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International placements enrich a student's educational experience both culturally and professionally. Such experience helps prepare students to function effectively in an increasingly multicultural Canada and a shrinking world, and the personal and professional relationships developed help foster mutually beneficial relations between Canada and other countries.
Co-op Japan was officially launched in 1992 in Tokyo. The three-year pilot phase included four universities-UVic, SFU, Waterloo, and Sherbrooke. The program has proven so successful that it has expanded to include 17 universities across Canada. To date, 95 students have done work terms with 40 major companies in Japan.
Susan Huggett (BA'81) was working for IBM's marketing division in Toronto handling Japanese accounts when she was appointed Director of Co-op Japan. Previously, she had lived in Japan for three years teaching English and importing Canadian goods.
³Japanese companies like Canadian students because they are productive right off,² says Huggett. "They've had more hands-on experience. Co-op is unheard-of in Japan. Also, Canadian students work much harder at university than their Japanese counterparts. I've been told that Canadian third- and fourth-year students are the equivalent of a Japanese student in a master's program."
Huggett admits that when she first approached Japanese companies they were skeptical of what a student could contribute. "I knew it would take time, and I was very patient. I kept going back until they finally agreed to take a student. I believe if I had been pushy or aggressive I would not have been as successful. It's important in Japan to first develop trust."
Huggett says she doesn't find it a disadvantage being a woman approaching Japanese businessmen. "Foreign women are treated differently than Japanese women. I actually find it an asset. Women, I believe, are more tuned-in to nonverbal communication. The Japanese don't communicate as openly as we do. Often it's difficult for students to know if they are doing a good job or not, simply because communication is so nonverbal and subtle. If a student is performing well, the company may start arranging business trips for the student-perhaps to Kyoto-or arrange for a presentation at a conference. This is really a reward.
"Attitude is as important as performance in Japan," Huggett points out. "Punctuality is very important, even after a lunch break. Punctuality shows dedication, discipline, and a positive attitude. Sometimes companies are not sure how to deal with foreign students. For example, a student might ask for time off. The company is often taken aback as this is not a request a Japanese worker would make. They may agree because they are taken by surprise, but the company will have discomfort about it."
To help prepare students for their work term in Japan, Co-op Japan has joined forces with the Canadian International College in Vancouver. Co-op students going to Japan spend one month living at the college attending a mini immersion course on Japanese culture, etiquette, and language.
"For students, living in Japan can be an interesting mix of high excitement and drama," says Huggett. "The pace is much faster than in Canada, but at the same time the traditional culture, which can be very appealing, remains. Students spend eight to twelve months in Japan and begin to learn what it takes to operate successfully in that culture. They also make enduring contacts."
Another plus for Co-op Japan is the fostering of linkages in research and development. "For instance," says Huggett, "Nippon Steel has expressed an interest in working with UVic on research on new materials and structural issues."
Law Co-op Co-ordinator April Katz points out that Singapore and Malaysia use the English common law system of justice, and the business language of the whole region is English. "Many law firms are anxious to have an English-speaking junior to draft or review contracts and alter correspondence. They also see it as an investment, as a student working for them will soon be returning to Canada and will be a good personal contact. In turn, the law student is provided with an excellent knowledge of how arrangements are made for investment opportunities in Asia and with an ongoing network of contacts. Asia is very much a person-to-person place, and people have more confidence in doing business with someone they know, rather than with a title on a letterhead.
"Law students appear to thrive on doing a work term in a foreign country and soon feel integrated and stimulated. The culture shock seems to occur whey they come back. In Asia they are welcomed and treated very well. When students come back, they have changed a good deal. It's quite an adjustment to be a real student again. Our pace is so much slower and horizons so much narrower." Katz visited all the Law Co-op employers last year. "They were overwhelmingly supportive of the program and very complimentary about UVic."
"We have respresentatives in six Asian countries," says Business Co-op Manager and former management consultant Tony Lomas. "They are active in seeking out opportunities for our students there. In addition, we are affiliated with 15 Asian universities for both academic and work-term exchanges. Our students have had placements in Hong Kong, Japan, Malaysia, Singapore, Taiwan, and Thailand."
Business Co-op is involved in 700 work-term placements each year-in Canada, Asia, and elsewhere. About 40 per cent of business students arrange their own work-term placements. Lomas sees this as an important part of the learning experience. Lomas says, "I tell students, 'If you have a dream placement that you want to pursue, say in Asia, come to me and I'll help show you how to make it happen.'"
