Student stories

Work term with the Ministry of Education in Malaysia gives sociology student a new perspective

Noelle Skillings

Students Volunteer Foundation, Ministry of Education Malaysia

I am a fifth year co-op sociology undergrad student from Uvic. I was born and raised here in Victoria. I decided to enter the co-op program to enhance my degree and get a taste of the working world while hoping to discover what trajectory my degree and career can take me.

What led you to your co-op work term in Malaysia?

During my second work term, I applied for an international co-op located in Malaysia with the Students Volunteer Foundation (YSS), Ministry of Education Malaysia. I decided to apply for international co-op because of my interest and curiosity of immersion into a new culture, in the adventure of travel, and my prediction that the lesson and expertise drawn from working abroad would be of high valuable to my development. 

What work did you do with the Students Volunteer Foundation in Malaysia?

Within the intern role at the organization, there was ample opportunity for hands-on learning, both in and out of the office. During my four months internship, I had the opportunity to travel across Malaysia for events such as the UNESCO booth exhibition, a week long program and retreat which I assisted in organizing, pre-mission training public speaking roles, and two Indigenous village trips for UN International Volunteers day and for a YSS Volunteer Weekend where I was privileged to live with a host family at the Chief’s home with two wives and children. Taking advantage of the array of hands-on experiences within a new cultural environment was one of my favourite aspects of the position.

How did you apply your studies in the workplace?

This international co-op required me to directly draw upon my skills learned in sociology qualitative and quantitative research methodologies in writing professional reports and analyzing and interpreting data sets. However, beyond my sociology education, this experience taught me how to adapt to the writing styles of the work environment to a wide range of audiences, not always academically inclined. 

What skills did you develop during your work term?

While I developed professional skills in research, written communication and public speaking throughout my co-op, the skill set that by far trumps all others is that of the cultural competencies gained. Moving forward in any personal or professional experience, I now hold the confidence in my ability to adapt and thrive within a new culture and workplace environment that was previously overwhelming and intimidating. Entering a new continent, a new culture, and new workplace with often contrary customs and norms and successfully adapting to its challenges, is one of the most gratifying and rewarding aspects of an international co-op experience.

What was your favourite part of your work term?

One of the biggest achievements from myself and likely the entire team at YSS during my stay was the successful execution of our annual Volunteer Leadership Development Program (VLDP) and Alumni Strategic Retreat (ASR) December 12th-17th 2018. This was a large-scale program where we flew in 100 youth volunteer leaders from across 10 South East Asian countries plus China as well as 100 local Malaysians. Through last minute planning, all hands-on deck preparation and sleepless nights, we managed to book the venues, accommodation, catering, speakers, attendees, activities and everything to pull off an unforgettable event. This experience showcased to me the potential that exemplary teamwork and unwavering dedication can have when implementing your goals. 

What have your learned through your co-op experiences?

You can take away lessons learned and realize more of what you want or do not want out of your future career. In my experience, I learned that I want an interactive, versatile and hands-on position. Adding co-op to your degree may extend your bachelors but in the end it reveals to you what you what career path you want to take, actually expediting your career search process. 

What advice do you have for students thinking about an international co-op?

I would certainly recommend international co-op to anyone looking for a challenge and personal/professional growth. If looking into YSS specifically, research the culture and lifestyle there and keep in mind the long working hours of the organization. If you are ready to commit to work then I would suggest checking out this co-op option.

When considering an international co-op, first research the organization you are planning on joining and ensure it’s a right fit for you- otherwise it is a long journey to take! I also recommend reading up on the culture and lifestyle to decrease your culture shock when you arrive. Finally, I would recommend just taking the leap and going for it! When you are comfortable where you are- it’s time to change it up.

What was the best part of your experience?

International co-op has impacted not only my professional self but my personal growth as well. This new work experience compounded by a new country, people, culture, and language develops your sense of self and confidence on an immense scale. The lessons learned from this international co-op are unparalleled to any experience you may find at home. 

Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee Scholarships program

Noelle's work term was made possible by the Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee Scholarships program (QES), a collaborative initiative led by the Rideau Hall Foundation, Universities Canada and the Community Foundations of Canada, made possible thanks to contributions from the Government of Canada, provincial governments, the International Development Research Centre (IDRC), Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC), universities, and a wide range of private sector donors. 


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