Wednesday, 30 May 2012

How Obnoxious Are You When Travelling?

Travelling is great.  I can’t imagine why some people don’t like it but the chance to go somewhere new and experience something different from the mundane existence of everyday life is exciting and honestly I don’t do enough of it.

However, with all those foreign places come foreign cultures and a host of behaviours to avoid.  Other than the cultural woes that might lands you in trouble like exposing the bottom of your feet in Thailand, there are some other more common practices that tourists have that earns them the label of being obnoxious. 

1.       The “Inappropriate Fashionista”
It may be okay where you are from to walk around in short shorts with your underwear popping out at the waist and a shirt that has less fabric involved than a handkerchief but it might not be at your destination.  The inappropriate fashionista doesn’t care though and will continue to dress however they desire no matter how many jaws drop for a less than appreciative reason. A word of advice to the wise: dress to blend in, not to stand out when travelling abroad.

2.       The “Snap Happy Photographer”
Nothing irks the locals more (or even other tourists for that matter) than the snap happy photographer that takes pictures of literally everything from the cab driver parked on the side of the road to the watermelon fruit basket in the buffet line.  This tourist can easily be identified by the way they walk in a zig-zagging line, eye through the lens, running into walls.  You know exactly what I am talking about whether you’ve been stuck walking behind this person or you are this person.  I have nothing against photographers who are trying to capture memorable moments and breath taking landscapes but that watermelon fruit basket isn’t really that amazing and the rest of the buffet line will appreciate you moving forwards.

3.       The “Traffic-Accident-Waiting-to-Happen”
Traffic laws don’t seem to apply to this type of tourist.  Traffic laws are more like suggestions anyways right?  Crossing at a cross walk and waiting for the light to change are unnecessary to them.  And heaven forbid they actually rent a car because staying in the right lane is a silly rule as is avoiding cyclists and yielding to pedestrians.  Just because you are a tourist, and even if you are only a pedestrian at that, doesn’t mean that you should not educate yourself on the traffic laws of the country you are in and you should definitely obey them in order to avoid coming into contact with a traffic cop or worse, someone’s front bumper.

4.       The “Friend”
This person is everyone’s friend or at least thinks that everyone wants to be their friend and so they are constantly introducing themselves, handing out their e-mail, asking to exchange contact information and otherwise becoming BFF with everyone they meet.  You may meet someone who you really connect with and are genuinely interested in being long term friends with but a good number of the people you meet are only smiling and nodding politely until you go away and have no intention becoming your pen pal.

5.       “Oblivious”
You just flown half way around the world and landed in a completely different country with different traditions, religions, cultures and mannerisms but none of that matters because you feel right at home.  Everyone is so friendly and polite, stepping out of your way and being 100% accommodating.  There is no need for you to even try to learn the language or the customs because, you are a tourist and they don’t mind.  In fact they are quite happy to have you around so that they can learn about your culture and your mannerisms.  If they didn’t, they wouldn’t have stayed home… right?  People do mind that you are rude and are oblivious and/or indifferent of their customs.  Don’t be the “oblivious” tourist. 

6.       The “Back-Home Reminiscer”
“Back home in my country, we eat with a fork and a spoon, only mow the lawn on Saturdays and wash our camels in the driveway because it is illegal to wash them in the bath tub.”  All I have to say to this type of tourist is that we are not in your country and therefore unless I ask, I don’t want to hear you compare it to the place we are currently in.  The “back-home reminiscer” has a bit of a superiority complex and loves to talk about their home.  It is great that they love home so much but with all that talking and comparing that they are doing, they are missing out on the rich heritage that is right in front of them.

7.       The “Mono-linguists”
Everyone speaks English right?  Therefore I should not have to make any attempt to try and learn the local language.  If I speak loudly enough with flamboyant hand gestures, they will understand eventually.  “Mono-linguists” are the type of tourists that buy a phrase book before travelling and then use it as a coaster instead of an important resource.  Yes, learning a new language can be difficult, but it is even more difficult trying to find your way back to your hotel if you can’t even ask for simple directions.

