York interns share anecdotes and adventures



Above: Eli Kimmerling (second from the right), is entering his third year of study in biology and is an international intern.  He is conducting underwater marine surveys off the coast of Mexico this summer. (Photograph courtesy of Eli Kimmerling.)

For 26 York students, the summer of 2004 was one to remember. They are the first students to participate in the York International Internship Program (YIIP). The students travelled to destinations in Canada and 14 other countries to work in their area of study as interns.

New to York this year, YIIP is the first program of its kind in Canada. It provides unique opportunities for students to work in a variety of international placements. Students gain valuable work experience in often unique and multicultural settings. The program also provides each intern with a $3,000 stipend to cover their costs. The stipend program is unusual because the more common practice for most international internship programs is that host organizations must provide funding and students cover their own costs. The program is also unique in that York has arranged the placements for the interns. (See the April 29 issue of YFile.)

Administered by the Office of the Associate Vice-President International, the internships are part of York’s internationalization strategy. A key objective this strategy is to provide an increased number of opportunities for an international experience for students. Both undergraduate and graduate students from a variety of disciplines can participate in the program. Over the course of  their placements from May to August, they apply their academic knowledge in an international work environment and build job-related skills in a multicultural setting.

The students have been in contact by e-mail with York throughout their placements. Both the interns and the host organizations they serve have plenty of positive comments on the program. They have noted a number of advantages, including: improved proficiency in another language; exposure to new literature in their area of study; a better understanding of teaching in different cultural contexts; and the acquisition of skills in areas such as fund raising, professional network building, negotiation and advocacy building.

Sam Parastatidis, a fourth-year political science student, travelled to Greece to work on one of the country’s largest daily newspapers Eleftherotypia.

“This week was probably my busiest one so far. Assignments included: finding information on how one could find a job in Iraq as a private soldier or “contractor” [and] translating an apology from The New York Times into Greek. The ‘apology’ was for ‘mistakenly’ publishing misinformation about Iraq, including the [evidence of weapons of mass destruction] and links to terrorism,” said Parastatidis in his e-mail. “The third assignment was actually [given to me] this morning when I was invited by a colleague to write a piece on how I see Athens and what my experience has been. To my surprise I was taken to a radio station in Athens which has started a foreign program for the tourists and all the people who are arriving for the Olympics. I actually recorded my piece and it’s going to be played on air.”

Nadine Hunt has enjoyed a similar positive experience. Hunt, a graduate student in history, is working for the Centro de Investigacious Historicas de America Central, Universidad de Costa Rica (CIHAC).

Left: Nadine Hunt on location in Costa Rica

“I’m in San Pedro, which is a 15-minute drive outside of San José, Costa Rica. I live really near to the Universidad de Costa Rica; it takes me five minutes to walk to work in the morning,” writes Hunt. “At work, I’ve been digitizing a collection of first edition books. The books, which date back to as early as the sixteenth century, are about Central American hstory and were recently donated to CIHAC. This was a valuable gift to the centre, university and to the Central American people as a whole, because many original books are no longer in Central America, but are held in universities and libraries in the US. My main task is to create digital images of the books, so future historians and researchers will have access to the books via computer. As well I have been given time to visit the National Archives of Costa Rica to work on my own research, which is exploring the commercial and slave trade between Jamaica and Central America during the 18th century.”

Cale Ettenberg, a fourth-year engineering student in the Faculty of Science and Engineering, is working as an intern for the charitable organization Engineers Without Borders. Ettenberg’s placement is in Ghana.

Right: Students from a local school in Ghana wave for the camera. (Photograph courtesy of Cale Ettenberg.)

 “I’m in the Department of Engineering, majoring in geomatics engineering. Since you probably don’t know what geomatics is (most people in second-year geomatics engineering don’t know what it is), let me give you a brief intro. Geomatics is the science, art, and technology behind any collection, interpretation and dissemination of geospatial data. So, on the surface it seems very boring, as it is just dealing with data. But the exciting part is the idea that these methods can be applied to absolutely any field in the world. At least that’s what we were always told in class. Suddenly, after a month here, I realized that geomatics could be perfectly used in development and probably already is. It’s just very different to be told that your field can be used anywhere and then to suddenly realize that for yourself.”

For Paul Marmer, a fourth-year Faculty of Environmental Studies student, his placement at the University of Madras in India has been one of the best experiences of his life. “Of all the experience in travelling and working abroad I’ve had in the past, including a consecutive four years abroad prior to attending York University, this experience has been one of the most significant for me in terms of personal and, especially, academic development! Compared to my previous experience, I feel far more integrated into the local community and aware of the many issues and their complexity during this internship experience.

“While I acquired valuable insight into Indian culture and society on my previous visit which better prepared me for this experience, my current experience is allowing me to delve far beyond the surface of sensitive issues that are often not accessible or even perceptible to the tourist. My direct learning about the situation of slum dwellers, the conditions they face, the perspectives of various stakeholders involved with their situation, and the theoretical perspectives being used to frame the issues – namely complexity theory and adaptive ecosystem management – has renewed my interest in these fields to the extent that I am seriously considering pursuing one or more of these aspects of the current project further in terms of my professional development. This will likely emerge at the graduate level.”

Liliana Begg, a second-year student in international development studies, and Joseph Silva, a fourth-year Faculty of Education and Faculty of Arts student, are doing their internships at PROMEB (Programa de Mejoramiento de Eduación Básica, or the Basic Education Improvement Program) in Peru. In a joint e-mail, they recounted their internship experiences so far. “As we approach the final days of our internship placement, we look back with happiness and pride at what we’ve done and experienced. We are grateful to so many people and have grown academically, personally, spiritually, and professionally. We hope to be able to continue this learning experience and put it to use and share it with others.”

Heather Worthington, a fourth-year student in the Faculty of Arts and Faculty of Education, is working at the Hong Kong Institute of Education. She writes, “I have made a number of contacts that I know I will be able to use in the future. I have also become more connected with the Faculty of Education at York through this experience and in September I will not only be a language partner in Tove Fynbo’s exchange program (Fynbo is the coordinator of International Education for the Faculty of Education), I will also be on FESA (Faculty of Education Students’ Association).”

The York International Internship Program has been a great success due to the enthusiasm and dedication of the students and the commitment of Vice-President Academic Sheila Embleton, whose office provides program funding and administrative support through the Office of the Associate Vice-President International. Future goals include program expansion by increasing the amount of available placements. Full program information is available at the York International Internship Program Web site.

This article was submitted to YFile by Robert Read, a Web communications & publications assistant in the Office of the Associate Vice-President International.