With help from the Asia Pacific Foundation and the University of Victoria’s Centre for Asia Pacific Initiatives, I spent 8 months working for an organization called CITYNET in their project office located in Yokohama, Japan.

It is difficult describing a typical workday because my day to day varied greatly. CITYNET is the largest network of urban stakeholders in the Asia Pacific Region and the Yokohama Project Office works with CITYNET members to implement sustainable development projects. Through the office, urban best practices and resources are shared. The main focus for the office is sharing best practices from Japan, in particular those from Yokohama. Some of the ongoing projects that I helped with included a 5-year disaster resiliency project funded by the Japan International Cooperation Agency project in the Philippines, an engineer and architect training program in Nepal, and two sustainable resource management projects in Pakistan and Sri Lanka. My biggest task was putting together a 52-page final report that was distributed to the office’s funding agencies and various members. To create the final report I had to go through 5 years worth of project documents and coordinate with project stakeholders in the Philippines in order to organize all the information needed for the publication. Another role that I had was conducting both qualitative and quantitative research and analyzing data. This data was used to create proposals and in applications for project funding. Day to day I was an extra set of hands and eyes for the office, a typical day didn’t really exist and occasionally I would expect a day to go one way and it would change completely by noon.

I am passionate about creating sustainable urban spaces, in particular facilitating community participation in urban planning processes. My work with CITYNET has shown me the strength of community-based planning and the diverse possibilities of projects. Interning with CITYNET has encouraged me to consider a career in urban planning.

Before I started working in the office I did not have any experience in city-to-city cooperation. I had little understanding of how city-to-city cooperation could work on a local and international level but now I see that it plays an integral role in sustainable development. There is a lot that Japanese cities can share with other cities across the world and I was provided with incredible hands-on experiences with this at CITYNET. I got to visit disaster risk reduction projects and activities in Yokohama and Tokyo including their annual disaster drills, disaster prevention centers, and a volunteer fire station. I also got to see how a large city like Yokohama manages waste. Though many of these activities require large monetary investments, through my internship I learned how they could be adapted inexpensively to different cities across the Asia Pacific Region. My experience as an intern has broadened my worldview and allowed me to see that there are always different approaches that can be taken to tackle similar issues and that we need to go into projects with open minds. Cities across the world are facing similar challenges as they continue to grow. True cooperation is a two-way relationship, and moving forward cities need to work together.

The most challenging thing that I found while working and living in Japan was dealing with the language difference on a daily basis.  Tasks that would be rather simple back home ended up being a lot more difficult because of communication difficulties. Though the majority of office work was conducted in English, I was the only native English speaker so in the office everyone communicated in Japanese. I had studied a little Japanese before going on the internship however it was two years prior and I am nowhere near fluent. Though this was challenging at times it pushed me to continue studying Japanese. Instead of returning home after my internship I will be staying in Japan to study Japanese intensively for 12 months. I hope that I can incorporate my experiences in Japan in my future career. The best advice that I can give to someone considering an internship abroad in a non-English speaking country is to learn as much of the language before your internship starts as timely possible. Even if it is just standard greetings, you will adapt to life in that country much quicker.  

Two realisations from my internship that will stick with me for the rest of my life are the power of communication and the importance of learning different languages. Knowing languages open doors even if all you know are the basics. The world is not full of English speakers and taking the time to learn a language will not only provide you with more opportunities but also give you a better understanding of life in that country. I look forward to continuing my Japanese language studies this year and hopefully I can continue using it in years to come.

Patience and adaptability are two very important qualities to have going into new experiences. Moving to a foreign country will always be challenging and things will always be different. What I’ve learned during my internship is that resisting change will not help you and in the end you will be unhappy. One of the biggest things that I’ve found while living and working outside of Canada is the importance of how you approach differences. Our gut can be to think that things that are different from what we are used toare “weird” but I’ve learned to avoid that word all together.

Participating in this internship has been an integral part of my undergraduate degree. Whether it is a co-op or an internship, I think that every student should strive to participate in some sort of work experience program before they graduate. Internships provide students with invaluable professional and life experiences. They can allow students to consider new career paths and also allow students to realize that certain dream career paths are not for them. Before I interned at CITYNET I was passionate about urban studies but I had very little experience in the field. Through my internship I was exposed to a wide range of urban issues that cities across the Asia Pacific Region are tackling and I was touched by CITYNET member cities’ dedication to creating sustainable urban spaces. To enhance my internship experience I organized a directed studies course on disaster management with a professor at the University of Victoria. This independent research project allowed me to take knowledge from my work at CITYNET and apply it to an academic context. This provided me with a unique perspective of disaster issues and exposed me to the gap between theory and practice.

Funding for internship programs is extremely important because they help foster students’ personal, academic, and professional development. Through internships, students are able to gain skills that help smoothen their transition into the workforce and they gain more confidence as well as a sense of purpose. It’s important for students to be provided with opportunities that push them outside of their comfort zone within a university campus.  I am extremely thankful for the Asia Pacific Foundation of Canada, the University of Victoria, and CITYNET for giving me the chance to gain work experience in a field that I am passionate about. Thank you very much, it was an honour receiving the Asia Connect Award and I hope that in the future many more students can benefit from similar experiences.