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Job Exchange Program, A Great Experience

by Christopher Little

My name is Christopher Little; I am a careers co-coordinator at the University of Lancaster in the UK, presently on a five month exchange program with the Career Planning Service at McGill University.  How did this exchange program come about?  Interested in looking for a possible job exchange with someone in another country? Read on!  Back in the winter of 2010 on a visit to Quebec the idea of an exchange came to mind. This was not the first time I had  gone down this road, for back in 2003, I had come up with a similar idea to undertake a professional exchange, at that  time I was looking towards the southern hemisphere.  Back then, one thing led to another and I began looking up universities on the web, and contacting various career departments in Australia and New Zealand. This process took quite a bit of time and persistence, sending emails to the various heads of department and enquiring if any members of staff wished to undertake an exchange. I thought the duration of the exchange would be manageable with around three to six months, though I was always flexible in my communications. Eventually, through trial and error, my hard work paid off and I was able to start a dialog with a colleague in New Zealand, after drawing a blank with Australia.

Thus began a process of exchanging emails, exploring different options, areas of interest and trying to draw up a time line for both parties. The other side to this was to put the proposal to my director, and get the University to agree. I needed to make a case for my exchange, but eventually the University agreed. There was a little bit of give and take, my university agreed to continue paying me while abroad, with a contribution towards accommodation, I paid for my flights which was a small sacrifice to pay for such an opportunity. There were also other hurdles to overcome, like obtaining a work visa. Even though I was still being paid by my institution, you are still intending to work in that country; hence you will require a work visa, which was obtainable through the professional exchange program/employer exchange category. Eventually, after much hard work and persistence my exchange finally went through. My exchange was to the University of Waikato in New Zealand on the North Island and I can honestly say it was one of the best experiences of my life. I was lucky to visit other career services in various locations around New Zealand. I was able to see how other career departments worked, to explore different systems, to meet and work with students from the southern Hemisphere. I took part in various career fairs, networked with employers, gave workshops, exchanged ideas, noted good practice and made good friends along the way.

Now, seven years on, here I am again on an exchange program with McGill University after drawing on my experiences from New Zealand.  Last December, I made contact with Gregg Blanchford from the Career and Planning Service at McGill University, and enquired if anyone was interested in undertaking a professional exchange to the UK. Eventually, after speaking to members of his team the answer was yes. Through an exchange of emails, good will and forward planning we finally organized an exchange proposal.  I arrived at McGill in August of this year and will be undertaking my exchange until mid-December. Lorna MacEachern from CaPS is currently in the UK at Lancaster University undertaking my role in the capacity of Careers Adviser. This is a fantastic opportunity for us both to look at new ideas, and to refresh our role as professionals within the guidance field. What become apparent quite early on for me, as in New Zealand are the similarities rather than differences between Canada and the UK.  For me it’s a chance to experience the North American markets, for Lorna back in the UK, it’s what going on in Europe. We are able to gain insights into global recruitment market, it’s an area we are all working in now, and very important to the work we do within are institutions. This knowledge is a great asset to pass on to the many students we work with, and certainly fits with the modern careers service. The transfer of expertise is another plus for an exchange; back in the UK the careers service at Lancaster is very involved within the university curriculum, delivering programs that are accredited within the subject areas we are involved in. Hopefully this is something that I can get involved in with the Career Planning Service at McGill who are always developing new programs for students.

I have been very impressed with quality and professionalism I have seen at McGill. On a more particle note, much of my time is also taken up with the day to day duties that Lorna would do, seeing students on a one to one basis, delivering various workshops. As time moves on, my knowledge improves and I become more relaxed within the role. This is what it’s about, not only are you gaining a more international perspective, but for me, it’s about reinventing the job, and hopefully going home with a fresh outlook on my role back in Lancaster. The moral of my tale, is if you feel like a change, to gain a new perspective and a desire to travel, then your very job could be your ticket to do just that. I am sure there are lots of people just like you who would love the chance to exchange in their own countries. There are challenges, it does take time, and it’s not for everyone, there are considerations such as family commitments, but for me the benefits and the experience are priceless.

 

 

Christopher Little is a careers co-coordinator at the University of Lancaster in the UK, presently on a five month exchange program with the Career Planning Service at McGill University.

 

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