Remote internships offer York students experience and connection

Each Thursday evening, York University student John Gaspar turns on his computer and prepared to teach English – to students at Osaka University of Economics in Japan, where it is Friday morning.

Gaspar, who is majoring in English with a minor in film and video, is one of the participants in York International’s remote internship program, an initiative launched this summer to offer students international work experience from their own homes, due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Given the travel restrictions imposed by the pandemic, Gaspar said, “I took on this remote internship alternative in order to seize the opportunity of working with an international school, more specifically in learning about the educational system in Japan.”

Gaspar isn’t the only York student who has undertaken a remote internship this summer. York International (YI) is funding virtual internships for York University senior students and first-year graduate students with international partner organizations and approved external organizations, allowing them to gain expertise and work experience in fields related to their degrees.

Centro de Intercambio y Solidaridad, Canadian Organization for Tropical Education and Rainforest Conservation (COTERC), International IDEA (International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance), Nature's Valley Trust, Osaka University of Economics and internship providers, Abroader and Ecoswell, are offering virtual internship opportunities that are supported by YI. These partners offer opportunities to work in many countries worldwide, including China, Costa Rica, El Salvador, England, France, Japan, Malaysia, Peru, Singapore, South Africa Spain, Sweden, Taiwan and Vietnam.

Working from their bedrooms or kitchen tables, the interns are gaining valuable international experience, connecting with colleagues across oceans and continents and making contributions to the health and well-being of other nations.

“Ultimately, our internships are structured around the notions of social and cultural exchange and extension,” says Professor Li Yan, who is co-ordinating the remote internships for Osaka University of Economics.  “As an educational institution, we believe that we can all learn from each other.

“In taking advantage of the technology … we are still able to create channels of communication through which our students and staff can benefit from John’s input and cultural perspective. Despite the challenges and uncertainty, the pandemic has unleashed around the world, John’s contribution through his enthusiasm and his ability to provide our students and staff with a unique English language learning experience, is of tremendous value to us.”

Despite the challenges of teaching students with various levels of English proficiency, Gaspar is delighted by his remote internship.

“Though it is a brand new experience for me teaching international students, it has been tremendously rewarding helping them with their pronunciation, English knowledge and skills as well as being able to communicate and ask them questions about Japan and how they are holding up despite everything in school being done online,” Gaspar said. “They are a group of bright students that are helping me enjoy my internship despite not being able to travel to Japan physically.”

He has already added some new skills to his portfolio as part of the internship.

“The experience so far as taught me how to interact with international students in a polite but effective manner in order to yield clear communication, as well as experience in creating lesson plans and content for students that is easy to follow while being as fun and exciting,” Gaspar said.

He creates games to make learning more enjoyable as one way of reinforcing new vocabulary. For example, in What Did You See, Gaspar posts an online picture of various items jumbled together and leaves it on the screen for a set amount of time. Once time is up, he asks the students to write down as many things as they remember seeing.

“My overall experience has been 100 per cent positive and I am enjoying working with OUE,” Gaspar said.

Kellyn Whitehead, the conservation volunteer manager for Nature’s Valley Trust in New Zealand, is also employing remote interns from York this summer to assist with blog writing, social media posts, resource development and data analysis.

“We have an ongoing relationship with York University and wanted to explore the option of a remote internship, should this be the way forward, as a result of COVID-19, for the near future,” said Whitehead. “The interns always add great value to our work and also help take off the workload of the project managers by assisting with tasks we cannot always get to but need to be done. The interns also bring new, fresh ideas to our work.”

Helen Balderama, YI’s associate director, international partnerships and programs, is delighted to see students getting the opportunity to gain international work experience despite the limitations imposed by the pandemic.

“Under usual circumstances, York International would be working with our internship partners to send students abroad to experience the language and culture while gaining valuable work experience,” said Balderama. “COVID-19 has made this impossible, but we are very pleased to be able to continue to offer them international opportunities, albeit remotely. We are confident they will find it invaluable in their lives and their careers. Also, in these times of social distancing, students get the chance to stay engaged and connected.”

To date, 24 York students are confirmed to be taking part in remote internships for up to three months, between May to August. they will all receive York International Internship Award (YIIA) of $1,000 each month. Remote internship positions are still available and students who are interested to apply should connect with YI through yiintern@yorku.ca.

By Elaine Smith, contributing writer to Innovatus, a special issue of YFile

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