How to turn an internship into a paid gig with Almeera


On today’s episode, Michelle is joined by Almeera, university student and part-time employee at CanGap! She has been part of the team for over 3 years and began her journey working as a co-op student. She’s sharing how she was able to turn a co-op placement into a paid opportunity and dives into valuable advice for gappers and students who are in a similar position.


Michelle and Almeera also go behind the scenes and unpack what it’s really like working for CanGap, along with hearing what projects and resources are Almeera’s favourites!


Topics Discussed

  • Almeera’s favourite resources that CanGap offers, including the Gap Year Podcast, the Gap Year Gameplan and Post-Secondary Decision Guide.

  • A behind the scene on what it’s like working at CanGap and the skills Almeera has developed throughout her time with us.

  • Advice on how to turn a co-op position into a paid opportunity and steps students should take to be successful with this.


Resources Mentioned In This Episode


Connect With The Canadian Gap Year Association


Transcript

Michelle Dittmer - 00:00

Hey there and welcome to the Gap Year podcast. My name is Michelle Dittmer and I am your host and gap year expert. Today, our guest is coming from inside the CanGap team.

We have the wonderful Almeera here with us today! So excited to have you join the podcast and share a little bit of a sneak peek behind the scenes about what happens on our CanGap team.


So thanks for joining us today!


Almeera Eman - 01:48

Thank you for having me Michelle, truly an honor to be on here!


Michelle Dittmer - 01:51

Yeah, I'm sure. After editing so many of our podcasts, it's interesting to be on the flip side, and we'll get into a little bit more about that but maybe you could give the audience a little bit of insight into who you are, what stage of life you're at, and we'll go from there.


Almeera Eman - 02:08

Yeah, for sure! So hello, everybody. My name is Almeera. Currently, I'm in my second year at the BBA program, and I go to the Schulich School of Business. In terms of CanGap, I have some incredible history. Currently. I'm working part time, but I started actually out here as a Co-op student before my Grade 12 school year, and then I went to contract hours and now I'm here part time. So it's been a really, really good journey so far, and I've learned so much throughout the years that I can't wait to dive in deep throughout the episode.


Michelle Dittmer - 02:42

Amazing! We're so grateful that you found us and you came to us through that high school Co-op program, it really truly is something we believe so passionately in is experiential learning and whether that's happening formally within high school or college or university or on that beautiful journey of a gap year, being able to harness those hands on experience just makes a world of difference and I'm going to ask you to share some of your maybe learnings from that throughout the podcast as well.


But one of your key roles with CanGap has always been knee deep in all of the resources that we create. So you support with the podcast you support with our online portals of activities and resources for people enrolled in the game plan or the accelerator program you support with all the free downloads that we've got going on. So you really seen everything evolve and come to life.


So I'm curious from your perspective, a young person in those gap year taking years, what are some of the things that you have seen come across your desk that have really made you go wow or made you really think, think differently about life or just things that you're like, this is so valuable, everybody needs to listen or read or watch this. So what are those things that really stand out for you?


Almeera Eman - 02:08

Honestly, any resource I come across that CanGap makes I’m like, wow, this is incredible! But I think a couple of my favorites that have stood out. Starting with the podcast, and I'm not saying this just because I edited it or anything like that.


Truly every single episode is filled with so much valuable information. It's ridiculous. It's so incredible to see the opportunities that are out there that are like I had no idea and even like reflecting back on my high school experience, everyone around me had just one pathway in mind, and that was to finish high school, to go to university, to get a job and then, you know, that's it.


But there's so many incredible programs and organizations that you can participate in that will really, again, help with your experiential learning, it'll give you life experience.It'll allow you to, you know, work on passions that you have.


So the podcast has some really, really amazing episodes and I think a couple of my favorite ones were the Canadian Conservation Corps with Michelle Chen.She came on and she talked about her journey with that organization and I thought it was just incredible.

Another one was becoming Au-Pair with Natalie. Thought that was super cool and if you want that travel experience, that's such a great program to look into.


