Prove your humanity

We all have those friends who went to Europe and found themselves through some life-changing, ‘#instaworthy’ experience-of-a-lifetime and now talk about it non-stop and if you’re like me, you’re hearing their amazing stories and seeing their aesthetic-as-heck pictures and feeling massive pressure to do the same.

I’ve always been sceptical towards international exchange. Why? Well it just doesn’t make sense to pay thousands to fly halfway across the world to spend the day studying the same material and writing the same assignments (I could do that in my sweatpants with my dogs at home).

So for people like me, studying abroad might not be the option for you, and you might just prefer going on work experience. Either way, today I’m going to be your little voice of wisdom as we explore all the options that are, in fact, available to you.

In semester two of 2019, I deferred my history degree at Curtin University and packed my bags to spend 6 weeks in York (UK, not WA!) and it was incredible—I learned so much about my future career and myself while I was there- it was truly my dream experience—but getting there took a lot of hard work. Mainly because it wasn’t an opportunity I found through Curtin, but one I found and earned myself. So for those of you who are looking, I’ve got some tips and tricks I learned through my own journey to help you find (or create) the most amazing experience you can!

Opportunities won’t fall into your lap!

Research, research, research! It took hours of website browsing and google searching to get an idea of what was out there and right for my budget and degree.

I always recommend first looking through the Curtin Abroad Website (which is great for engineering, commerce and science degrees), Earn While You Learn and emailing your tutors and unit coordinators for recommendations, but when that didn’t work I decided to go external.

Some of my Google searches included: history, internship, museum, work experience, summer/winter internship, UK, heritage, work abroad, placement, cultural studies. If you find your ideal experience, that’s awesome! Apply and kick ass! If, like me, you’re not sold on anything you find, remember you have the power to make your own experience!

If you can’t find it, make it!

Often organisations don’t have structured internship or work experience opportunities, or don’t publicise them well, but that doesn’t mean that they aren’t open to having a student on the team. If you’ve found a company/organisation/charity you want to work with, you have absolutely nothing to lose by contacting them and asking if there’s any chance of some work experience.

Look for places that excite you, and note the size and nature of the team—smaller organisations or non-for-profits might get back to you quickly but may have less to offer whereas the biggest organisations or businesses may offer more but you might have to navigate chains of command.

When I was emailing different museums, I sent out personalised resumes and cover letters emphasising my passion for the subject and how it related to their work or cause; my search for work experience between semesters (and how that made me enthusiastic and willing free labour); any and all qualifications that helped my case (CV, Volunteering, scholarships, past work experiences, retail/customer service, high school awards).

Persistence and resilience are key!

I got heaps of rejections for being too inexperienced, too far away or just missing the applications cap before I finally received an invitation to apply for a 6-week placement in a Viking museum in York.

Don’t take the no’s you receive too personally—just keep trying. It’s nothing against you, often organisations aren’t considering you personally, but how you’ll fit into their current team or work with their current goals or tasks. A rejection isn’t an attack, it’s an opportunity to look elsewhere—the company that you’re a good fit with will be the one that suits you too! Not to mention, the ‘yes’ that comes makes it so much more worth it!

Source: Anete Lusina (Unsplash)

When I first got the position at York, I only had less than 2 weeks to get my sh*t together before my first training day. Commence the hustle. In just 8 days, I finished final five essays, booked a flight, deferred university, left my job, got insurance, renewed my passport and called family nearby to arrange my first week’s accommodation! Which brings me to my next point…

Be flexible, spontaneous and open to opportunities and change, especially during the experience!

I don’t know a single person whose exchange was perfect in every way—something will go wrong, that’s life, but whatever it is, you work with it and make it into something positive.

When I got to the UK, I was actually thrown a massive curveball… I’d already left for the placement a month early, for a couple of training days, but the placement itself was in fact not 6 weeks but one. As the British say: Bollocks.

But instead of wasting all the effort I’d gone to to get here, I decided to make the most of the free time and look at other work opportunities. I spent most of June travelling the countryside and exploring before I settled down in York and started searching for other museum jobs on job-finding websites and applied for anything and everything relevant, eventually I found a great museum I’d visited as a child, just down the road. Three days of application writing, a great interview and a very excited phone call and I have a job as a ‘Visitor Experience Team Member’. So, my six-week placement with a few extra weeks of European travel turned into contracted museum employment (i.e. my career goal!) for 6 months practically overnight, but that’s the power of the ‘international experience’, it is whatever you make it!

Now I’m writing this 3 months into my experience, waking up every morning so excited to go to work in an incredible museum, in an industry I didn’t expect to enter without a PhD, living in a new home renting off two awesome landlords (who I’m learning so much from), with great new friends, a camera of stunning pictures and a network of career connections more valuable than any degree I could do, deciding whether to come home at all (having just been told my contract could be extended!)… All because I turned down the conventional study exchange path and decided to make my own path.

Going International is not ‘Do or Die’

At the end of the day though, don’t let the pressure to study or work internationally get to you. Yes, I have learned and gained so much from my experience, but this experience is mine. Everyone has their own unique career journey and there are a million other equally amazing to enrich this season of your life. That being said, don’t be afraid to challenge yourself to go for something completely crazy and out of your comfort zone! You never know how much good could come out of it. I sure didn’t.