On March 11, 2004 I had the pleasure to represent the University
of Waterloo at a successful roundtable breakfast. It was held
by OWIT under the banner of “Best Practices
with International Student Interns” at the
headquarters of the Canadian Association of Importers and Exporters.
This was my first time at an OWIT event, and I must say it was
definitely worthwhile. Individuals from different professional
spheres gathered together to interactively discuss ways to fully
maximize student internships; both from the employer’s
as well as from the student’s perspective. The facilitator,
Donna Messer, who is an author, speaker and founder of ConnectUs,
effectively steered the discussions promoting active participation,
while simultaneously keeping a coherent flow.
Speakers such as Candice Rice, Raj Deer, Sonia Perovic, Nancy
Ward and Emily Turton all had something valuable to add to the
roundtable discussion. Candice Rice, a Trade Commissioner who
is currently working in the International Trade Centre in Toronto,
underlined the importance of having a structured orientation
for interns when they first set foot in the company. Raj Dheer,
a Deputy Principal Commercial Officer at the U.S. Department
of Commerce also came to the roundtable with valuable experience.
His approach to building high morale among his staff is confirmed
by his current intern Tarek, who claims that Dheer makes the
interns feel like they belong to the “bigger picture”.
Dheer also has an interesting philosophy that he religiously
adheres to. He does not assign something to students that he
himself would not want to do. On the contrary, his students’
projects are merely extensions of what he himself does on a
daily basis. From my own student perspective, this is definitely
a value-added component of what I consider a successful learning
experience to be. Employers sometimes perceive interns to be
incapable of doing “real” work, either due to the
time constrain, or a negative past experience. However, employers
need to understand that students are there to learn and most
of us are not afraid to “roll up our sleeves” and
get “our hands dirty” in real work. Most importantly,
we need to be given a chance to prove that we are capable of
doing more than just photocopying or faxing. Lorna Wright, the
director of the IMBA program at the Schulich School of Business
at York, had an answer to help dilute this negative connotation
that comes with the word “intern”. She suggested
that rather than calling it an “internship”, it
should be addressed as a “work term”.
It was nice to see that there was a significant turnout from
the colleges and universities that attended the breakfast roundtable.
Students from the Sheridan College International Business program,
University of Toronto, George Brown and of course, the University
of Waterloo infiltrated the room. Professor Patricia Draves
who currently teaches Entrepreneurship and Impact of Culture
on Business at Seneca College shared a great idea with us that
she successfully applies to her teaching. It is basically a
“one minute paper” where her students write down
what they want to keep, change and add.
This might be an effective method to promote better communication
between interns and employers, without any aggravated confrontation.
This was definitely a great educational experience, where I
not only had a chance to meet other students like myself but
also meet potential employers within the international trade
arena. The most important lesson I learned from the breakfast
roundtable is the following:
“Networking is the key to success!”