I think another podcast that I really liked was International Experience Canada I believe and that is when you like, I believe you go to another province and you work there. One of my friends, actually she's in university, but over the summer she went and participated with that organization and she went to Quebec and we were talking about it the other day and she just said that experience brought her so much more confidence and allowed her to develop her French speaking skills that allowed her to just become a more independent person.

And I think that's so important, especially for us kids who like, you know, went through high school in the beginning of university and like our early adulthood through the pandemic, I feel like we definitely, we were so isolated and it was hard to get that independence.

But I think these organizations and these programs have created such beautiful programs that you know, are very accessible and there's so much financial support out there as well that you could leverage to go on.


In addition, I think one of my favorite episodes is the one you did with AJ is actually a gap year ambassador here on CanGap as well. So you can check out some of his videos on YouTube, but the podcast that he did was incredible. Just like a business student he also goes to Rotman I believe. And so it was just really cool to see all the different things that he did before coming into business and it was just fascinating to see how much life experience that gave him and like the internships that he participated in and he should definitely just check out all those tips. So yeah, the podcast is definitely my favorite by far And even the solo-like episode that Michelle does, they're so jam packed with just a lot of valuable information and I think everyone, whether you're a gapper, a student, parents like, you'll all benefit from that.So podcast is my number one.


Another resource that I really like is the post secondary decision making flowchart. Not only do I love a good flow chart but it's really, really insightful. I think it just, it gives you, you know, a few basic questions kind of at the beginning and as you like to dive deeper, Michelle actually provides you with resources based on things like the pathway you choose. So I thought that was really, really cool. And it just again broadens your perspective on how many pathways are truly available


Finally, this is such a valuable resource and it's the Gap Year Gameplan. The Gap Year Gameplan. It's truly like a game plan. Like, seriously, it covers all of the different elements that you would need to have a successful gap year. You have your goals, you have mental health and overall well-being. You have your financials, you have your career planning.

Everything is so broken down into just every sort of aspect you would want to develop on your gap year. So I think it just does a really wonderful job of breaking it down and for gappers to be able to manage that throughout their gap year because reflecting as like a student, when I get a big project, it's overwhelming and that big project may last for four months, a semester.


A gap year in most cases is a full year and it's really hard to imagine and to plan out a full year's worth of activities or things that you want to accomplish. And no matter how organized you are because I consider myself a very organized person, I would still get very overwhelmed.


So by having the game plan and by having everything laid out so perfectly and so nicely, and to have reflection questions and activities and just resources jam packed throughout that, I think it's an incredibly valuable resource that if you can get your hands on, you definitely should.


And this was just like the tip of the iceberg. Like, seriously, there's much more involved. I'll put the link in the show notes so you can check out the game plan. But also something incredible is that you get the Student of Leadership Humanity award, which I think is amazing, like that award it's for CanGap Cam gap to verify and to give you credit for everything that you've done in your gap year.


And it's for places like, like work and for university to see like this is what you've accomplished.


And I think that's so important, especially in a day and age of like LinkedIn and you know, having these like credentials on your resume and something that will definitely give you a higher up even compared to like university students to be honest, because GPA is definitely not not. everything people look for, employers look for, experience they want to see. You know what transferable skills you learn from extracurriculars or work or whatever. And I can guarantee you, you would learn a lot of transferable skills from the student leadership and Humanity award.


Michelle Dittmer - 10:07

Yeah, I love how you speak about how these are all applicable to people on gap years and elsewhere because they really are just tools for life.


But often when we are a student or we have a full time job, we don't have the time and space to actually concentrate and to learn about things other than what somebody else dictates we need to learn and your gap year just gives you that space. So while these, these tools are for everyone on your gap year, you just have the capacity to really dive in deep and really reap the benefits of all of this learning about yourself and about the world.


And I think it's just really cool, like you said to have it all in one place and structured and giving you that guiding hand. So that you don't just kind of flounder and grasp at anything that comes with you here.


Here is a game plan that will guide you along the way. So yeah, and I love hearing from you what your favorites are because like you said, there's so many resources on our website and the podcast and all of the things that we offer. So for you to be able to narrow it down to just a couple of your key favorite ones I think is just super cool. So thanks for, thanks for sharing that with us.


