In this mentoring piece, I will discuss the program for Cooperative education in US, which is an important element of our university’s Cooperative education Program, but which is not very well known in our community. I will be referring to the experience of a friend who have detailed insight into the program.

For this purpose, I contacted Ayşe Dağoğlu, who had her Cooperative education for the spring semester of 2016-2017 at the US. And she kindly provided sincere answers to the questions we asked. First of all, I would like to give some background information on Ayşe. She is a 4th year student at the department of architecture. After having her first Cooperative education at the firm Eray/Carbajo in Ankara, she decided to have her 2nd in the US. Her preference for the US stems for her will to get a whole new cultural experience through a tenure as an intern abroad, as well as to improve her foreign language proficiency. Furthermore, she believes that such valuable experience will constitute a major step in terms of her future career. Ayşe notes that the distinctive architecture and design perspective and enterprising as well as courageous character of the design office she applied for made the process of selecting the enterprise to get cooperative education in the US a less complicated one. “They worked on extensive projects. The office had an open mind for any kind of design project. I thought that would truly help my development.”

She added the following with respect to the process she applied for identifying the businesses to work at: “What matters most is the decision on where you truly want to have your Cooperative education. Then, you will need to convince the employer about how you are a good choice for them. If you are really motivated in this context, the rest will be only natural.”

Ayşe is considered rather lucky in terms of contact with the firm she applied with, as it had an affiliated office in Istanbul. For, after submitting her portfolio to the firm’s US office via e-mail, she was asked to take an interview at Istanbul office. The face-to-face interview helped with the parties get to know each other better, followed by continuous contact with the coordinators till the commencement of the internship.

Curious about the acceptance process, I asked Ayşe “How was the admission process after the interview? Was it difficult?”

“To be honest, the office was a trying one. And they initially scared me a bit. However, as I said, I was invited for an interview, and we had a chat with my future boss for an hour, exchanging our views and knowledge. At the end of the interview they informed me that my application was accepted."

Ayşe notes that the process following admission is not that different compared to cooperative education activities in Turkey. All one had to do was to get the signed acceptance letter required by the school.

On the other hand, there are more than a handful of external procedures required by the two governments involved in cooperative education in the US. We are aware of the existence of numerous entities and agenies assisting students in this context. Did you get any assistance? Do you think some help is needed?

“Our university’s Cooperative education Coordinator has an agreement with a travel agency. That travel agency provides free services to TOBB ETÜ students for these processes, and they are very experienced in this. They worked with me personally for every detail. Indeed, getting an internship in a country such as the US requires you a work permit, which can be obtained only through an intermediary agency. You cannot get a work permit on your own. Thanks to their help, visa as well as all other procedures were completed smoothly.”

Could you give some more details about the matters with which the travel agency assisted you? Are they really beyond the ability of a potential intern to handle on her own?

“Actually the internship in the US entails some substantial amount of red tape. But thanks to the travel agency, I was spared of handling them on my own. All I did was rather supply the documents they needed of me. After the agency started working with me, the first thing we did was to contact CIEE, an entity providing internship and language education opportunities in the US. This process takes at least 1 month. That is why starting early is a good idea. CIEE acted as the intermediary for me to have an official internship in and work permit at the US. It also keeps a close eye on any problems you may have, and acts as a sponsor to enable your entry to the US. CIEE contacts your office and checks out the environment and the conditions you will be working in, making sure that the context is suitable for the individual student to be assigned there. In other words, it checks you as well as your future office. Once CIEE approves the office an the student, you proceed with the visa procedures. One can say that it is the simplest part of the whole process. My visa procedures were completed within 1.5 to 2 weeks. In the meantime, I contacted with the firm I would get an internship at, as I described earlier, and got an acceptance. On the other hand, CIEE can also assign you to an internship position should you need so. It is no problem if you want to get an internship in the US but you didn’t get accepted by any entity so far. The agency can look for some place for you as well.”

Of course there’s one more question people wonder about: Do you get paid for your work during the internship in the US? That is up to your employer. As TOBB ETÜ’s regulations do not require wage payment for internship abroad, the university do not enforce concrete policies on this matter. However, your employer will be free to pay you any amount it likes, in consideration of your performance. And there’s this fact that, as internships in the US are not included in Erasmus Internship Mobility framework, no grants are provided from the EU funds. On the other hand, there is this element of support from the University for its successful students. If you have received 550 or more in TOEFL ITP, coupled with a CGPA higher than 3.00, the university covers the air fares for round trip flights to and from the internship site, for the top 7 students who meet these requirements. Taking into account the figures involved in air travel, that’s a really substantial element of support. Let’s talk about your arrival and afterwards. How was your first week in the US? How was the adaptation process I mean? 

“The first 2 weeks are really harsh. A different country with a different culture. You know no one. A completely new environment. Those days can wear out anyone, and make them wish to return. I too had some difficulty just like everyone else. But in time, people get used to. I had rented the first place I would stay early on using some internet service. To be honest, the first week passed while I was busy finding a permanent place to stay and so on.”

As you serve as an intern in a country like the US, a place where you know no one, the people you work with as well as the social circle you get into become most crucial. Did you have any problems in adapting to your business? How was your communications with your supervisors?

"My supervisors at work were really sweet. Having come from abroad, I didn’t know anything about any procedure. I had my share of problems, but one should not be shy about asking for help in such cases. They know about your predicament as well. After all, you are a guest there. That is why they were really helpful with everything."

As Ayşe told her story, I got more and more excited. I only wish you to are now enthusiastic about having your internship in the US, and feel the courage to act on it, with a little contribution from this little piece you have been reading.

Finally, we agree with Ayşe about the recommendations. We believe that you must have this experience to make you acquainted with different cultures and people. Especially if you have plans for a stint overseas, a cooperative education in the US will serve as an important step in that direction. Furthermore, the US is really distinctive globally speaking. It is a more different and unique experience compared to Europe, which is a closer destination for us. Ayşe ended her remarks about her experience in the US by saying “It was a truly unique experience”. I, in turn, want to end this piece by saying DON’T POSTPONE YOUR DREAMS.

İpek AKSEL - Gazette ETÜ