Do you fall under any of these obnoxious tourist types?  I’ll admit, I might be guilty of one or two on the rare occasion and I always feel bad after realizing it since having worked in a town that attracts a lot of tourist, I’ve been on the other side plenty of times myself a.k.a. irritated local.  Pass this list on to someone you know who might be guilt of one of these travelling crimes and save another local somewhere else in the world the headache and your friend the label of obnoxious tourist.

Tuesday, 22 May 2012

Culture Shock Déjà-vu

Culture Shock Déjà-vu

You were expecting this.  The sudden onslaught of a new culture as you step out of the airport thousands of miles and an ocean away from home. 

The people are different.  The food is different.  The houses are different.  And everyone’s behaviour just seems weird to you.  You feel alone and out of place. 

This is called culture shock and it is quite normal actually when people travel to foreign places with cultures that are vastly different from their own.  For example, Canadians travelling to the United States don’t experience a strong level of culture shock.  Other than having to get over the fact that ice tea does not come already sweetened (an issue I have experienced and that still irritates me to this day), there isn’t much difference and most misunderstandings are small and irrelevant.  Compare that to travelling from Canada to Thailand, however, and my unsweetened ice tea fiasco pales in comparison. 

Most travellers are aware of this phenomenon and prepare for it accordingly.  A little bit of research beforehand can do wonders in preparing a person for the sudden change in culture; helping them adjust more easily so that the shock wears off sooner rather than later.  The same is true for students participating in internships or exchange programs for extended periods of time.  They might miss their families back in their native country but soon enough they feel quite at home conversing with the locals, bartering with the street vendors and immersing themselves in culture.

And then they go home and it is like déjà-vu.

The culture shock hits them again but this time it is their own culture.  One would think that going home would be easy.  After all, home is familiar.  The culture and the people there have been with you throughout your entire life. 

Yet, all of a sudden the people are different.  The food is different.  The houses are different.  And everyone’s behaviour just seems weird to you. You feel alone and out of place.

I had a friend who travelled to Africa for a year to teach English.  I love her to death, but when she came back, there were a few habits we had to break her of before taking her out in public.  She had completely adapted to the local way of life down in Africa and it took her a little while to become “Canadian” again.

As “off” as she seemed to us though, I can only imagine how we all seemed to her. 

When you have travelled somewhere foreign for an extended period of time, you become fully integrated into a different lifestyle.  You alter your behaviours and you adapt.  You pick up on some of the local habits and idiosyncrasies without even realizing it.  The realization only hits when you finally come home.

You obviously won’t have to do all the pre-planning and research in order to lessen the culture shock déjà-vu, but you will have to be prepared for it.  After living a different life for so long, don’t be surprised if you need to take a while to ease yourself back into your previous life.  You’ll adjust.  But don’t forget everything you learned about your adopted homeland and definitely remember to keep in touch.

Tuesday, 15 May 2012

Go International in Your Own Home

Get International in Your Own Home

Have you ever participated in an international internship or exchange program?  Maybe you went overseas while you were in high school or college.  Perhaps one of your children is interested in participating in an international program.  Maybe one of your friends just came back from a four month educational program in Thailand and can’t stop gushing about all of the amazing things she experienced.  You’d love to participate but unfortunately your full time job, family and personal commitments don’t allow you that freedom.  Don’t condemn yourself to the sidelines though because there are other ways that you can get involved.

Ever wonder where all these international students are staying and how they can afford to live in a new country for half the year?  Chances are they are staying in homes like yours and mine.

International exchange programs often rely upon local citizens to offer up homestay situations for their students.  Homestays, were a student stays in the home of a local family for the length of their trip, are set up through a number of organizations with both the family and student being carefully screened and paired up to ensure the comfort and safety of everyone involved.

Some host families offer accommodations similar to local student housing.  Students are provided a room within the family home and all utilities in exchange for rent money, maybe $300.00 to $700.00, depending on the location.  In some cases, the host family may also choose to include meals  as well, leading to a situation where the student becomes more fully integrated with the family as they can chat and share stories over the dinner table. 

Another popular option for families with young children or a disabled family member that requires additional care can be to join up with an Au Pair program.  Au pair students act as nannies or caregivers within their host family, follow a schedule and daily routine and in exchange are provided with a room, meals and monthly stipend of anywhere between $150.00 to $350.00.

