Extracurricular Activities: Gain professional experience and enrich your student life

Date
September 14, 2020

When applying for an internship or jobs we are often asked about our experience. For most students this becomes similar to the chicken-and-egg conundrum, how can we get experience without a job and how can we get a job without experience?

Fortunately, Montréal is a city that enables international students to explore with their interests hands-on! Montréal has 4 major universities, with hundreds of combined student groups, a growing startup ecosystem, and a lively art scene. It is not uncommon to find a university student who also is involved in an independent art project, and volunteers on the weekends. Or an international student who works part-time and is the president of a university association. If you can name an interest, there may be a group of people somewhere in the city that would love to collaborate on a project together. So, how to explore your passion through
extracurricular activities?

Volunteering helps develop a sense of community, improves language skills, and gain work experience!

Shortly before starting university, I was volunteering at a food bank helping sort out donations. I had arrived in the city before the beginning of my program and volunteering gave me an opportunity to explore the city and my interests. Through volunteering, I was able to find a non-judgemental community to practice french, explore new parts of the city, learn and develop new skills in my areas of interest, all while helping causes I believe in. Volunteer experience is also a valuable add-on to your résumé, and the volunteer coordinator can write you recommendation letters to be read by future employers on your qualifications!

Finding volunteer opportunities in Montréal is quite simple, the Concordia LIVE Centre helps Concordia students and staff find volunteer opportunities on and off-campus, if the student volunteers in the university with student-lead initiatives, this can also be listed in their official university transcript. For students in other universities, the Volunteer Bureau of Montréal is the website to go to!

Volunteering teaches time management, leadership, professionalism, and gives the confidence to continue developing your projects. It was through volunteering that I gained the confidence to try different projects in a new country. As moving countries can be overwhelming, it is crucial to find safe spaces to explore interests and develop self-confidence in the new culture.

Explore student lead initiatives and conferences.

Montréal is a vibrant hub for student-led initiatives and startups. If entrepreneurship is your passion, you can find various opportunities through startups or validate your own startup idea at one of the city’s incubators. If you have a specific interest, such as sustainability , or community empowerment , to name a couple, there will probably be a project at your university that you can join. If there already isn’t one, gather a couple of interested friends and start your own on-campus association!

Joining initiatives on campus has enabled me to discover more about myself, develop my skills, and gain experience that was applicable when looking for internships. The first student-lead initiative I joined was as the co-president of UNICEF Concordia, I learned about this opportunity in a conference at university, and through this experience I joined a student-lead startup called Smart City X. The time spent at Smart City X forever marked me, and was such an eye-opening experience that I switched majors afterwards. Although none of these associations paid me in money, I gained tangible skills through the experiences that not only have strengthened my CV but helped shape me as a person.

Side note: search for conferences, workshops, and events happening in Montréal regarding your area of interest. Oftentimes, student-led organizations or your department at university will host conferences and networking cocktails where you have the opportunity to learn from experts while also meeting recruiters who are looking to hire students. These events are very important to develop a better understanding of your field of studies, understanding what skills are they looking for in students, and meet possible future employers.

Be sure to check your email often as there are also times where the university will have free tickets to conferences. In February of this year, I attended the Artificial Intelligence Forum hosted by the Chamber of Commerce because my university sent an email offering free tickets on a first-come-first-serve basis and I answered the email fast enough!

Be kind to yourself.

It takes time and perseverance to achieve end goals, maybe the perfect job will not be the first job we find, but that does not mean we should stop trying. Some days we will not be able to finish all of the tasks we set ourselves to accomplish, especially when managing a full-time courseload, with a part time job and/or extracurricular projects. During these moments, we must find comfort in the small things. Eating a delicious croissant in any of the authentic bakeries around the city usually helps me find comfort. Montreal’s unique charm also offers excellent museums, beautiful parks, and breathtaking views that can help us remember how far we have gotten to just be in this beautiful city.

The city of Montréal enables international students to thrive in their passion, with so many different opportunities in academia or industry, conferences, volunteering and the ability to start our own projects, the city accepts us at whichever skill level we are and offers opportunities for us to develop to our full potential.