Drexel University is known throughout the world for its cooperative program, which celebrates its 100th Anniversary this year. Here at the College of Engineering, 99% of students fulfill at least one co-op during their undergraduate career. But what exactly does a co-op do all day? This column focuses on one student’s experiences for an hour-by-hour deconstruction of the workday, specifically what it's like to complete your co-op experience in a foreign country!
For this entry, we introduce Madeline Cook, who is pursuing her electrical engineering degree in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering (ECE). Madeline just finished a six-month international co-op in Buenos Aires, Argentina.
Name: Madeline Cook
Class: BS-EE with minors in Supply Chain Management and Africana Studies
Co-op: Desanda--Agencia de Marketing Digital and Sustenable in Buenos Aires, Argentina
Work Performed: Web development
When: Fall/Winter 2018/19
Wake up and drink espresso with my roommate from Italy or eat breakfast with my host dad from Argentina.
||Read the news and get ready for work.
||Walk the three blocks down the street to Palermo Soho, where my co-op employer's office is located.
||Greet everyone in the office. In Argentina, we do this by kissing everyone on the side of the cheek and saying something like, "Hola, como esta or todo bein," which is essentially, "Hi, how are you--everything good?" You literally greet every person; luckily, my company only had 7 employees! After that, I start the morning mate (mate is an Argentinian drink similar to green tea, but with much more caffeine. Everybody drinks out of the same mate gourd using the same straw. We pass the drink around throughout the entire day, refilling as needed). While drinking the mate, everyone chit-chats about the night before, and politics.
||Work on the daily tasks. The two bosses and I had a Google Doc with all pending tasks that we updated regularly and amended based on client meetings and input. I was pretty autonomous and would just work my way through these tasks on my own. I worked as a web developer on a beverage distribution website so some tasks were: add Facebook and Google log-ins, create FAQ pages, create methods to update client orders, etc.
||Argentinians eat lunch late so we would all usually eat while still working around this time, however on special occasions we would eat lunch together at a restaurant to celebrate the new year or a new hire.
||Say goodbye to everyone (via another round of kisses) and head home for the day. I was allowed to work shorter hours because I was a foreign intern and they wanted me to explore the city.
||Spanish language tutoring.
||I would often go to a language exchange or a park with friends. Argentina has so many beautiful and free public parks!
||We often held asados (which is basically a really long and social barbecue because Argentina is really big on meats) for dinner or took turns cooking foods from our home countries. Buenos Aires is very international so my friend group included one other American, two women and a guy from Mexico, two guys from France, one woman from Puerto Rico, and a woman and a man from Argentina.
Takeaway Message: “My co-op experience in Argentina was by far the best of all three co-ops [that I've completed]. The workplace culture there was completely different. The whole idea was 'work to live, not live to work.' Basically, you work to maintain the live that you want, but work is not your life. This translated into my bosses caring that I enjoyed my time in their country and that my job not negatively impact my health or personal life. Obviously, I was an intern and worked short hours, but I saw that this carried over to the regular employees who worked an eight-hour workday.
“Furthermore, the pressures in the office were far less than they typically are in the United States. This was ideal for me, because I had no prior web development experience; prior to working in Argentina, the only programming experience I had were the classes I had taken at Drexel. Desanda afforded me the opportunity to try something new without having to fear the wrath of my boss when I made mistakes. I essentially had complete control over the work I put forward and for me this produced a sense of ownership and pride that enabled me to perform my best.
“Aside from just my professional experience, I was able to experience a completely new culture. Argentina is very community-based (i.e., kissing all of your co-workers hello and goodbye). At first I thought it was the weirdest thing that, before asking me to do something, my boss would have a full 30-minute conversation with me, but then I realized that it was because assigning me a task was a secondary concern to him after how I was doing as a person. I met so many people from so many different countries and was able to learn so much about how the rest of the world works and what a bubble I had been in. One of my favorite memories is when I was at an asado with a bunch of my friends and we had conversations going on in three different languages at once. We were all comparing our childhoods in our countries and talking about how, even though we grew up so differently, we were all so similar. This opportunity provided me with a lot of time to self-reflect and grow and to make connections with so many people I would have never met. I went to Argentina not knowing anyone and with very little professional programming experience, but I came back speaking a second language, having a fully functioning website online, with new lifelong friends from all over the world, and with a better sense of self. I would recommend an international co-op experience to every person at Drexel.”