Both have their benefits for the student but what about for the host family?  Other than the obvious perk of either the extra income or the extra helping hand around the house, what is it that makes families want to take in an international exchange student?

It really is a personal decision when it comes right down to it, as letting a stranger live in your home is a disconcerting idea for many.  But more times than not, international students are so grateful and appreciative that it becomes a rewarding experience.

Think about it; these students are thousands of kilometres away from home in a foreign country trying to learn a foreign language and new job skills.  Their host family and home often becomes a pillar of support for them, somewhere comfortable where the people are familiar.

Having an international student in your home is a great learning experience for you personally as well.  Ask questions about their home town, culture, customs, family life.  It will give them a chance to practice their language skills and you a chance to learn about an exotic new place.

Also consider the fact that if you or one of your family members are interested in studying abroad at one point, it would be a great opportunity to experience and witness how an international exchange works all from the comfort of your own home.

If you have considered becoming a host family to an international student, contact International Career Studies to get more information about what is required and what you can expect when hosting an international student. 

Tuesday, 8 May 2012

Internship Attitudes You Need to Ditch

In order to get the most out of your internship, you need to have the right attitude going in.  Even as an unpaid worker you still have basic human rights and you are getting paid with work experience that will be invaluable to you when you go to apply for a real job so stop your complaining.  Here are some attitudes you need to ditch before your first day.

Oh, it’s just a mandatory course requirement
Nothing in life is mandatory (except death and taxes).  Even if your internship is required by your college or university course, it still isn’t mandatory in the sense that you didn’t have a choice in the matter.  You chose your program for a reason and the fact that it had an work placement program might have been a key selling feature back when you didn’t have six term papers to write and a high score in Tetris Battle.  Treating your internship just like another course that you have to pass in order to graduate is not going to be helpful.  This is perhaps your first real glimpse at how your industry functions on a day-to-day basis and you need to recognize the opportunity for what it is; the chance to learn, participate and network.

It isn’t a real job…
[buzzer] Wrong. There might not be any money exchanging hands, but for all intents and purposes, your internship is a real job.  Although you might need a little bit of extra training and guidance at the beginning to get you started, expect your employer to treat you just like any other employee.  They did not just let you walk in the doors and start working.  Chances are that they selected you from a pile of resumes, interviewed you, saw some glimmer of potential and offered you the position complete with a confidentiality agreement, HR department and a work space that included a few company branded pens.  Therefore, if you show up late, bad mouth your senior staff members, dress like a slob and miss deadlines, you can also expect to be shown the door.  Your internship is one impressed manager away from being a “real” job so that means treating it as such.

I am just the intern; all I do is get the coffee.
I don’t think I ever got coffee for anyone over the course of any of my internships.  In fact, they offered to bring me coffee.  If you belittle your role and expect to be nothing more than your supervisor’s personal lackey, then chances are that is all you will be.  It is true, that as an intern you will probably be handed more grunt work than you would like but that is a fact of life that you need to get over.  You don’t have the experience to be put in charge of a major account nor have you paid your dues yet in order to get them to trust you with high stakes projects.  You are not going to own the place when you walk in the door on your first day.  Prove that you are reliable, hard working and speak up to let them know that you have good ideas and in time you will earn the respect and recognition that you want and perhaps even a job to boot.

Have you caught onto the trend here?  Your internship is not a jail term, just another school requirement and definitely not a place to slack off.  You are there to learn and make a good impression on your colleagues.  Be professional with both your clothing and mannerisms.  Be open to learning from anyone.  Speak up, be heard and get involved with every aspect of the company.  

Tuesday, 1 May 2012

Internships Equal Jobs; Simple Math Anyone Can Do

It is that wonderful time of the year again for college and university students.  Exams are done.  It is time to celebrate, let loose, burn those text books and find a menial summer job in order to pay for gas, beer and a cute summer wardrobe. 

Here is my question to those students though: are you kidding me?

You are paying thousands of dollars for your education (or maybe your parents are) in order to start a career that you are excited about (or at least your parents find acceptable).  You have a good knowledge base, you are young and a quick learner yet you are still going to spend your summer working behind the bar of some downtown restaurant?

