Specialist: International Development Studies Co-op (Arts)
What factors contributed to you choosing your program(s)?
I chose the co-op specialist program of International Development Studies (IDS) at UTSC because it offers students the opportunity to complete an 8-12 month work placement overseas in a Global South country. For me, it is not even a rare chance in a lifetime but also a fantastic learning opportunity to combine theoretical knowledge in the books to actual actions and experience on the ground. I am currently completing my 11 month placement in India and I can testify that it is indeed an exciting, self-exploring, and extremely valuable learning experience. On the other hand, I chose to add a major in Economics after the completion of my first year in IDS. While many Arts students consider taking Economics courses in the mathematical approach (instead of theoretical) is a heavy burden, I see it as a great blessing to advance my logical thinking and quantitative data analysis skills, alongside with the qualitative, anthropological focus that the IDS community emphasizes. In my opinion, it is an important balance to find. To make the combination even more colourful, I also chose Media Studies as my minor since I have always been fascinated by the media theories how they shape our society and reality. It was not until later that I realised this minor helps me see IDS issues like "free knowledge and development", "information and technology for development", and "the portrait of an Global South image" with a totally new lens.
Can you describe your program(s)? What is it actually like?
(I am focusing on the IDS Specialist co-op program in this question) IDS co-op program is a really close-knit community, or more accurately, family. In the IDS co-op program, we are not only classmates who sit together in lectures, but also friends who help each other through the challenging placement preparation, and sisters and brothers who you Skype and share your struggles and laughters with when we are all in different places. Faculty members in the program are also extremely supportive and multi-disciplinary. That's a great thing about being an IDS student - no matter what your passion is, usually there will be a way to link it to development and most possibly there is a faculty member who can be your best friend and tutor on your journey to explore all possibilities. The curriculum of IDS co-op can be quite theoretical in the first two years in my opinion, but it will definitely enrich you with the necessary critical thinking skills, broad knowledge, and creativity that will eventually become part of you.
What tips/advice can you provide to students just starting or considering this program(s)?
(1) If you are an IDS (co-op) student, I strongly recommend that you explore your passion and field of interest in development as early as possible. The broadness of development studies can be a blessing but a weakness at the same time. It is best to find a direction that you are most interested in about development (ex. Environment and development, political conflicts in development, development history in Canada's First Nations, anything!). Thinking about this early also helped me plan out my courses in the four years well in advance so that I am not stressed about missing credits or delaying my graduation when there are three programs on my plate.
What will you do with your degree after graduation? (Future plans?)
With my interest in the media aspect of development and my current work placement that focuses on the internet and social issues in India, I think I will consider a post graduate degree in information, internet study, or something related. Many people think that graduating from a development studies program means working in an NGO or the government as a social worker for a lifetime, but that is far from the truth. There is so much to explore during your 5 (or 4) years in the program and every year people discover routes that no one has tried before. I will say, no matter if my future career or study will be development-related or not, this program has taught me many valuable lessons and skills that I can always apply to different fields.
What has your academic journey during your time been like as you progress toward graduation?
In first year I tried to complete most of my breadth requirement credits and it was through this year that I found my passion in Media Studies (which later became my minor) and also decided to take on Economics as my major outside of IDS co-op Specialist. For me, first year courses are generally not difficult even though the hours spent on classes may be more than what you will get in the following years. I also used my first year to try out many interesting student clubs and extracurricular activities. As an international student who came to Canada all alone, I found this really helpful in building my confidence in socializing with people. Second year curriculum is honestly not too hard either but some more efforts and time are definitely needed. I think the biggest trap is that after first year I thought that I knew how to juggle between courses and social life, but soon it was clear that nothing is as easy as it seems. This was also the year that I started taking up more leadership positions in my extracurricular activities and even a part time job. I learned it the hard way to say "No" to some extra responsibilities, as well as, to not compare myself with my peers to stress myself out - after all, we are all going towards different directions (this will become even more clear in third year). During the summers (in 1st and 2nd year) and in my second year I also took courses downtown for Economics and French. There are so many rumours that the courses offered in the downtown campus are much harder, which I'd say is just a myth. If you think it is hard, it would seem hard anyway. If you just try your best, there's not much difference in the mark you'll get or in the performance of students between the two campuses. In my third year classes became a lot smaller and the topic more narrow and practical. In my opinion, it is the best because you can focus on the topics you are passionate about and become close friends with the professors. Third year is also a crucial time for IDS co-op students to apply for jobs overseas. I was lucky enough to have set up my mind and built a network with my soon-to-be research supervisor quite early, so the application process was pretty smooth for me but the situation can differ from person to person. Right now, I am in my fourth year in India, I am not taking any courses but am preparing for my thesis in the fifth year. One year overseas sounds (and IS) fascinating but at the same time I learned that I have to be more self-motivated when there's no hard deadline or assignments to push me. At this moment, I am collecting data for my chosen research topic and will be writing my thesis on it once I come back for my fifth year.