Interns go to work in developing countries

David Sadoway sees his placement in Mongolia as a chance to do some skiing. If he has time.

The 29-year-old graduate of the Environmental Studies Program at the University of Waterloo is off to Ulaanbaator to work with the United Nations Development Programme as part of a pilot project supervised by UBC's Sustainable Development Research Institute.

He'll help the Mongolian government design a plan to reconcile environmental and economic issues.

"I don't think they do much skiing there, but I know they've got big mountains," he says.

Sadoway is among 30 of Canada's brightest young graduates who are off to Asia Pacific countries for six-month work terms. Ten of his fellow participants are from UBC. Eight more are graduates of the universities of Victoria and Northern B.C. and Simon Fraser University.

The Asia Pacific Internship Program will spread Canadian expertise in sustainable development, strengthen ties with Asia Pacific countries, and bring back experience that will help them win jobs in Canada, says program director Wayne Nelles.

The interns are all post-secondary graduates from 21 to 29 years of age with a background in environmental and international development issues. They have been placed with government, business or non-governmental organizations in 10 countries, including Mexico, Pakistan and China.

Nelles hopes the pilot program will turn into an annual opportunity for Canadian post-secondary graduates.

"UBC has a chance to take a leadership role in supporting education and training for employment in the field of sustainable development," he says.

Everyone involved with the pilot project stands to benefit, he says. The federal government can demonstrate its commitment to sustainable development while at the same time strengthening its focus on cultural and economic partnerships with Asia Pacific. UBC increases its profile as the North American academic gateway to Asia, and the graduates acquire invaluable experience at a time when 16 to 17 per cent of 18 to 29 year-olds are unemployed.

UBC experts, especially in the area of sustainable development, provided the interns with extensive economic, environmental and cultural training before they left at the end of September. In many cases, faculty and staff who have lived in the destination countries provided insights on what to expect.

Education Prof. Marvin Westwood, an expert in cross-cultural adjustment and re-adjustment, gave the interns tips on coping with the confusion and loss of confidence that can result after landing in new and unusual surroundings.

When they return in six months, the interns will be taught how to access the job market, and how to market their newly acquired cultural expertise to Canadian employers.

UBC collaborated with Langara College and the University of Northern British Columbia to offer the program. The pilot program is funded by Human Resources Development Canada.