And now you also cause you've worked behind the scenes with us in many capacities. So like we said at the beginning, you started out as a Co-op student and then you moved into just some contract work and then you came on full or part time with us.


So maybe you could give our listeners, people are always interested like what's it like behind the scenes?


Well, it let's peel back the curtain and what’s this organization really all about and how do we function as a team and what are some of the highlights?


So if you were to give people a peek behind that curtain, what would you, what would you tell them about being part of the CanGap team?


Almeera Eman - 12:00

Well, for starters, working at CanGap is truly incredible. And I'm not just saying this because Michelle’s here, customer, she's here, but it's seriously a dream organization to work for and at the end of the day it's very fulfilling work, to see that the work that you're doing is impacting people positively and you're creating change in this world.


So that’s the foundation but there's a lot of elements sort of working at CanGap.

First of all it's a very welcoming and a very safe space, 100%.

You know Michelle and Jazz, who sort of like, you know, toss me with different projects, they are always asking about my mental health, which I no one has asked me before this which is kind of insane.


But yeah they're always asking like “Hey Almeera, how do you feel about this work, you know, are you overwhelmed? Are you stressed?” I appreciate that so much because I think it allows me to even take some time to reflect on how I'm actually doing as opposed to just having the mindset of like go, go.


Over time obviously you know we've opened up to each other and we've kind of shared things that are going on in our own lives and our own like struggles and everything and it's so comforting to see like just and genuine and authentic people caring about you.

I haven't had a ton of life experience, but from what I've had, like, they're not everyone is like that and not everyone has the best interest for you. And so, you know, by being in sort of an atmosphere where people are very genuine, it's just very comforting. And yeah, it's just created such a wonderful space.


I think another element of working with CanGap how creative you get to be and how insightful it is to work here.


So beginning with Creativity, because we're such a small team, you end up wearing a bunch of different hats, with that comes a lot of just opportunities for learning and for growth.

And I've really been able to kind of harness my creative side for certain projects that I do.

Also, it is very insightful. So this is definitely the business student in me talking, but there is so much that goes behind the scenes like seriously so much and I like, I like, obviously I see a lot of things that are happening, but I'm sure there's so much more. It's crazy just seeing all of that and seeing how everything plays out and what sort of elements go into every single project.


It's like, wow, like this, like there's so many moving parts and there's so many things that you need to think about and it's just it impacts so many people too.


So kudos to Michelle for, for running this for so many years. And she's done an amazing and incredible job. But yeah, it's super cool to see all of that.


And I've been able to learn a lot from this experience too. I'm constantly learning from Michelle, from Jazz and picking up on things that they do, like how does Michelle, you know, go about working on this project? How does she go about, you know, doing this certain task.

Or for Jazz, Jazz is so good with her words. Like seriously, like I read her like, like marketing emails and I'm like, OK, like this is how I want to word things next time.


So it's just an incredible learning opportunity too and I feel very fortunate to be working with such amazing ladies at such a young age so I'm very grateful for that.


And then sort of the last element is it's challenging and it's very disciplinary. So beginning with challenging. I think it's challenging in a good way because like I said, we're a small team, so you take on different roles and different hats and for that you have to learn about different programs and softwares and that can be very challenging to sort of get used to. There's a lot of learning curve balls and a lot of time that goes into just familiarizing yourself with the software and becoming good at it.


It can be very challenging at times, but again, because it's such a welcoming and safe space, I can ask questions.


Finally disciplinary so one of the huge benefits of working at CanGap is that not only is it removed, but you get to have your own hours, which is kind of a blessing and a curse because, you know, obviously I'm so grateful with my university schedule, but you have to be very timely and you have to be very disciplinary with when you when you sit down to work, you know, when what time do you log off. It's allowed me to develop those skills that I use in my real life and that I use during university and that I know I'll use in the future and I think especially if you are a gapper making sure that you become disciplined and they're being that you learn time management skills throughout your gap year is super important because you're going to need that in the workplace. You're going to need that if you choose to pursue postsecondary.


