International WIL: Practitioners Perspective


How did you become interested in pursuing an international opportunity?

I have always loved learning about other cultures. Experiences in many areas of the world have taught me the value of developing a deeper worldview. I love working in the education sector. I had been seconded to analyze the business processes of international co-op when moving to a new software system. And it was here that a whole new world opened up for me! It was accidental good fortune that a management job became available in the international co-op team, and I was selected for it. In hindsight, this job was the perfect nexus (ikigai) of what I liked to do, had good skills for, was getting paid for, and what the business case needed at the time. After that, I was very fortunate to be mentored by colleagues and leaders who know the international ecosystem very well, which added to my desire to stay in the field.

Can you provide a brief overview of the international WIL work you were involved in?

Currently, I am the Director for International Strategic Initiatives in Co-operative & Experiential Education at the University of Waterloo. The business case focus is on opportunity development for international co-op & WIL experiences, supporting success and satisfaction of visa students in co-op & WIL programs, and facilitating WIL partnership development. I also pursue related aspects of program development and design, such as large-scale mobility, risk management, UN’s SDG awareness building and impact through WIL, and intercultural effectiveness. To keep this narrative short, I’ll focus on the outbound piece of mobility.

What were the deliverables or outcomes of the experience? What was the biggest take-away from your experience?

All in all, the role is both very rewarding and challenging. It’s a very big world out there with lots of creativity and elegance in program design of international mobility. And, there is a lot of opportunity to find partners who have a good philosophical fit with you – those who are ready to take the risks of innovating with you. At the same time, the geo-socio-political landscape can be very uncertain making it important to build programs that are nimble.

I cannot emphasize enough the importance of robust and reliable networks – with the Canadian Trade Commissioner Service, with Canadian Chambers of Commerce and Business Councils worldwide, with Ministries of Trade, Labour and Education in other countries, with peers and fellow practitioners, and with communities of practice related to international WIL mobility. Know your building blocks so that you can provide suitable talent solutions for different global business needs, as well as morph and create new ways of doing things that still conform to basic requirements in times of change. Build and retain relationships with students, employers & opportunity providers, and institutional partners by soliciting their impressions and insights on engaging with you. Identify and manage challenges as a team, and don’t forget to celebrate successes.

What advice would you give to other WIL practitioners interested in international WIL?

Do it … Even if it is a small piece of your program! In this age where understanding one’s role as a global citizen is a necessary construct of university education, we must endeavor to bridge our student talent to the global industry as a way for our students to develop that deeper worldview. The overheads of international mobility can be daunting, but the successful outcomes feel very rewarding; so, take the time to find out what you’re going to get into. Be comfortable with unexpected outcomes and cultivate the wherewithal to run with them. Build skills in competing for funding as many international opportunities need the additional financial support to create greater access for all our students; know your program’s unique selling points and leverage them competitively. From a knowledge gathering perspective, there is a chapter detailing various aspects of international WIL in the soon to be republished International Handbook of Work Integrated Learning, and several papers in the International Journal of Work Integrated Learning. Also, a consortium of national WIL organizations has come together to offer the Global Work Integrated Learning modules, which is another great forum to meet fellow practitioners in addition to learning about global WIL. Your time will be well invested by joining peer communities, such as the Canadian Bureau of International Education’s PLCs and CEWIL Canada’s International Committee. Most of all, what you do should feel rewarding on most days!

Shabnam Ivkovic
Director for International Strategic Initiatives
Co-operative & Experiential Education, University of Waterloo