The University of Victoria’s award-winning Co-op Program

BCCIE recently honoured the University of Victoria’s CANEU-COOP Program with the 2016 Outstanding Program in International Education Award. Why is this Program so unique? To discover more, we spoke with Karima Ramji, Manager, International Programs at the University of Victoria’s Co-operative Education Program and Career Services.

Launched in 2009, the CANEU-COOP Program was built on close partnerships between four post-secondary institutions:

•    The University of Victoria (UVic)
•    University of Waterloo
•    FH Joanneum University of Applied Sciences (Austria)
•    Baden-Wuerttemberg Co-operative State University (Germany)

The program is described as a “hybrid” Co-op because it combines international study and work elements. First, the European Union (EU) students come to BC or Ontario to study. They meet their Canadian counterparts, and both groups return together to Europe later in the year to complete work terms at the same corporation (in most cases) in either Austria or Germany. Employment is organized through FH Joanneum or Baden-Wuerttemberg’s co-op program, with their co-op employers.  From day one, Canadian and European students are paired in a “buddy” system where possible so they can support each other with academic and cultural integration. A fringe benefit is they often form lifelong friendships. 

“The CANEU-COOP Program was inspired through the diverse internationalization needs of the partner institutions, and the need to understand what impact internationalization has on student learning,”  said Ramji. European students already had access to international work opportunities through the EU Erasmus Programme, but they needed the opportunity to study overseas. Conversely, Canadian students had overseas study opportunities but required international work placements. A lightbulb went off, funding was secured, and the CANEU-COOP was formed. 

Advancing cultural intelligence

Ramji says that an important element of the program is a research component that measures the cultural intelligence developed by students. Results (which are to be published soon) show the program has resulted in enhanced cultural intelligence development among participants, supporting UVic’s goal of developing global ready graduates. An intercultural competency development curriculum, based on the cultural intelligence model (Earley and Ang, 2003) has since been rolled out across UVic’s Co-operative education program and career services.

International learning benefits all

For Ramji, watching student transformation has been rewarding. She stresses that everyone can profit from enhanced cultural intelligence. 

“An international student who was already new to Canada came to me and said he wanted to go abroad again. Initially I was worried, but he returned a completely transformed individual and the company was extremely happy with him and the work he had done. We have witnessed the same when domestic students go abroad.”

What advice is offered to other institutions wanting to establish an International Co-op Program?

“Make sure to do your research,” Ramji said. “Ask if your institution already has a program running, and if the one you are hoping to establish will offer high-quality work experiences.”

“Gaining international exposure is not enough. You have to plan and strategize your encounters and then adapt appropriately without compromising your own personal values. We encourage students to be strategic about where they are going, and to challenge stereotypes,” Ramji emphasized.

Earley, P. C., & Ang, S. (2003). Cultural Intelligence: Individual Interactions Across Cultures. Stanford, CA.: Stanford University Press.