It's definitely a hard skill to learn because you like in elementary school, in high school, a teacher has always been there to tell you what time to do this work, what time it's, you know, it's time to switch and do this work and to do this and for like and to have that all on you, it definitely is a transition, but it's something that you're going to learn over time, and you're that you're going to get better at.


That's a little sneak peek behind the scenes!


Michelle Dittmer - 16:38

And all very complimentary! I'm very, very flattered, but I love hearing your story because it really confirms for me that we are walking the talk and that we are acting in alignment with our values and those values of inclusivity and those values of experiential learning, those values of supporting growth and development in young people and young professionals.

And all of those things are so important to us as an organization. As a small nonprofit and as an organization that's trying to do good in the world, and the fact that has to start internally, that has to start at home, that has to start within our very own organization, and we have to live and breathe those values in order for that to radiate out into the work that we do.

And that same love and care that we have for our team, we extend our team into the people in the world on gap years.


And every phone call we have with incoming families, every e-mail correspondence that we have is filled with those same values in that same care and that same desire for growth.

So to hear that in your own words just fills my heart so much today. So it's going to be a good Monday when you start off your day like this. So thank you so much for sharing that with the world and with me. I'm gonna take this one very personally today.


The other thing that I have for you is lots of students have Co-op opportunities that they really enjoy. Or maybe they're going into co-ops or maybe on their gap year, they're taking an internship of some kind you were really successful you actually sought out can gap, you were the one that approached me about the opportunity for a Co-op placement and then it transitioned into part-time work and is something that you've been able to carry throughout your university career.


Even so, I'm curious if you had any tips or tricks or wanted to share how that happened or what are some things that young people who are looking for that transition into paid opportunities?


What tips or tricks do you have for them?


Almeera Eman - 19:05

I think if any of you are curious, I guess I'll first talk about how I ended up finding CanGap. So Michelle and I, we kind of went way back. So in grade 10, I joined my Cities Youth Council and Michelle was the leader of that. And at that point, our Youth Council was quite big.

There was like there were quite a few children, they are not children. There were quite a few students there. And I like never made a personal connection with Michelle during that time, but it was so crazy. I think it was all fate.


Seriously, as she walking out, I was walking in with my friend, and I remember just like, I knew she was leaving because she told, like, the organization.

And so I was very curious. I was like, I wonder when Michelle's going to be up to so again as she was walking out, I was walking in and I was like Oh my goodness, Michelle. Like, what are you going to be up to?


And so she then tells me that, you know, like her organization between Gap Year Association has been funded by the government, and she's going to be taking on the role, like full time and I was like OK, like, maybe I'll just write, like, the name of the organization or e-mail it down in my notes.


And so and then after that, I was kind of, like just in the back of my brain.


And then in grade 11, I did the Business SHSM. A SHSM is a special high skills major.

I would highly recommend that if you're in high school, different high schools have different SHSM’s. So there's business, sports, cosmetology, media and arts.


It's incredible. And basically, as part of SHSM you do a certain amount of courses that pertain to that field and you also do a co-op term. So in grade 11, I started doing my business SHSM and then 2020 hit the world when like, the world basically turned upside down and I had to find a Co-op placement during that time.


And so I was like, racking my brain. I was like, Oh my goodness, like, where do I find a Co-op where when everything is shut down?


And then I remembered I was like, Oh my goodness, like, the Canadian Gap Year Association. So that's how I ended up reaching out to Michelle. I was very optimistic because she was kind of like my only hope at that point because I had, I had nothing else.

So I reached out and thankfully Michelle took the opportunity and she invited me on and it was great. It was such a fun summer and it was, it was truly, truly amazing. And I think I was still very like naive at that point because I never thought it could turn into a paid opportunity.

I thought that was just kind of like a one and done thing. I was like amazing!


Michelle Dittmer - 21:28

I want to give you a shout out here though, the fact that you took the, you took the lead and you reached out to an organization that you had a connection with and I think a lot of students are intimidated by doing that step or they fall into the pattern of no that's the teachers job or that's my parents job. I'm just, I'm just a kid. I'm just a youth. I can't do that.

