SFU students find success working abroad

Photo courtesy of SFU

In the past 12 years, SFU has landed over 950 students international placements as part of the co-op program.

What’s the appeal, and what does the process of leaving SFU to find greener pastures involve? The Peak talked to International Co-op Coordinator Amy Lee to find out.

Lee explained that in order to complete an international work term, students must first be accepted into a “home” co-op program such as Arts Co-op or Business Co-op.

Next, a student can find a position through one of three ways: they can use Symplicity, the database used by all co-op programs, pursue a self-directed search, or look at one of SFU’s international partnerships such as TALK (Teach and Learn in Korea).

“Students [. . .] are coming home with — and I kid you not — $30,000 net after a work term.”

Amy Lee,

International Co-op Coordinator,
SFU Beedie School of Business

Since not all jobs cover relocation costs, students can look to SFU financial aid, external donors, and remuneration from the employer for funding support.

According to Lee, there is also a “big discrepancy” between students in terms of the money they’ll make in an international placement. Lee explained that there are “engineering students and computer science students who are coming home with — and I kid you not — $30,000 net after a work term.”

She further elaborated, “And then we have students on the other end of the scale and after four months they are in a minus situation and that’s where the [financial] awards kick in.”

Lee remarked that the international co-op program “is a good chance to test the waters” for students looking to work abroad after graduation. She noted examples of an aspiring medical student who learned she didn’t like being around sick people, and a science student who discovered a passion for teaching.

Lee said that because they are being pushed out of their comfort zone by the program, “students that weren’t sure of themselves are definitely coming back more confident.”

Erik Bainbridge is one such student who found success with international co-ops. He has completed four terms in three different positions, beginning with his first position in 2013 as an English teacher in the Shandong province in Northeastern China.

“I’m a political science major, so teaching English is not very relevant to that, necessarily,” said Bainbridge. Still, he jumped at the opportunity partly because of a desire to travel.

For his next experience, he worked in Hong Kong doing event management. Bainbridge noted that his new work environment in Hong Kong was “much faster-paced, very professional, [involved] working with tons of giant multinational firms, meeting people, and networking.”

This networking led Erik to his final co-op position working as a trade intern for the Canadian government in a consulate in Chongqing, a position he had wanted for a “number of years.”

However, Bainbridge’s road to success in co-op wasn’t easy. When he applied, he had too many credits and was unsure if he would get in. While only two semesters away from graduating, he opted to take an additional four semesters to complete the co-op program.

Now, Bainbridge is returning to the classroom and sees that most of his friends are already off to pursue graduate education, including law school. Despite feeling left behind, he has no regrets.

“Suddenly I find myself at school with people I didn’t know before, but I don’t regret it. I think in the long run it’s something that’s going to pay off,” explained Bainbridge.

He added that “being able to do your co-op while experiencing a completely different culture and learning how to communicate and operate within that culture was really beneficial for me.”

On facing the job market after he graduates in two semesters, Bainbridge remarked, “I feel a lot more prepared and confident.”