This Spring, a team of four people (myself, Adam, Richard and Theo) travelled in two vehicles to 23 communities in British Columbia 
...to host job fairs.
We drove through all kinds of weather, 
and met interesting people.
I developed some skills,
saw how beautiful British Columbia is,
and had a great time on my first co-op term!
Reflection
My first co-op term working with Pace Group Communications Inc. on the BC Jobs Plan was great. Looking back at this adventurous journey, I got to see 23 different communities in British Columbia and made the most of what each city or town had to offer. I got to snowboard at all the top resorts of the province, go for a wine tasting, and enjoy some scenic views and amazing weather. On top of that, I made new friends and developed new skills like media relations and writing professional reports. 

The most important thing that I will take away from this experience is working in a team. I was the youngest of the four; Theo was two years older than me, Adam was ten years older and Richard was twenty years older. Despite our age gap and different personalities, we managed to work well together. The key was our team bonding activities like talking in the car, going bowling, or playing board games. This helped us become a strong and efficient team because we learned more about each other and got past the shyness phase.  As the tour progressed, we each specialized in our strengths and communicated effectively with each other. Bonds with co-workers are important in optimizing your experience on the job.  
After speaking to my co-op supervisors (Kristina and Jocelyn), and discussing my co-op experience with the co-op coordinator (Marcia), I realized that working in a public relations industry helped me figure out which part of communication I wanted to get into. From speaking to Kristina, Jocelyn, and Shivani on our car rides or during dinner, I realized the reason why I wanted to get into public relations is because I have been involved with large-scale events like the Winter Festivals, Richmond Ozone, and the Opening Ceremony of the Olympic Oval. I enjoy being a part of events because it brings a community together. I also like the idea that in public relations, you do use the same skills on a day-to-day basis and you generally work Mondays to Fridays from 9am to 5pm, but each work day is never the same. Some days may be spent liaising with clients, venue locations, or co-workers, while other days may involve being at a venue and planning out the event. I have also learned about the other specializations within the public relations industry, like media relations and crisis communication. Every aspect of public relations interests me and the sporadic layout of the industry will always keep me alert and thinking. 
Goals
My exposure to the public relations industry has indeed confirmed which path of communication I would like to specialize in. Having received feedback from my co-op supervisors, Kristina and Jocelyn, I will take their advice and work on the areas that need improvement and also work on my strengths to enhance my talents. For future co-op terms, I would like to gain more experience in the public relations industry and receive training on social media optimization, writing news releases, and matter regarding crisis communication. I will accomplish this by researching public relation opportunities within Vancouver and establishing connections with people in the industry. I also plan on getting more involved and developing more public relations-related skills by attending workshops and volunteering. Co-op has motivated me to do what it takes to be a more qualified applicant for public relation positions in the near future.
Co-op
My advice for other co-op students is that it is important to be positive and keep an open mind. Before my work term, I thought that I would gravitate towards the journalism aspect of communication. I tried the tour staff position anyway because I enjoy interacting with people. It turns out that my exposure to the industry made me love it. Public relations encompasses my passion for interacting with the public, my strength in writing, and my need to learn and develop more skills. You cannot assume you will not like a job unless you have tried it. It is important to explore different career options while you still can because in the real world outside of university, you cannot just switch careers with a snap of a finger.

Completing one co-op term has already made me feel confident that I have the skills that I will need after graduation. Co-op reassured me that I am indeed on the right track to my “dream job,” that I will in fact like my job, and that I will not graduate feeling unsure about what to do next. Once I complete my undergraduate degree, I will know exactly where to start applying. Catching a glimpse of what I will be doing two years from now is now another one of my motivations to do well in school. I am excited for another co-op term and another chance to get more exposure to public relations. 
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Celebrating co-op week. I love co-op!
I would like to give special thanks to: 
  • My parents for being supportive in my career choices 
  • My friends for Skyping, texting and phoning me on a regular basis to cure my homesickness
  • Mike, for starting our relationship on a long distance basis and for being there for me at all hours of the day. You’re the best!
  • Pace Group for welcoming co-op students into their office and giving me relevant work experience 
  • Kristina, Jocelyn and Shivani for being great coordinators that contributed to the success of each job fair and for giving me feedback to help me improve in public relations
  • The team – Adam, Richard, and Theo, for awesome memories and great travelling experiences together
  • Most importantly, the Communication co-op department for guiding me through the application process. Thank you Marcia, Liesl, and Sangita. I couldn’t have done it without you guys. 
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This marks the end of my work term. Back to rez!
 