But I think the fact that this should give other people the confidence to be able to reach out to those people and those warm leads are going to be so beneficial.


Whether that's a family friend, a teacher's brother, sister, somebody that that's part of your music school you go to, where your Kumon or whatever you're up to, that's in your network really sitting down and thinking, thinking critically, who do I already know that might I might be able to reach out to?


And I think that was a great first step that you made that allowed the rest of this to fall into place.


So you said fate, but I'm not sure it's fate there. There's a lot of things on your part where you took the reins and you took leadership and were able to get the ball rolling and put things into action because of the actions that you took.


Almeera Eman - 22:47

Aw, I appreciate that, Michelle. You just made my Monday. But no, I really do appreciate that and I think something that you said 100% like leverage your network.


It's so important. I think this really quickly here. Michelle talks a lot, I think, in the game plan as well, about mentorship and building your network.


And I can't stress this enough. Like, seriously, I think one way that I survived my first year at university was having mentors and having people that I could go to, to ask questions, to ask for help, to just like, even ask them, like, hey, do you know so and so and it's so important that you do that. And there's nothing to be ashamed about. There's nothing to be embarrassed or to feel like you're too young.


Because if you think that way, then you're always going to think that way. And like, at some point you need to like, step out and you need to just like, go for it. And the worst that anyone can say is no, right?


But then the fact that you've never even tried to ask like you never even knew, like, what could the answer be? I think it's super important and yeah, like definitely looking at the networks that you have and like the community that you have around you, it may take a little bit of time to sort of think about all those, all those like people and all that. But I think once you do, you'll sort of realize that, wow, you know, the community around me is super fruitful.

Even like teachers like reaching out to teachers, they have great networks. And honestly, like for example, if I never asked Michelle and stopped her to ask about that can gap, I probably would still reach out to the Youth Council.


And I would reach out to those leaders and be like, hey, you know, do you know of anyone?

And hopefully then they would, like, lead me to Michelle. And so it's just super important to leverage your network.


Oh yes, I was talking about my night, like, how I was young. OK. So I was very naive when it came to, like, understanding that this Co-op could turn into a paid position.


And so for those of you out there who are in a Co-op or internship is definitely a possibility.

And so this is what I would do, and this is why I feel like Michelle's kept me on for so long.

I think it kind of falls under the umbrella of involvement and initiative.


So a couple of things, like just under this umbrella, beginning with involvement, when you come to work at an organization, you want your presence to have a lasting impression, right?

Like you want the people around you to enjoy working with you, you want the people to, you know, see that you're putting your best work and your best effort forward.


And people, people can see that. You know, it's like working in a group project and seeing someone put effort versus not like it's you're, you're able to see that clearly.


And so sort of going in with like a positive attitude and making sure that you are responsible, that you are organized, that you are timely with the things that you're doing and obviously there's going to be hiccups and mistakes along the way, but that's how you're going to learn.


But just overall kind of going in with like a positive attitude and all those different skills that I mentioned, I think it really helps with that lasting impression.


Another thing I think is just wanting to genuinely improve and wanting to learn there are like and like to do this you should ask questions. You should ask for feedback on the work that you've done.And I think having that genuine interest in the work and you're fully invested in the role.


I think this is super important.

The next thing is initiative and initiative. What I mean by this is just saying yes. The projects and to new things, something that has happened quite a few times, like Michelle or Jazz will come to me with, like, a different project or something that they want me to work on.

And they asked me, like, hey, do you want to work on this? And internally I'm like, Oh my gosh, I've never done something like this. This is so scary.


But then outside I'm like, yeah, of course. Like, I can definitely do this, you know? And it's just by saying yes, it's by taking on new things. That's how you're going to learn, and that's how you're going to increase your capacity at the organization.

When I first started, I definitely wasn't editing a podcast and making explainer videos and working on the game plan. Like all of these things came over time and it came by me from saying yes to new opportunities and not being afraid to like, take on those sort of challenging roles.


