By Benjamin Hosking
In the 2018-2019 academic year, 28 Khoury College students went abroad for co-op: from Canada and Germany to Ghana and Japan. An interest in the global co-op experience has been growing – in 2014-2015, only two Khoury students went on co-ops outside of the United States. We spoke with five of this year’s co-ops, for whom working on co-op outside the United States led to perspective-changing experiences, catalytic growth, and new opportunities in high-tech and tech-enabled companies.
Nii Aki Boi-Doku (BSCS ’19) found his co-ops in two different countries – Canada and Ghana. In Ottawa, Canada, he worked at Shopify, an ecommerce platform. He says, “At Shopify, interns are expected to contribute significantly to their teams and products, almost as much as full-time employees do. As a user of Shopify myself, I was able to see and use the contributions that I was making to the product, creating an unrivaled feeling of growth and accomplishment.” While living in Ottawa, he bonded with the interns at the company, traveling to Montreal for a weekend to explore the city.
Many of the students on global co-ops found help from Aileen Kent Yates, assistant director of employer relations and co-op faculty for Khoury College. Students’ personal and professional transformations encourage her. She recalls meeting with a student who came back from abroad on their second co-op – “they used to be very shy but the change since returning from co-op is very noticeable. This student is much more outgoing and open to participating on co-op and college panels.” Kent Yates adds, “The experience of having to manage everything on their own while in another country, along with living and working in a new part of the world with a distinctive culture, promotes both personal and professional growth.”
This was the experience for William Becker (BSCS ’19), who went on co-op in Japan for software development company TableCheck. He remarks, “I not only learned a slew of hard skills from this co-op, but I was able to grow leaps and bounds in my social skills, handling my life by myself, and taking more advantage of the things around me in a proactive manner.” Becker acknowledges Kent-Yates for her assistance. “She helped me reach out to a key alumnus, whose connections in Japan eventually led me to the position that I ended up taking.”
William Becker, far right, and his co-op colleagues
Travel opportunities are part of the attraction of global co-ops. Julien Cherry (BSCS ’20) explored the region surrounding Germany, where he worked for ProGlove in Munich. He says, “My favorite trip was to Portugal and Morocco with one of my roommates and another intern. I recall seeing the Strait of Gibraltar as we flew from Lisbon to Fez—Europe on one side and Africa on the other.”
Boi-Doku sought to learn the unique local culture on his second global co-op, this one in Ghana with Ecobank International. “I had to understand how to maneuver the socio-cultural norms of Ghana. A quintessential example being communicating with elders in light of age and status hierarchies. This is important because I intend to have an entrepreneurial career in Ghana.”
Will Slotterback (BSCS ‘19) experienced growing responsibility at his workplace, the Danish customer service software company Zendesk. He says, “I was given the opportunity to manage development of a new feature. I set up meetings to gather requirements, developed, tested, and refined several prototypes, and eventually gave a company-wide demo. It was awesome how much everyone supported me along the way, and I learned a ton about the whole software lifecycle.”
Many co-ops often see their projects evolving and becoming integral to the company’s work. Slotterback continues, “Now, that feature is being worked into a major upgrade for part of the Help Center product, so it’s great to see that all my effort actually benefited Zendesk.” Slotterback enjoyed living in the middle of Copenhagen with Danish roommates. “They were graduate students whom I still stay in touch with. Having them around really helped with finding friends in a new place.”
Sometimes the combination of culture and company has a profound effect on a student. Suzanne Becker (BSCS ’20) traveled to Finland for her co-op at Slurp, a company which distributes and delivers coffee from local grocers in Finland to consumers’ homes. She appreciates the Finnish work environment. She says, “The culture they’ve created in the office is so conducive to innovation and sharing ideas and improving and being happy at work and liking your job and liking the people you work with.” Like Boi-Doku with Ghana, Becker is considering continuing her career in Finland after graduation.
Suzanne Becker, third from left, and her co-op colleagues
As Kent Yates puts it, “After contributing and being part of a workplace team outside of the United States, and having been fully immersed in a new culture, students develop a new found independence. They come back to Northeastern with a fresh understanding and appreciation of the world.”