 
This is the last week of our tour before we head home on Saturday! I had another TV interview on Tuesday with CFTK TV of Astral Media. I feel like I improved from the last one because I gained more confidence. We’ve had more memorable team stories this week. Firstly, we went up to Hudson Bay Mountain after our fair setup. Richard and Adam bought crazy carpets from Canadian Tire for $3 and slid down the mountain on them. I got one last time to snowboard before the trip is over and Shivani enjoyed going down the mountain on a sled. The mountain had large dumps of snow and it wasn’t as busy as the resorts that I had been used to. The following day, the team went out for dinner. A man sitting next to us had overheard our conversations and mistook Adam as my dad. It was a hilarious moment, but it sure does explain why we are so alike!

On our drive to Prince Rupert, we passed by Hazelton, which is the furthest North we will go for the entire trip. We only passed by, but I was happy to see the place because one of my floor mates from last year is from there. Prince Rupert is the furthest Northwest we will go and the final stop in our tour before we head back to the Lower Mainland. I can’t wait to come home!
 
 
 Quesnel is a beautiful city. It was sunny every single day that we were there. I took advantage of the nice weather by walking on a trail along Fraser River and taking the footbridge to cross the River. It was a beautiful view. Quesnel had a Mr. Mike’s restaurant, which I learned was a chain that actually originated in Coquitlam. They had great food and dessert. This restaurant reminded me of the big city because it had the same ambiance that Earl’s or Cactus Club has. 
We also spent part of the week in Prince George. This city reminded me a lot of home because I have five friends in residence that are from here. On the first day, I wasn’t sure what to do in the city so I decided to drive down to check out my friend’s high school and scope out the city. I eventually reached the University of Northern British Columbia. The campus is situated on a hill, much like SFU, and the view is spectacular. The campus also looked gorgeous and fairly new. Later on in the day, I came across the Visitor’s Center. The gentleman, Terry, was very helpful and advised me to see some of the popular tourist attractions. I learned that 2015 is a big year for the city because it is Prince George’s 100th birthday, but it is also the year that they are hosting the Canadian Winter Games. I will strongly consider coming back there that year!   
 
 
This week I finished two job fairs as the team lead. I have two more next week! At the 100 Mile House, I found one of the most notable job fair stories of the entire tour. Dustin is a job seeker that drove one hour from Williams Lake to the 100 Mile House to attend our job fair on Thursday. He had applied to Tolko two months ago and has been following up periodically, but has not gotten the response he wanted. He said he spoke to many representatives on the phone, but none were able to give him a status on his application. At the job fair, he saw that Tolko was there and followed up on his application. The human resources representative recalled seeing his application and said that Dustin’s persistence and his interest for the job was the reason that they immediately scheduled him an interview for next week. Dustin said that he thinks job fairs are a great idea because it allows job seekers to have that face-to-face interaction with someone from the company, instead of having to research information for hours online or speaking to numerous representatives on the phone before getting an answer. He said that he is in great support for the job fairs and thinks that it is definitely something that should be continued.

At the job fair, I had my first TV interview with Shaw TV Williams Lake. With radio interviews, I had to be cautious about the speed I am talking at, the clarity of my voice, and avoiding “like” and “umm.” With TV interviews, I had to be aware of those PLUS I had to worry about my visual presentation. I felt extremely nervous and I hope to get more exposure to the TV to practice these skills. Another responsibility I have taken initiative for is media monitoring. I am frequently the one that is interviewed by the media, so it made sense if I was the one to gather the media interviews. This involved visiting the media outlet’s website and searching for the information there, as well as contacting the reporter to send over a copy if it is not available on the website. Pace Group does not intend on reproducing these materials, but rather is keeping it for their file to show our client.    

After being away for almost a month now, the team was happy to have found comforting food at the Red Rock Grill. The restaurant had friendly staff that made great suggestions to delicious meals and dessert. We all agreed that the warm ambiance and the preparation of the food made our experience there the closest we had ever felt to home and home-cooked meals. Below is a photo of a sectioned off part of the restaurant, that reminds me of a classic dining room. We came back to the restaurant twice in the time we were at the 100 Mile House, so we have claimed this as “our spot.”  
 
 
Throughout the duration of the tour, the team has been taking turns being a team lead. This week and next week is my turn. On top of setting up and taking down the fair, and assisting job seekers during the fair, the team lead has more responsibilities. I am to keep track of time sheets and expense reports, but most importantly, I am responsible for communicating with the Government Communications and Public Engagement, who manages social media accounts and promotional material to advertise the job fairs. Before each fair, I send the representative, Hidé, a photo of the Sprinter van in the new city. This will be used on our social media accounts to advertise the job fairs. I am also supposed to take photos during the job fair and send those to him. Throughout the day, I speak to Hidé via e-mail or the company Blackberry to send him updates about the fair. I relay any news from him to the rest of the team to keep them informed and up to date.

