We’re so happy to have the opportunity to interview Jenna, who has worked with us in two different countries. Jenna, which programs have you done and which cities were you placed in? I did two international placements with Scotia Personnel, the first was Hospitality in Reading, England and the second was the Cultural Ambassador program in Beijing, China. I did my university undergrad in Halifax, where the company is based out of, and they also helped with casual summer work in daycare centers.
Let’s talk about your experience in the U.K. first. You worked in hospitality in England. It’s an amazing immersion experience, and also very interesting from a professional perspective! How did you find working in England? I loved working in England – the weather was very similar to southern Ontario, there were very few cultural differences, no language barriers (except for some words or slang, like aluminum, tomato, soccer/football) so adapting to the country was very easy. The hotel I worked in was a boutique hotel, only 45 rooms, so we had a lot of regulars, and that made it more interesting for me because I got to know a lot of the guests, and was even given nicknames from some of them! My co-workers there were from Australia, South Africa, and all over Europe (Romania, Czech Republic, Germany, Italy, France) so getting to know them and learning about their countries was a lot of fun too.
How long was the program you did? Why did you choose that length? I did the 1 year program in England because I wanted to gain more in-depth knowledge in the field, and also save money for university while I was there.
Could you describe your job position in the U.K? My position in the UK was mainly as a Food & Beverage Attendant, but because I had college training (the Hospitality Management program from Algonquin College) I also helped out in the reception desk when co-workers took vacation time or were sick. Mostly, I helped during the breakfast shift, which I preferred, as well as some event catering for weddings and larger birthday parties.
We often hear people say they made fantastic friends while doing our hospitality program. Could you tell us a bit about your social life in England? I made a lot of really great friends in England, a lot of them I still talk to over Facebook and Snapchat. I’ve been able to meet with a couple of them over the years too since I left England – and even took a trip to Switzerland to visit one of the girls I met who is working at a ski resort there!
Any recommendations for someone visiting the U.K. for the first time? (ie. your favourite spot, great food, activities to try etc.) If you’re visiting the UK for the first time, I definitely recommend stopping at a youth hostel or youth hotel while in the bigger cities to pick up one of the tourist maps they usually give out. They have great recommendations for restaurants, activities and events going on in the city and that type of thing. Getting an Oyster Card would be a good idea as well, they’re like refillable transit cards. You just tap on when you get on the bus/train/metro, and tap off again when you’re at your destination, they’re a lot easier to manage than constantly buying single trip tickets or monthly passes. Definitely stop in at Reading. It’s a student city with university and college campuses, so there are always a lot of young people, and two really great shopping malls, as well as little boutiques, cafes and restaurants. Plus, the Thames River cuts right through the middle of the town, so it’s a beautiful spot to hang out at!
The second program you did had you living in China with a host family. Living with a family can be so rewarding. We think au pairing is a great way to learn about another culture, and make lasting international connections. Could you describe your day-to-day with your host family and kids? I was living with a family in Beijing. They had two children (10 and 3) and three live-in nannies (“aunties”), so my day to day was pretty easy. I woke up and went with the daughter to school and did some English spelling with her on the way, and then played with the son for an hour or so before he had play group. The daughter usually had an extra activity after school (basketball, tennis, piano, art, E-Lan class) so I would go with the auntie and driver to pick her up. The daughter, son and I would play for a little in the evening, have dinner with the whole family, do some English homework and then the kids would go to bed. Twice a week I had Mandarin classes with a couple other tutors in the city. I had 1.5 days off every week, and a full weekend off every month, so the family was really good about helping me plan trips to Shanghai, Xi’an or to ski resorts outside the city.
Do you still keep in touch with them? The daughter and I still talk a bit over WeChat, and I send photos to her whenever I do something fun here in Australia. She has been asking her parents if she can come to Sydney to visit me and have a study break from school, so they will probably be here sometime this winter (June-July for Australians).
