Devanshi Gupta is a third-year Arts student in psychology and an international student. Midway through her first Arts Co-op term, a 10-month position with a special education school in Coquitlam, she reflects on her experience so far, starting an Arts Co-op work term during a global pandemic, and how it is helping her to shape her career goals.
As an international student, I spent my first year at UBC getting used to new and very different methods of learning than the ones I was used to at school in India. I was really average in my classes and extracurriculars, not really involved in any clubs, and had absolutely nothing new to add to my resume after my first year. I was planning to major in psychology, but wasn’t sure if that’s even what I really wanted to major in. I felt like I was behind my peers and clueless about my interests.
Inspired to gain more practical experience, I decided to attend an information session for Arts Co-op. I went in not exactly knowing what co-op was; I just knew that it could help me get involved at UBC and learn more about the field of psychology.
Starting Arts Co-op during the COVID-19 pandemic
My first co-op work term was planned for the summer of 2020, but because of the COVID-19 pandemic, I had to fly back home to India. There was so much uncertainty and the restrictions were changing in Canada and India every day. I didn’t know when I would be able to fly back to Vancouver or whether or not I would be able to continue with co-op.
I reached out to my Arts Co-op coordinator, and we decided it was best to defer my work term to fall 2020. She was extremely supportive and helped me figure out different activities I could do online over the summer to continue to hone my skills, such as online courses, volunteer work, or an internship.
My job search for the fall 2020 co-op work term started in April 2020. I checked the available jobs on the Arts Co-op Job board almost daily. Then I would work on cover letters and resumes and review them with my Arts Co-op coordinator before submitting applications.
“I am usually good at interviews but was really nervous about an online interview, especially because of the time difference between India and Canada.”
The first position I applied for was a Special Education Assistant role at a school in Coquitlam, and I heard back from them a few weeks later.
I am usually good at interviews but was really nervous about an online interview, especially because of the time difference between India and Canada. I went through the list of sample questions provided to us by Arts Co-op and loosely prepared answers so that it wouldn’t look rehearsed. Then I did a practice interview with an Arts Co-op coordinator I had not met so that I could experience a realistic feel of an interview with an employer.
After a successful interview, I was offered the position and had to plan my travel back to Canada amidst many travel restrictions. Students were not considered essential travellers at the time, which meant I needed a letter from Arts Co-op informing Canada Border Services that UBC requires me to enter Canada because of my job.
As an international student, I also needed a separate co-op work permit to be allowed to work in Canada as a part of my university program. Although I applied for it well ahead of time, it was delayed because of the pandemic. This was one of the most stressful things because without this permit, I wouldn’t be allowed to enter Canada and would not be able to work more than 20 hours per week, which was fewer hours than my job required me to work for.
My Arts Co-op coordinator connected me to International Student Advising at UBC to enquire about the processing time and how to reach out to Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada for more information, and thankfully my work permit came through in time.
My current role
I am currently working as a Special Education Assistant at Greater Heights Learning Academy, a school for children with special needs. My main duties are to supervise the children, prevent escalation of behaviour and manage meltdowns, and understand students’ cues for when they need to be left alone and when they need to be comforted. I also observe their behaviour and report back to their occupational therapists, special educators, and speech therapists.
“It is our job to gain their trust so that they see us as someone they can rely on while they are at school.”
Building rapport with students is extremely important as it directly impacts their growth. It is our job to gain their trust so that they see us as someone they can rely on while they are at school. It is equally important for us to know what areas students need the most help with, what frustrates them, their patterns and their triggers. Some students take longer than others to warm up to you and trust you, which is why a two-term co-op position is essential for a role like this.
I like that the school is small because it helps me to feel a strong sense of community with my coworkers. Some of them are UBC alumni and other UBC co-op students. It is a privilege to make such close in-person connections at a time like this, and is especially helpful because working with children with special needs is emotionally and mentally exhausting. Having an outlet and supportive network is a must.
My takeaways so far
My experience at Greater Heights Learning Academy has given me so much insight into what I want to experience in my next work term, what kinds of courses I should take in my remaining years at UBC, and what I might want to specialize in after I complete my undergraduate degree.
“My experience at Greater Heights Learning Academy has given me so much insight into what I want to experience in my next work term, what kinds of courses I should take in my remaining years at UBC, and what I might want to specialize in after I complete my undergraduate degree.”
Being guided by therapists and special educators is helping me build a network of professional connections in the mental health sector. I am slowly learning what I am really good at and things I still need to work on. I am also learning to take up new challenges and how to resolve conflicts through open communication.
I learn something new and interesting every day which makes work so exciting and something I always look forward to. I adore my students and knowing that I am able to help them achieve their goals adds value to my life.
My experience in Arts Co-op so far has taught me life skills that are essential to enter the workforce after completing university. I learnt how to write effective resumes and cover letters which landed me this amazing job. I also learnt what makes a good LinkedIn profile and ePortfolio which are important tools for networking with professionals.
I feel secure knowing that I’ll be graduating with work experience that is relevant to my degree. I am not sure what I want to do next but I want to take full advantage of the various opportunities Arts Co-op provides us with and do something different in the same field.
Interested in learning more about Arts Co-op? Explore your career options while gaining paid, professional work experience, a network of contacts, and valuable job search skills.
Devanshi Gupta is a third-year Arts student in Psychology. Connect with her on LinkedIn!