At the end of the day, the team lead is responsible for using all the comments and questions from the fair to write a Community Report. This summarizes the event, takes note of the good news, and requires us to think of ways to improve future job fairs. We also recorded the number of attendees, any special guests, and the amount of collateral or swag that was given out that day. I love writing, so I enjoyed doing these Community Reports. My co-workers and the coordinator for the week (Jocelyn) pointed out that although this report requires professional writing, I have managed to do that but have added a creative spin to it. Thirteen community reports were written before me, and my goal was to make mine unique and find things that have not been said before. I’m glad that the team noticed that about my work.  

We are currently in Barriere, about an hour away from Kamloops. This is the first town where we did not have cellphone service. Half of the team is on the Fido/Rogers network, and their services do not extend to Barriere. Richard and Jocelyn were on the Bell and Telus network and their phones worked perfectly. This was one of the things that the team struggled with because it hindered our ability to communicate with each other and it prevented me from having a conference call with Hidé. Luckily, we all had smart phones and our laptops on us, so we were able to communicate via iMessage and WhatsAp. 
 
 
This week was again as eventful as the previous weeks. Our Vernon fair was another one of our busy ones. Job seekers began to line up outside the doors at around 10am and were eagerly waiting with their resumes. Our exhibitors had crowds of people wanting to hear what they had to say. Devon Energy had attendees lined up in an orderly fashion because each wanted to speak to a representative personally.
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Job seekers are lined up with resumes in their hands at the Vernon job fair
In terms of free time, it was Richard’s birthday on Monday. I suggested going to the Last Drop in Revelstoke because that was where my snowboarding instructor had taken me. We were surprised to see that the bar offered one free chicken wing to a birthday celebrant for every year that he or she has been alive for. Richard turned 41, so we were happy to have gotten some wings that he kindly shared with us. A funny story about the wings was that we had asked for a few of each flavor of wings, but the chef misinterpreted this and decided to mix all the flavours in one sauce and then put them on all of the wings. It tasted interesting, but free wings is delicious no matter what. 

I also got to see Silverstar and Sunpeaks resort this week. They both had cute villages, but I would have to say that Sunpeaks is by far my favourite resort. I had a very productive snowboarding day because I got better with my turns, consistently got off the chair lifts properly, and even learned how to use the platter lifts. I guess I enjoyed Sun Peaks because it was a productive day, with falling again kept to a minimal. The village has many stores and restaurants that kept me occupied in the times that I was exhausted from snowboarding. 
This weekend marks the halfway point of our trip. I admit, I enjoyed the scenic drives, seeing different cities, and snowboarding at some of the best resorts in the province. However, I am now starting to get a little homesick. Travelling is great, but I have never taken a vacation for longer than three weeks, so at this point I am feeling like I want to go home. I am lucky to have such great friends and family who I have been in contact with on a regular basis. I spent the weekend Skyping, Facebook messaging, and talking to them.
 
 
The Fair
Our job fairs are still going great. At the Kimberly fair, one of the high schools brought sixty of their students in to explore different careers. At Castlegar, our venue was Selkirk College. We had students from the college that were looking for jobs after they graduate, but we also had two high schools that drove one to two hours to attend the fair. In addition to the students, locals sought employment as well. The venue was packed all day!

The Team
After being with the team in such close quarters for three weeks, we have gotten to know each other quite well. An activity that we all enjoy playing is Settler’s of Catan. It is a board game that is quite complicated to explain, which gave me a bad impression of the game at first. However, after playing it I have grown quite fond of it. It is one of the things that brought the team together. My favourite story is how Adam and I are practically twins now. We have been riding in the same vehicle for two weeks and have spent hours on the road talking to pass the time. Our taste in music overlaps and we actually had an Aerosmith and Queen sing-along at one point. We are practically the same person because we order the same meals. At the Castlegar fair, Theo and Richard spoke to Adam and I separately about an interesting story and apparently we both responded the exact same way, word for word. If you do not find this funny, I guess this is one of our team inside jokes. Despite a ten year age gap, I am glad that I am getting along with the team.

