How much international co-op pays

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Photo taken by Michelle Fong

In Fall 2017, I spent my second co-op term in Hong Kong where I worked at a digital marketing firm. During my four months abroad, I had unforgettable adventures that came with lifelong lessons and friendships. Here are the five things I brought home with me.

1.  Local insights into a different culture

Living and working there for four months gave me the rare opportunity to act as a “local” in the city. While the Canadian lifestyle is generally more flexible and leisurely, Hong Kong is a busy and fast-paced city. Working for a term in this environment, I learned to adjust to the quick pulse of the city. Immersing yourself in a new country develops your flexibility and adaptability.

2. A stronger connection to my family’s heritage

My father and his family, as well as my mother’s parents, were immigrants from Hong Kong. During the term I stayed with my relatives and listened to their stories about growing up in Hong Kong. I also got to improve my Cantonese through conversing on a daily basis and watching TVB dramas.

3. Once-in-a-lifetime experiences

It’s interesting how travelling presents unique opportunities! While I was in Hong Kong the University of Waterloo hosted their 60th Anniversary Gala in Tsim Tsa Tsui, where myself and other current Waterloo students were invited to attend. That evening there were special guests including the university’s President Feridun Hamdullahpur and Hong Kong’s Chief Executive Carrie Lam, as well as 600 faculty and alumni. It was an honour to witness relationships that UW had grown for the past six decades in Hong Kong. While this was my personal example, there are endless possibilities to what experiences you will encounter when being abroad.

4. New friendships and lifelong relationships

Not only did travelling lead me to new experiences, but also to new peers and friends. My co-workers, most of whom were local Hongkongers, showed me places that  I never known otherwise. Going abroad will introduce you to a mosaic of people and knowledge that you never even knew you could know.

5. Individual growth and development

Through different impromptu adventures — MTR stations, in local street markets, up trails and mountains, and even to another country — I learned a lot about myself and my place in the world around me. A large takeaway while living across the globe was an appreciation for things I had back in Canada. They say distance makes the heart grow fonder, and it’s true. I had never missed my family, my friends, and Tim Hortons quite like I did when I was in Hong Kong, but it was in their absence that I became more independent. Consequently, someone learning to be away from what they know as familiar will inevitably find growth.

Living in Hong Kong for four months was one of the best decisions I have ever made, and I would do it again in a heartbeat. From my experience, travelling is an asset beyond material value, and from it you will gain so much more than what you arrived with.