Co-op Stories: Kathryn Waxman and her International Co-op

Kathryn Waxman had a very unique co-op experience, getting the opportunity to work in both Health Science and Communications positions in Costa Rica, Peru, and the Galapagos Islands.

“I first heard of students going on international co-ops at my information sessions for Northeastern, and immediately knew that this was something that suited my personality and style of learning. I had the travel bug, I was interested in new people, new cultures and new experiences, and I was indecisive in terms of career path. The international co-op program afforded me time to embrace and explore all of those things.”

With an interest in the healthcare field- but being yet to have had the opportunity to explore the various positions available- Kathryn found this opening very intriguing.

“It was difficult to choose an unpaid volunteer opportunity over the many paid positions that were available, but this route offered the best avenues for learning and self-development, and would be the most beneficial for what I was exploring personally. I wanted to both give and learn.”

In Costa Rica, Kathryn held the position of Healthcare Assistant in the National Children’s Hospital; in Peru, she held the position of Healthcare Assistant/Nurse’s aid in a Community Health Center, and was also a third grade English Teacher in an impoverished school district; in the Galapagos Islands, Kathryn held the position of both daycare assistant and English teacher.

This is her narrative:

When I was workkathryn2ing in the National Children’s Hospital in Costa Rica, I had the opportunity to develop personal relationships with the youth and families I was working with. When it came time for a few of the girls in ‘Medicina 5-‘ a unit which I spent a lot of time in- to be discharged, they actually protested and did not want to leave, claiming that after they went home they would miss me too much. It was a very special feeling to know the impact that I made on their lives. In Peru, what I remember most is the perspective of the people I was working with. The area I was in was not the most affluent and the community members did not have many material belongings, or even basic needs.

The health center where I was placed was also very basic – no computer, minimal medical supplies, one doctor. However, the community was happy. They were content with what they had and wanted for very little. And that was amazing for me to see and to feel – a community so at peace with what they had. After working at the medical center for about three weeks, the doctors in the area went on an indefinite strike, and due to this I switched my placement to an elementary school. At this school, I again felt that warmth and connection that I felt in Costa Rica – I was asked for ways to improve the English education system in the school, and designed worksheets and lesson plans that they asked to keep and make copies of to base their plans off in the future. And when it was time to leave every day, the children would climb on me and cling to me, begging me to stay. It was again very special and moving to feel like I was making a significant contribution to their young lives.

kathryn3And in all three countries, Costa Rica, Peru and the Galapagos Islands, I was made to feel a part of every host family I lived in. I learned so much about other cultures and other people, was given immense responsibilities in each workplace, and wandered down innumerable avenues of learning about myself. I created personal relationships, both through working and through outside travel, that aided me greatly in understanding myself and what human relationships and connections mean.

After her experience abroad, Kathryn knew she wanted to continue working in the healthcare field, but didn’t know what aspect she wanted to focus on. For her next co-op, Kathryn decided to take the path of global healthcare development, wanting to improve healthcare abroad with a focus on severely impoverished areas. She soon found a position that allowed her to experience the corporate world, yet still make a significant contribution to the company’s advances in national and international healthcare improvement strategies.

Unsure of what she wants to do for work after graduating, Kathryn is sure that there will be more traveling in her future. Both of her experiences were drastically different, but helped her to better understand herself and expand her horizons.