When I entered the IDS program in my first year, all I could think about was co-op. It's what draws most students to the IDS program at UTSC, and the moment we all dream about and yearn for. 3 years of build up is excruciating, and you can't wait until the day you finally receive your acceptance letter, informing you of where you'll be going and what you'll be doing on placement. But if you had told me that I'd be spending my placement in Vietnam with WUSC for 8 months, I never would have believed you. But on July 11th, I boarded a plane to Hanoi, Vietnam to begin my placement as a Tourism Sector Research and Analysis Officer and a Soft Skills Development Intern. During the research portion of my placement I captured information, data, market analyses, and interviews about the tourism industry in Vietnam, and the ways in which women and youth are involved in the industry. I had the opportunity to interview local NGOs focusing on training disadvantaged youth to work within the tourism sector, major hotels, and important government offices such as the Vietnamese National administration on Tourism. The second part of my mandate was to work with Vietnamese youth to build their soft skills in order to increase their employability. I had the opportunity to develop and facilitate a number of workshops with young Vietnamese students, and support the initiatives of my fellow WUSCers, as well as network and build partnerships with local youth driven NGOs.
By the end of my 8 months in Vietnam, I had gained enough memories, experiences, opportunities and skills to last me a lifetime. Conducting research for WUSC helped immensely with my own thesis research, and facilitating interviews is now a breeze for me. Working with such a diverse group of individuals from youth to government officials has given me the skills to decode and navigate situations of intercultural communication, and has allowed me to build and maintain professional and personal networks. But placement gives you much more than academic and workplace skills. The biggest skill I gained from placement was being able, and willing, to push myself far outside of my comfort zone and to accept and embrace the "uncomfortableness" I would initially feel. Just because things feel different, doesn't mean that they are necessarily bad. Embracing the quirky, confusing and at times nonsensical aspects of your life abroad is the key to having a successful placement. My advice to those embarking on their own placements is to be flexible and open minded - placement is what you make of it, and your time abroad will be an experience you'll never forget so take advantage of every opportunity it gives you.