Free Time
In the times that I was not working, I kept myself busy by enjoying what the city has to offer. Last weekend, I spent my day off snowboarding at Red Mountain in Rossland. A few days ago, I snowboarded at Kymberly and yesterday I had a great time snowboarding at Revelstoke. I haven’t snowboarded in almost two years, so I decide to take lessons to refresh my memory. Revelstoke is a great resort and the employees are so friendly. My instructor, Dave, was the best. I picked up on the skills quickly, and he kept my falling to a minimal. He caught me at the end of the day still practicing, and was nice enough to invite me to hangout with him and his friends for dinner and drinks. They are way more experienced snowboarders than I am, and told me crazy stories about the tricks they can do and the injuries they’ve gotten. It was inspiring to hear and I wish I could be as good as them one day. Luckily, I brought my board on the trip, so I can practice at these nice mountains.    
 
 
Last week we had job fairs in Hope and Osoyoos. I had been to Hope once when I was little, but do not remember much about it. It is a great place, surrounded by beautiful mountains. We had a team bonding activity, which involved 5-pin bowling and playing pool. I surprised the team by winning two games of 5-pin bowling. Unfortunately, the entire team played pool terribly. The best part about Hope was a coffee shop called the Blue Moose. There they had delicious cakes and made great drinks. I ordered a red symphony, which was rooibos tea, with white chocolate, vanilla, honey, whipped cream, and cinnamon sprinkles. It tasted amazing!

Osoyoos is probably one of my favourite cities we have visited so far. Our hotel was along the Osoyoos Lake, and I enjoyed walking by the water and over a bridge every day that we were there. In my free time, I went with Adam to NK’MIP (pronounced as inkameep) because the lady from the hotel gave me a free coupon for a vineyard tour. That was my first wine tasting, and I have to admit iced wine is now at the top of my favourite drinks list. During the tasting, I learned that to produce iced wine, the grapes must thrive in a temperature of about -8°C for five consecutive days before they are picked. When the grapes are squeezed, they only release about one or two drops of juice because it is so concentrated. I enjoyed the iced wine so much because of its sweetness, but a bottle costs $60. I now regret not buying a bottle, but I guess I’ll just have to come back in the summer! 
 
 
This week we were on the Island and had three job fairs in Saanich, Parksville and Campbell River. The weather out there was always great because the sun managed to make an appearance every single day. This allowed me to have nice walks along the water in the afternoons or whenever I am not working. Being away from the Lower Mainland was great because it gave the team a chance to bond. We have developed a habit of going for lunch and dinner together, which allowed me to learn more about my teammates and the coordinator for this week, Kristina. In terms of skills, a reporter from the Campbell River Mirror interviewed me this week. It wasn’t as nerve wracking as a radio interview because my voice wasn’t being recorded on a live show. Speaking to a reporter face-to-face also allowed me to see his facial expressions and go into more detail about the fair.

I am now back in the Lower Mainland and staying on residence because it is more convenient for our travel to Hope on Monday. I hardly noticed that I was gone, but it is great to be back and seeing familiar faces again. 
 
 
After completing four job fairs in the past two weeks, our team played on our strengths to develop a fast and efficient way to set up. Generally, the two men would handle the heavy items and set them up, while Theo and I work on display items that have intricate pieces to them. Our system is great because we have established our roles and this avoids miscommunication of two people doing the same task. Jocelyn said that of all the tours that Pace Group has done, we have been the fastest in setting up and tearing down. We have been allotted four hours for setup, but we have managed to complete this within an hour and a half. Each venue is a little different and we have encountered problems, like the loading zone being placed in an inconvenient location that will delay our routine or there are venue restrictions that may cause us to re-do our floor plan. However, our setup is improving each time we do it. Hopefully we can complete it within one hour by the end of the tour!

The job fair itself is also coming together. We discover more features on the Work BC and BC Jobs Plan websites at each fair to better assist job seekers, and the team is feeling more comfortable about our roles. A few success stories have also come out of the fair. Job seekers eagerly come to the fair with resumes and the outcome is that a few of our exhibitors have conducted interviews on site and have even hired some people on the spot. Other exhibitors were happy that they received a pleasant stack of resumes to review.

It has been great starting the tour in the Lower Mainland because it will ensure that we are prepared for the long haul of traveling. We are able to get any spare design pieces from Exhibitree and any equipment or other resources from the Pace Group office before we leave. I am excited to board the ferry early in the morning tomorrow and head over to the island for a week. It will be a great preview of what travelling will be like, and it gives us a better understanding of what we should prepare for in the long haul of travelling. I have not been away from my friends or family for an extended period of time, so I spent the weekend hanging out with them one last time. I don’t feel sad about it now, but I am sure I will get home sick at some point in the trip. Right now, I am looking forward to this experience! 
 

Stephanie Munez