This experience sparked Campbell's interest in international human rights, which she has pursued in subsequent work terms with the B.C. Council of Human Rights and, most recently, in Indonesia, where she worked for an international law firm, the Legal Aid Foundation of Jakarta, and the University of Indonesia.
"It was an interesting combination of jobs: two days a week at the law firm, two days teaching at the university; and one day a week at the legal aid clinic. Each morning when I woke up, I had to think about where I was going that day and get in the mind set for it, because the experiences were so different.
"The law firm-Lubis, Ganie, Surowidjojo-is an international corporate commercial law firm. Generally I helped with drafting contracts, because they were all written in English, and the lawyers spoke English as their second or third language.
"At the university, I was teaching English to new instructors in the law faculty. Each day one of them would lead the discussion and instruct me in English on the area of law that they taught, and I corrected their English as they went along. I ended up learning a phenomenal amount of law, and I think it was quite effective for them. As time went on, I could notice an improvement in their vocabulary.
"At the legal aid clinic, I was somewhat restricted by language. I learned some Indonesian, but not enough so that I could interview clients. I did some research into international issues like how the United Nations conventions applied to Indonesia, which ones Indonesia had signed, and how they might be used. They were also very interested in ideas from Canada such as class action suits and the jury system.
"While I was there, the legal aid clinic celebrated its eighteenth or nineteenth anniversary. In all that time they had never had a judgment in their favour. For the legal aid lawyers, though, the goal was to empower people, and they were accomplishing that. Their cases ended up being largely political statements.
"The first day I went to court was probably my most memorable day, because the contrasts were apparent immediately. Indonesian courts have a three-judge panel, and two of the judges in this case fell asleep on the bench, one of whom read the judgment at the end of the trial. It was a complicated criminal case in which a number of evidence issues were brought up. I was overwhelmed that a judge could sleep through the case and then, in a two-line judgment, sentence a person to ten years in prison. Apparently that is the norm. It was one of those moments when you really appreciate the Canadian system."
This was one thing that Hurov didn't have to worry about during his Co-op Japan work term in the pharmaceutical division of the Kirin Brewing Company in Yokohama. The lab knew from experience-Hurov was their fifth Co-op Japan student-that Canadian co-op students could make important contributions.
"They had a big, long-term project that they were working on, and they gave me a portion of that project as my own. I reported to and got help from my two direct supervisors. We were working on the development of antibody therapies. It's primarily genetics, which was a new area of research for me. The project is an attempt to deal with human disease mechanisms, and while it's not directed towards any one disease at this point, it should be widely applicable in the future. The project is in its early stages and entails more basic research right now.
Hurov's contribution wasn't limited to what he did in the lab, however. "I played badminton and basketball on the Kirin teams. Kirin is part of the Mitsubishi group of companies, so we had Mitsubishi tournaments. I was such a novelty to everyone that, at these tournaments in various cities, complete strangers would come up to me and start asking me questions about myself based on things that they'd heard about me through the company grapevine. Stories I had told someone about my modest track and basketball careers came back to me in questions like, 'Are you really the fastest man in Canada?'"
Hurov lived in the Kirin dormatory and ate in the dorm and the company cafeteria, getting to know some of his co-workers quite well. For him, as for many Japanese workers, the company was the centre of his social life as well as his working life.
"The place where I was working was nicer and a lot more spacious than most people's homes," Huron explains. "For many Japanese, being at work is pleasant because they have more space and freedom than they do at home or in the crowded streets and bars. As a result, they spend more time at work than at home and do a lot of their socializing right at work.
"Through work and sports, I made a lot of friends. People were very friendly and interested to meet and talk with me and find out what I was like." But the interest was defintely mutual. "It was a real adventure-an opportunity to see a culture that most people don't get to see even if they go to Japan as tourists. Both the work experience and the cultural experience were great," he says. "It's definitely not your average work term."
Bright, energetic UVic Co-op students are available year-round for work-term placements in a wide variety of fields.
The average work-term is for four months, although longer terms are negotiable.
If your company-no matter where it is located-is
interested in exploring the possibility of hiring a Co-op student, contact the central Co-op office at (604) 721-7628 or via
You will then be placed in contact with the appropriate Co-op co-ordinator for your field.