1) Where did you do your international placement and how long were you there for?
This past summer, a group of 6 undergraduate students travelled to Accra, Ghana and spent close to 3 months there. We arrived on May 20 and left August 13th, 2016.
2) Why did you participate in the International Development (ID) program?
This international placement was an optional course organized by the ID program. I have always wanted to travel and this was the perfect chance to get some work experience in the international development sector which is somewhere that I am interested in applying my engineering degree in the future. I enjoy the challenge and excitement of learning to adapt to a new culture and I was hoping to expand my work experience. I wanted to serve the greater community with what I had learned so far in my studies and wanted to spend the summer giving of myself to help empower other people.
An international placement just made sense for me as I was hoping to apply my skills in real situations, while experiencing significant personal growth. I knew I wanted to work in industry during final summer of undergrad to get more work experience but I was looking for something more exciting and adventurous than a 9 to 5 office job. Ghana was a chance to try something new, step outside my comfort zone and immerse myself in a new culture, all while using my engineering skills in an environmentally-focused company.
3) What were your responsibilities on your placement? Did you work on a project? If so please describe.
My placement was at Zoomlion Domestic Ltd.
I was fortunate to be able to work at two different subsidiaries and learn how they both operate. The majority of my placement was at a company that specializes in door-to-door and corporate waste collection. I initially worked in the Monitoring and Evaluations department. Among several other tasks, I inputted and analyzed data from the revenue and operations departments. I created spreadsheets and graphs to communicate performance and highlight areas that require attention and improvement.
Throughout the entire internship, I submitted weekly reports about my observations of company performance and included my recommendations and suggestions for improvement. My opinion was highly valued and my supervisors and co-workers supported me well. The last few weeks I spent with the operations department and was on site every day working with my supervisors to solve the current problems encountered on the field with company employees, clients and the general public. Although I worked Monday to Friday at regular hours, every day was different and I learned so much.
My placement was everything I would have experienced in a local placement and more. I felt much more appreciated and that my work made a difference. The analysis I completed was being used within the company and changes were being made because of the effort I put in. My work allowed the company to make changes to their operations, which will provide better service and have a greater positive impact on the well-being of local citizens and the environment.
Visiting a primary school in Abaasa, our professor’s home village.
4) How did this experience help your studies at Western Engineering?
Although my placement was not research-based and I was not able to apply a lot of specific technical skills I have learned at Western, I developed technical skills associated with numerical software and have a much greater understanding and appreciation for the work company management does. The concepts and skills I learned have made me more comfortable in management and leadership positions back at Western and potentially after graduation. I saw directly many topics that were discussed in class, such as culvert design and landfill design.
The company we worked for is a leader in waste management so I was able to better understand the big picture of how waste is generated, collected, treated and disposed of. It was a great opportunity to learn about every step of the waste management process and the connections between different components. For example, we are learning about waste landfill design at Western, but I was able to experience the challenges associated with operating landfills first-hand and what factors affect the design in real life.
For me, living and working for 3 months in Ghana helped me to better understand how what we learn in the classroom is so applicable to my future career. I have more knowledge about the subjects we studied because of this placement. My eyes have also been opened to how different countries manage their business and the challenges associated with working in a different country. Our ID classes will now be more vibrant and I will be able to contribute more since I have that international experience.
At a waste water treatment plant construction site.
5) How did your placement add to your overall undergraduate experience?
I really enjoyed this placement and it allowed me to experience another sector of work. I have been able to work in the consulting industry in London, work as a research assistant at Western, and now I have been able to work internationally in the waste management sector so I feel that I have a wide variety of unique and valuable experiences and skills developed because of the variety of summer placements.
This summer was a chance for me to grow academically, socially, personally and professionally. I was challenged in ways that I never could have been if I stayed at home this summer. The friendships with my fellow students who travelled to Ghana with me were significantly strengthened and I feel more confident when approaching new situations or new people. I am more confident as a student and more prepared for whatever employment is in my future thanks to this global opportunity. This placement added another dimension to my studies and fueled my passion to do international work in the future.
At the top of a ‘mountain’ at Shai Hills nature reserve.
6) Why would you recommend an international placement to other students?
I would highly recommend an international placement to other students. When you are in a new country and culture, you are forced to adapt and grow in ways you never knew you could. It can be challenging at first, but these new challenges allow you to grow and learn in so many ways. I think the best way to learn something is to go do it! So I would suggest going out into the world and completing an international placement that will be related to your studies. Be adventurous and take a risk! Going on an international placement that is organized through the school assures you that you will be well taken care of. It is a great time to complete an international placement while completing your undergraduate degree as it can be life changing.
Your eyes are opened to so many more possibilities that you never knew existed and your personal growth is significant. Whether your experience is as amazing as mine, or not as interesting, you will have learned so much about yourself and your abilities along the way. Regardless if you want to go international for the work experience, the personal adventure, or the service and community development, you will not be disappointed at the opportunities you will have to grow and learn.
Learning about Ghanaian history at Cape Coast Castle, largest slave trade castle in West Africa.
7) Is there anything else you would like to add about your experience?
International experiences are so much more than just work placements. Work had a significant impact on my experience but it was the culture, the community and the friendships that were established that made my trip so much more enjoyable. It makes a huge difference if you are able to embrace the local culture and traditions and live outside the group you travelled with from Western. The locals appreciate you trying to learn about them and are more than willing to help you with anything. Don’t be afraid to try something new. If you decide to go on an international placement, briefly learning about the important people and customs in the country can go a long way. For example, learning who the first president was (if you are visiting a young country) and who the current president is makes it is a lot easier to understand what is happening locally, who people are talking about. They are no longer unknown names but someone of importance to the local people, and therefore someone that should be of importance to you. Finally, have no expectations going in. Everyone has a different experience and no place or person is the same. If you are able to learn as much as you can and make the best of whatever situation you are in, your experience will be memorable and amazing.
Being taught local songs by children in Abaasa, our professor’s home village.