Au pairing is much more than the job description. People au pair for different reasons, and likewise, enjoy different aspects of their life abroad. What were your favourite things to do outside of work hours? I’ve always really enjoyed history and mythology. While in China, one of my favourite things was going to the museums, temples and old market streets to sight-see and take photo. China must have been a fantastic experience, and also very different. Do you have any favourite moments that stand out to you as “typically Chinese” and which you wouldn’t have been able to have in Canada? Definitely all the people who wanted to take photos with me. Whenever I went to somewhere that was really touristy (The Summer Palace,The Forbidden City, The Great Wall, Terracotta Statues) Chinese people who were also visiting would stop me and ask if I would be in a photo with their parents, their children or even with themselves. I was taking a taxi to the train station once and the taxi driver did a WeChat call to his friend to introduce us and prove to his friend that he had a foreigner in his taxi – it was so strange and funny every time it happened!
Any recommendations for someone visiting China for the first time? (ie. your favourite spot, great food, activities to try etc.) Some of my favourite places in China were the Summer Palace (it’s a big site, with a lot to see, and very inexpensive to get to), and the Wangfujing and Dashilan shopping streets. These are good places to visit any time of year, and the shopping streets are great places to get cheap street food (definitely try the Potato Towers, which are basically giant French fries on a stick!), souvenirs and other little items. Deciding to work abroad can be a tough decision. It helps to hear about international opportunities through close friends, but not all of our participants hear about us through word-of- mouth. What part of Canada were you coming from, and how did you hear about Scotia Personnel? I first heard about Scotia Personnel at Algonquin college. I was in my last year of the Hospitality Management program there when Marilyn came and did a small presentation for my class. I filled in her information request form because I had always liked history and travelling, so I figured going to England for hospitality work would be a great introduction to the field, and an even better way to have the opportunity to travel and visit Europe.
Could you describe the interview and placement process? Would you work with us again? My interview and placement was very easy and very quick. Scotia Personnel made it really easy to get the documents together by laying out a step-by-step plan for me to check off while I was still in school and preparing for exams, and the placement process for England and China was fun and exciting. I would definitely work with them again, and have even recommended programs to several of my friends and family. Living abroad isn’t for everyone. Would you consider living in China, or another country outside Canada again? I would absolutely live outside of Canada – and currently am. When I finished my program in China in February 2018, I flew directly to Sydney, Australia and will be here for 2 years while I do my Masters program at the university here. If you were to meet someone considering working abroad, but afraid to take the leap, what advice would you give them? In the wise words of Albus Dumbledore (yes, I’m going there), “it does not do to dwell on dreams and forget to live.” In my opinion, this works with fear as well. And in the not-so-wise words of Drake, and I’m truly sorry about this one: YOLO. If you let nerves or fear hold you back from experiencing all the things you wish/dream/wonder about, then you won’t get to experience the exhaustion of hiking a mountain or climbing to the highest guard tower of the Great Wall, the cold water of a waterfall when you stand underneath it, the fear and excitement of skydiving in autumn and seeing all the colours of the changing trees, the softness of a baby kangaroo’s fur, the wonder when you look up at the Eiffel Tower, and then down from the top. Even something as simple as experiencing the difference between chocolate ice cream in Madrid and Barcelona, or a sangria in Spain compared to a sangria in Italy.
Would you recommend our hospitality program? If so, how would you describe the job and benefits to someone who didn’t know much, or anything about it? I absolutely would (and have!) recommended the hospitality program to people. I told them about my stay, the work I was doing, things I got to learn that I didn’t learn about in classes, the people I met and trips I went on – and then I told them about having my accommodations and meals provided for, (which was amazing, as I never had to worry about where I would be sleeping or having to move from one hostel to another), having a stable job that allowed for vacation time and days off every week that I could lump together to do a simple 3 day trip or a more extensive 8 day trip, how cheap flights are in Europe (40 dollars to Dublin and back!), and basically how a steady income + cheap flights = money saved for school! Did our partner organizations in the U.K. and China help you during your stay? The partner agency in China was very helpful, they have community councillors who work with the Mandarin school to help provide weekly and monthly cultural activities like Chinese character painting, opera mask art, Chinese chess classes, trips to the Forbidden City or Great Wall, hot-pot dinners, etc. The partner organization in the UK was helpful with answering questions I had about the different hotels that I could potentially be matched up with, locations and accessibility to bigger cities.