Introduction

Learning clicks ambassador Cullen

I'm into squash, racketball, rock climbing, basketball, ping pong, volleyball, soccer, swimming and gaming.

After my high school graduation, I had no idea what I wanted to do next. I knew there was a huge world out there with plenty of opportunities and I wanted to try a few different paths before I chose just one. I decided I’d take a gap year, I tried 7 jobs and learned something about myself and the work I enjoy with each job.

It helped me realize that I wanted to study business. Whatever you do it’s always important to have a back up plan. To pursue a Bachelor of Management, I went on to ApplyAlberta and applied for early admission to the University of Lethbridge (U of L). I was stoked about moving to Lethbridge, but my parents pushed me to apply to at least 3 different schools so that I’d have other options. I followed their advice and applied to 2 business programs closer to home: one at Mount Royal University (MRU) and the other at the University of Calgary (U of C). Next was the wait to see where I would be accepted.

During the wait, I was laid off and I had to dip into my savings for 2 months. As my acceptance letters started coming in, I looked at my finances and realized that I wouldn’t have enough money to move out and support myself. I’d either need to get help from my parents, apply for a student loan, or live at home and go to school. I’m thankful I listened to my parents’ advice, although the U of L was initially my top choice, MRU ended up being the best choice. I could save rent and food (plus I love my mom’s cooking), be less strapped for cash, and see my friends more often. Applying to several institutions gave me the flexibility to choose my path. Things can change in the time between your application and enrolment, so keep your options open.

Alberta ran this peer-developed program from 2007 until 2019. Ambassadors blogged and visited classrooms to inspire students to plan their post-secondary journey. These ambassadors are now in the workforce but their stories can still inspire continuous education.

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My gap year work experience

I worked in the fishing department at Wholesale Sports. I really enjoyed my job. My coworkers were awesome, the customers were relaxed, and I got to talk about one of my favourite hobbies. Plus, working 9:30 am to 6 pm each day was great because I could sleep in, skip rush-hour traffic and still get off work early enough to hang out with my friends. I look back with fond memories on that job.

Next, a girlfriend convinced me to get a job as a vehicle detailer at the Toyota dealership where she worked, but it was awkward when we broke up. I learned dating a co-worker wasn’t a good idea and cleaning cars was not the future I wanted.

Then I got a job as a warehouse Operation Clerk. I had my own office and felt like I was going places. After I finished my duties, I’d help the shipper/receiver, I realized that understanding your coworkers’ duties can make for a smooth operation. Eventually I was laid off because there just wasn’t enough work to justify my position. I tried a couple of short-term jobs, a valet at a restaurant and door-to-door sales, but I wasn’t paid for either. If your employer doesn’t ask for your SIN number, that’s a red flag!

In the spring I became a labourer on a construction project pouring concrete for a downtown building parkade. I basically carried things for the tradespeople, only apprentices or tradespeople were allowed to do skilled work. An accident ended my future with that job. Our foreman wanted the work done faster so we weren’t securing the posts properly. Eventually the structure collapsed on us and trapped a co-worker. EMS used a crane to hoist him out of the pit with serious injuries. I never returned to that jobsite. I won’t risk my life for a job.

The next week I got a position selling, delivering and installing fitness equipment. I loved that 5-hour workday job meeting amazing people and delivering to cool places. I enjoyed the job so much that I applied to business programs. Maybe one day I'll own a business like the one I was working for!

It’s interesting to look back on my journey and see how I’ve come full circle. The jobs that I started and ended my gap year with were both customer-service oriented, where I could help people while sharing my hobbies and interests.

Volunteering in post-secondary

Volunteering gave me some of the most valuable and rewarding experiences with new skills and friendships, plus I made a real difference in my community. In my first week at Mount Royal University, I discovered the Enactus Club, in which students created environment or community projects, with an entrepreneurial focus.

One of the members had an idea for a project that would educate elementary students about the environment and get them to “upcycle” products (to recycle products into an item of value that can be used again). Then, these upcycled products would be sold to raise money for a local charity. We called it the Recreate Project. We worked on the plan for 4 weeks and created a 12-class program for grade 6 students. It covered how much waste we produce, how we can reduce this waste, skills to upcycle, marketing products and why it’s important to help your community. The next step was convincing a school to let us business students with no teaching experience implement the program. After contacting dozens of schools, Willow Park Elementary generously accepted our pilot project in all four of their grade 6 classrooms!

After guiding the classes through our program, the students managed to raise roughly $700, plus a parent of one of the students convinced their company to match those funds. Our charity was Brown Bagging It for Calgary’s Kids Society, a charity delivering nutritious lunches for needy students. The project was introduced in 4 other elementary schools. My skills developing the program included conducting productive meetings, managing a team, overcoming obstacles, project management, idea pitching, teaching, and engaging a young audience. This experience taught me more than I learned in my classes. The volunteering network has also helped me advance in my career. My summer student position was with a Recreate Project sponsor. When you volunteer, you can try something new, learn more about what interests you, and make a difference in your community and your future.

Another Enactus project was dinner for families at the Ronald McDonald House. The house is a place for sick kids and their families to stay while those kids are undergoing treatment at a hospital. The activity was simple enough, but the experience had a profound impact on me.

We all pitched in money for the groceries to feed 50 people, we shopped as a team for our taco menu and used the kitchen facilities at the house. Spirits were high and we were all having a blast cooking, listening to music, and getting the food was ready. After all the families were served, they thanked us and we were able to learn how much these families had been through. Our small act of kindness and a few hours of our time meant the world to them, that feeling of helping and experiencing someone’s genuine gratitude will stick with me for the rest of my life.

Resources

Learn from other ambassadors or watch these videos:

Alberta Learning Information System (ALIS) resources:

Also visit your learning path to post-secondary.

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