You might not have graduated yet but chances are you have learned something at this point.  Every student from first year to post grad have something to offer in terms of a fresh outlook and critical thinking.  And guess what, the industry has something to offer you too and that is an internship.

Many baulk at the idea of doing an internship before they graduate because they are under the impression that the only reason to do an internship is to get a job and since they plan on returning to school in the fall, there is no point because a job is unwanted.

These students are failing to look at the bigger picture.

Here is a list of some of the things internships offer that often get overlooked:

1. Job Experience
Okay, so this one is pretty obvious but it deserves to be at the top of the list because it is the most important reason to participate in an internship whether it is paid or unpaid.  Have you noticed that even entry level positions these days ask for 1-2 years of previous experience?  No one is going to hand you a job on a silver platter.  You have to earn it with valuable work experience and the more you have the better.  This means that if you want to be a journalist for example, you will intern as a Jr. Copy Editor at a local newspaper this summer, a Media Planner for a magazine next summer, and travel abroad as an assistant to a foreign correspondent for a news station the summer after that.  Actual job experience is valuable beyond measure for landing your dream job.

2. Networking Opportunities
Maybe the place you land your first internship is not the place you want to spend the next two to three years of your life.  That’s okay.  Aside from the job experience that you are getting, you are also going to have the chance to meet and connect with other people from your industry.  Now that might not sound exciting because they obviously work in a place where you don’t want to work.  But guess what, they have other friends in the industry who might have jobs in a place where you do want to work.  If you make a good enough impression on your more senior level co-workers, they are going to be more than willing to make an introduction for you that could lead to the job you do want.

3. Career Test Drive
Are you absolutely 100% positive beyond a shadow of a doubt that this is the career you want to spend the next 47 years of your life doing?  If you are, congratulations.  You are one of the few students who are and won’t end up switching majors or career paths at least three times before getting out of school and into the work world like a large number of your peers.  While university and college may give you an idea of what the industry is like and what to expect from your future job, there is still a level of disconnect between the classroom experience and the real world.  An internship is a practical tool to use when investigating your career path.  If you think you want to pursue law, consider an internship at a law office.  If you are interested in pursuing a career in advertising, I can tell you from personal experience that an internship is invaluable because if you do decide that advertising is for you, you will still need to decide whether you want to go into media buying, accounts, sales, creative, marketing, public relations and the list goes on.  Consider your internship a chance to test drive your career options because the good news is that if you don’t like it, you can find out before you graduate and switch.

4. Demonstrates Initiative
When potential employers look at your resume and see an internship, it tells them two things. One, you have some work experience which makes you more valuable as a potential employee.  Two, they see a person that has taken the initiative to actively participate in an industry that they are quite possibly passionate about.  They see someone who is interested enough in their field to go out and work, potentially for free, before society expects them to contribute in a small yet meaningful way.  Employers like to see this.  They obviously enjoy what they do and probably enjoy talking about it as well so you’re at an advantage if you have a few of your own anecdotes to share.

5. Internships Actually Create Jobs
No, really, they do.  Some might think that internships actually make it harder for some people to find work because there are students out there willing to work for free.  After all, why would a business pay someone to do a job when they can just slap the label of “intern” on it and get someone to do the same task but in an unpaid capacity?   The fact is that by hiring interns, employers are assisting in the training and development of the future workforce.  As the current generation of workers age and retire, the economy is going to need to replace them with qualified new people that have the training and work experience to be successful and stimulate the business, driving growth across all sectors.  This is perhaps the most compelling argument for why employers should offer internships and the most important reason why young students should take those opportunities to learn.

To sum it all up, internships lead to jobs.  Period.  Whether your internship employer hires you, gives you a great reference that lands you a job with another firm or provides you with the connections to be successful with your job hunt, very few interns leave their internship positions feeling as if they have wasted their time.  The main point is that the conversion rate of interns landing full-time paid jobs is increasing.  In this article, The National Association of Colleges and Employers claims that the conversion rate of interns to jobs actually rose 8.5%. That is hard proof to ignore.  So if you are one of those lucky students who have the summer off unlike most of the working world, don’t squander it.  Make the most of the next four months and invest your time in something valuable.  Perhaps a teaching internship in Thailand?