year-old Andrew Fortune knows first-hand that when you’re in a new place-be it for studies in a new country or an overseas work term-it’s up to you to make the most of your experience. “The experience doesn’t just come to you.”
Andrew, a third year Geography and Environmental Studies student at the University of Victoria, had never heard about UVic’s co-op education program. Since seeing an advertisement on campus in his third year, he has spent two terms working as a co-op student in British Columbia and one working in New Delhi, India.
Though he grew up in Toronto, Andrew chose to study at UVic because of its high-quality Environmental Studies program. “It was the city that attracted me first,” he says, “but the learning potential at UVic, especially in its setting, was the final decision maker.”
His Environmental Studies topics include a mix of economic, political, social and physical trends in human interaction. His first two co-op terms allowed him to put his skills to use while working as an Assistant Forester with the British Columbia Ministry of Forestry and Range.
But in August 2008 he applied for a co-op position that would not only use his skills but expand on them as well.
He applied as a researcher for Participatory Research in Asia, an organisation working out of New Delhi, India, and was hired on to start his term the following month.
When asked what it was like to apply for a position on the other side of the world and then find himself working there within a matter of weeks, he says it was “probably the most stressful period in my life.” But ultimately he’s pleased with the results.
His position as a researcher for PRIA gave Andrew the opportunity to conduct field research in the northern Indian states of Himachal, Harayana, and Rajasthan. He held day-long discussion forums with women leaders and political officials gathering information on the education of girls, birth and death registration, and women’s empowerment. He even appeared on the front page of a local newspaper for his involvement.
While learning the ropes and conducting his research, he also had to deal with the cultural adjustments that everyone goes through when living in a new country. ÒThe traditions, architecture, culture, smells, tastes were all new,Ó he says, but his organisation helped him grow accustomed to his surroundings.
Andrew’s experience in India has taught him that there should “always be a human face behind academia and professional relationships.” The exposure he gained through the UVic International Co-op program has helped shape him into a more global citizen.
He recommends that “people who are ready to jump out of one pattern of life into a whole new outlook should take the challenge” and apply for an international co-op term.
Andrew plans to complete one more co-op term before graduating. With his new skills as an international researcher and the support of the UVic co-op education program, he’ll be able to pick and choose where he’d like to go next. The world is at his fingertips!