A Canadian’s Account: Planning an International Co-op and Considering Firearms

As I am happily enjoying my second work term placement, and have just accepted my third, life is looking up in terms of my hireability post-grad. In December, I will officially have enough work terms under my belt to declare my co-op work term certificate complete and print the title on my someday-diploma. *exhales a sigh of relief*

With this new sense of ease hugging my every movement around campus, I decided to consider taking advantage of another opportunity that UVic offers: international co-ops.

I had never previously considered doing an international co-op because it seemed so out of reach, but with the office of Mami Schouten (the International Co-op Coordinator) literally down the hall from me, I realized it was not so unreachable after all. So, one day, as I was leaving my office, I decided to listen to my mother’s advice to “do something” and poked my head into Mami’s office. Mami was welcoming and happily accepted my proposal to schedule a meeting about international co-op.

With that interaction, the channel was open to start my international co-op journey and seize this learning opportunity that our resourceful campus offers—but why do I want to do this?

I am not so much that student who wants to go to Europe or Asia for an Eat, Pray, Love work term of discovery. I desire to go international to work in a city larger than Canada can offer to pursue a creative career—to work in a city like New York.

NYC appeals to me, not for the Cosmopolitan happy hours at the Sex and the City-based bars or the city nightlife, but because New York is the epicentre for fashion, lifestyle and design magazine writers.

Maybe as a writer I shouldn’t desire such a niche job. After all, those positions are few and highly sought after, but a girl can dream, can’t she?

Upon presenting this idea to friends and family, I quickly discovered that there is a lot more to putting this plan in motion than the desire to go. At the top of the list were applying for a work visa and figuring out accommodations.

While all of this planning and thought was going on, a Her Campus article crossed my screen in the wee hours of the morning while I was sipping a cup of coffee and perusing the internet. The topic was Ask Day. Ask Day, which happened on June 21st, is a day on which people are encouraged to ask their parents, roommates, friends and landlords if they keep a gun in the house and if it’s safely stored.

My immediate response to this article was, “Gosh, I’m so glad I live in Canada and don’t have to worry about this.” Then, it clicked. If I was going to go through with this international co-op, this article would pertain to me. I would have to ask my landlords and roommates if they had a gun on the premises. This idea frightened me. What if the answer was yes? Would I feel comfortable? Would active shooter drills become my new earthquake drills in the workplace?

My stance on guns is pretty stereotypically Canadian: I don’t like them. I believe in fighting gun violence with gun restrictions and teaching people kindness, not handing them more weapons. With this in mind, I am walking into a country that has topped headlines with news of more and more school shootings, and where guns are easily accessible. So, I ask myself, what do I do?

It’s not like there aren’t guns in Canada—there are. School shootings are not unique to the US, but they are certainly more common there. When I think of school shootings in Canada, the first one that comes to mind is the École Polytechnique massacre in 1989, during which fifteen people were killed. There have been shootings more recently in Canada, but none with numbers quite so high that they stick out in my memory in the same fashion. People may have different theories as to why Canada sees fewer acts of gun violence than the United States—I am personally led to believe our gun laws have something to do with it—but, I will leave that for you to consider.

With this realization upon me, I now look at my international co-op through a different lens.

As Canadians, we are not so removed as we may think. Many of us have family in the USA, travel frequently across the border, and are considering relocating for our careers. Some Canadians, tragically, have even been victims of these mass shootings.

So, what, then, of my co-op? Do my career aspirations outweigh my desire for safety, or will my fear of being caught in crossfire prevent me from ever traversing south of the border?

I am cautiously planning to go forward with my international co-op to the US, taking measures to feel as safe as possible. Some possible steps I and other people like me can take to make a difference include lobbying for stricter gun laws, spreading the Ask message and setting an example by asking co-workers, landlords, friends and family if their guns are safely secured.

While my co-op plans are still in motion (although, in the early stages), I am also strongly considering alternative options to the US. I have begun to look to other cities and what they might offer in their writing sectors. Suddenly, Toronto and London are looking far more appealing.

Ultimately, what I have realized about myself is that feeling safe at work will make me a happier employee. Working and living in the US would be an additional surge of anxiety into my life. So, while I long to be in that city for the palpable energy of up-and-coming artists, my fantasy New York without guns doesn’t yet exist. Maybe someday, but for now, I have to face the facts and decide whether my career is worth compromising my sense of safety for.

For other people who currently live in the US, or are considering doing their own international co-op or exchange in that country, I encourage you to read How to Ask for suggestions about how to ask your parents, friends, co-workers and landlords if they safely store their firearms, because we all deserve to feel safe at work, at school, and at home.