International experience opens doors
Monday, February 18, 2013

Laracy, center, visiting a pagodas (temple) with friends

A small nudge in the right direction was all master's student Ashley Laracy needed to take a shot at working abroad, and she hasn't looked back. After hearing about the MI International internship program, funded by the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA), from a fellow Sociology student and learning about it at a "Go Abroad" fair at Memorial University, Laracy quickly jumped on board.

In September 2011, Laracy set out on her first international journey to Tra Vinh, in Southern Vietnam. For six months she worked as the gender specialist at Tra Vinh University's Gender and Community Department. Growing up in the small town of Cupids, Newfoundland and Labrador, the rural town of Tra Vinh was a welcoming sight.

"When I left for Vietnam, I had no expectations or preconceived notions of what living abroad would be like," said Laracy. "While it was certainly not Newfoundland, the hospitality of the staff and teachers at Tra Vinh University aided in my adjustment to living in this town of 100,000 people."

Laracy worked with local Vietnamese to train them on how to incorporate gender and gender equality concepts and materials into their procedures and university research.

"One of the main challenges I faced was getting used to the patriarchal and hierarchal nature of the culture. As a single, western woman in her mid-twenties, I was constantly asked why I was single and if I wanted to get married and have children," recalled Laracy.

Laracy's experience in Tra Vinh showed her that living and working abroad was not only something she was able to do, but that she actually enjoyed it.

"I had always wanted to live and work abroad but was too occupied with completing my undergraduate and master's degrees," explained Laracy. "The internship program has given me the practical experience that I needed to accompany my education, thereby making me better able to meet international job requirements."

In fact, it was through the MI internship program that Laracy was able to network with the World University Service of Canada (WUSC) staff. The connection paved the way to her current role as the WUSC's gender mainstreaming adviser. She now works out of the WUSC headquarters in Hanoi.

"My internship gave me knowledge of Vietnamese culture which I was able to showcase on my resume. Without this experience, I wouldn't have been able to network or gain the knowledge about the issues facing women in the country. Furthermore, I had developed and delivered training and was familiar with working with a translator in a college setting. I even learned some Vietnamese," said Laracy.

In her current role, Laracy coordinates with Canadian colleagues at eight different colleges. She also provides various types of training to staff and faculty such as sexual health education and domestic violence prevention. Laracy will end her current contract with WUSC in July, and is hoping to return on a second contract with WUSC from September 2013 - February 2014.

While Laracy enjoys the challenge of an international career in gender and women's rights and is passionate about gender equality, she never intentionally set out to pursue a career in the field.

Going into her third contract in Vietnam in a gender specific role runs the risk of being "too specialized in the area of gender within international development", as Laracy puts it. "I enjoy presenting factual information, correcting misrepresentations of women, and uninformed stereotypes about women in society," said Laracy. "However, I need to start diversifying my experiences and resume, so I plan on expanding my workshops and activities during my second contract with WUSC so that once I finish next year I am able to bring some variety to my portfolio and apply for other positions internationally," said Laracy.