And again, the atmosphere that I'm in.

It definitely helps with that because I know I can just, you know, pop on to discord, ask the question and it'll I know they'll help me.

Which again has made this so much easier. But then like also if I just, if I kept saying no to different things, I would still be where I like, where I was a few years ago and I would have never progressed.


So I think those were some of the things that really I think stood out about me to Michelle. And that's why I like continuing working here.


Michelle Dittmer - 27:22

Yeah, I think all those are super great tips.

And I think one thing that you're overlooking in yourself is your ability to communicate and keep us informed.


And I think that this is really important whether you're in person, but especially if you're doing remote work and I know that. This is probably going to be part of everybody's life moving forward. There's going to be some component of remote work.

But regardless, communication is so important and letting us know where you're at different projects, letting us know what's going well, what's not going well, and where you need some additional support.


That two-way communication is something that's so valuable so that the whole team can work together to support each other and when things are overwhelming in one area, somebody else can shift and take that on and the ability to communicate was another strength that I really saw in you so that I always knew where you were at and what you were doing.


And even though we are in two different cities working from two different houses and I don't even think we've met in person since we worked back together with the Youth committee. So like, I think that's just so bizarre.


But yeah. So I think like all of those things are so true and when you pu that out there in an opportunity, it can help you stand out and it can help lead to the organization going, hey, that person was awesome. Let's bring them back in. We've got something else happening. We need some more support. Who do we know?


Let me tell you same thing about you having a network and looking for your Co-op placement.


It's the same when people are hiring, if they've got a particular project in mind, if they already have somebody in their network, that is way easier and cheaper and more reliable than popping something on indeed, and trying to find somebody and having to go through all these resumes and talk to all these strangers.


So if you can leave a really positive impression, then somebody might actually come back and reach back out to you. And I've done that for some of our entertainment for Frosh week in past years. These are people I've worked with years ago that I have called back. When I need people to write content for me, I reach back into my network.


So that networking piece comes full circle when it comes to leaving a good impression, not only are you building your network, but you exist in the network of other people who might eventually have opportunities for you.


Almeera Eman - 29:58

No, I never thought about it that way. Like being in other people's networks. That's super cool.

But yeah, again, like I did, I leverage my network. Michelle leveraged her network and that's how we've come here.


And just really quickly too, I think the communication piece. I just wanted to thank you for that, but it's something that I've had to work on, you know, it was not easy in the beginning because I was like, Oh my gosh, like, you know, I really like, I need to finish this.

But I'm kind of behind, like, is it going to look bad? And again, it comes with sort of building that relationship and having that trusting bond with your employer. But if you look at the sooner you can do it, the better because at the end of the day, like, people just want to be informed, informed throughout what's going on, and they don't want to be sort of in the dark about things especially, especially progress and all that.

So yeah. Communication. Super, super important.


Michelle Dittmer - 29:58

I love that.

I think it's so beautiful and I think we are so lucky to be such an incredible team working all together and we are so lucky to have you as part of that team and we just adore working with you and it is so much fun.

So before we sign off, do you have any last parting words for our audience today?


Almeera Eman - 31:10

Last parting words that I have for gappers and students who may be watching this would just be to continue to persevere through the challenges and through like, the different hurdles that life gives you.

Because let me tell you one thing, just university itself, like there have been so many obstacles and challenges that I've had to face and I can imagine being on a gap year, you're probably facing even more obstacles and challenges, but just persevere through those, be resilient through those times.

It is going to be hard, but you're going, you're going to come out as a better person at the end and you're going to learn so many different valuable lessons and it's truly going to shape who you are.


Michelle Dittmer - 31:49

I love that.

I think we're all works in progress.

The more life experience we get under our belt, the more challenges we take on, the more we learn about ourselves and the world, and the more, I believe, the more fulfilling life becomes once we start to go deeper and broader.

It's just such a beautiful thing, this, this life that we have. So let's make the most of it.

And on that note, thank you so much for joining us today. It was such a pleasure to have you on the podcast.

It was a pleasure to speak. Thank you so much, Michelle, for having me.


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