‘Beyond Boston’ co-ops lack social networks, ease of accessibility


Jessica Xing

One of Northeastern’s major draws for students is the co-op program, which extends to cities around the world with the “Beyond Boston” program. However, some students who took a co-op outside of Boston say they felt isolated from campus and unsupported by the university.

Katy Manning, news staff

When Northeastern students accept a co-op offer in a city outside Boston, they often have just a few months to search for living arrangements, reach out to social and professional connections and prepare themselves for a big move while they are still a college student. Whether they are heading to a nearby state or a different continent, these “Beyond Boston” co-ops shift students’ lives away from Northeastern’s campus hub. 

Among the factors that students consider when they choose a six-month position is their proximity to the resources that they enjoy while taking classes. In 2018, The News reported that the majority of Northeastern students preferred to co-op in Boston, but many students still choose to venture beyond the city.

Third-year business administration major Greg Guo began his second co-op search intending to remain in Boston, but an offer to join the asset management team at UBS, an investment banking company, convinced him to accept a position in Chicago for the spring 2023 cycle. Guo had previously completed a co-op at Kolberg, Kravis and Roberts in Manhattan, and said that his experience working in New York was part of why he had intended to remain in Boston for his second co-op.

“Being in a new city makes it kind of hard to make friends, and there were only two people who actually came into work in-person everyday so it was hard to make friends with co-workers,” Guo said. “I wanted to stay with my friends in Boston and continue with the one-year lease that I signed here.”

Many workplaces have remained hybrid or fully virtual even as COVID-19 transmission has slowed. While students who remain in Boston can rely on their existing friendships, the shift has been difficult for some of those trying to make connections in an entirely new environment. Max Huber, a third-year computer science major, has experienced this same difficulty while working at his first co-op as a research assistant for a professor at the University of Perugia in Italy. 

“The first month that I was here was pretty grim,” Huber said. “I work remotely and not with other people. By coincidence, I met someone before coming here who introduced me to a bunch of people. The city where I’m in is basically a college town and there’s a bunch of American students studying abroad, so I basically piggyback off the exchange student events that are going on here.”  

At his co-op in Manhattan, Guo also made use of nearby universities, connecting with mutual friends at New York University and Columbia University.

“With the co-op system, you’re only going for six months, so it’s hard to form meaningful relationships and also keep your friendships in Boston going at the same time,” Guo said.

Though Northeastern offered a few networking events for students on co-op in New York, Guo said he chose not to attend them. Huber attended one Zoom event for students going on international co-ops to meet each other, which he described as “lackluster.”

“No one really wanted to be there, and it’s not like we were going to be meeting each other anytime soon so it was kind of weird that they wanted us to share things about ourselves,” Huber said. “I feel like it makes more sense for people considering going on global co-op to hear about our experiences. Each of us was doing something radically different but all of us were in the same situation so it wasn’t that weird.”

In addition to meeting new people, searching for living arrangements on a tight timeline and a college budget provides yet another stressor for students going on co-op beyond Boston. Grace Kryzanski, a fourth-year health sciences major, said that she was almost prevented from accepting a position as a physical therapy aide at Two Trees Physical Therapy in Ventura, California, due to expensive and sparse housing options in the area.

“One of the main reasons why I wasn’t going to go to Ventura was because Northeastern wasn’t doing anything for me [to find housing] and even the previous co-op wasn’t very helpful,” Kryzanski said. “The company ended up having a house that I could live in which was really amazing because the rent was so expensive so I’m not sure if I could have gone otherwise.” 

Kryzanski completed her co-op at Two Trees during the fall 2021 cycle. Like Guo, she had begun the process seeking somewhere closer to campus. 

“I applied to all other jobs in Boston and this [position in Ventura] was kind of an on-a-whim thing,” Kryzanski said. “I was almost going to cancel my interview because I thought it was unrealistic, but I really liked the company. I decided to go to California because I flipped a coin and it landed on Boston, but my gut was telling me California was right.”

In order to work around their six-month stay, expensive rates and uncertain living arrangements, both Guo and Huber used Airbnb to book housing for their co-ops. Guo said that although Northeastern provided some housing options for co-ops in New York, he found them to be less than ideal.

“Specifically in Manhattan they have two leased properties for Northeastern students, but I didn’t end up living in either of those because the rent was pretty expensive and it felt like a dorm, and I didnt want to have that kind of restriction on what friends I could bring in and at what time,” Guo said. “I found housing through Airbnb, and in New York the housing market is kind of crazy so it’s hard to find apartment leases and when you find them they’re really expensive.”

Guo plans to use the site again for his upcoming co-op in Chicago.

“At first I didn’t know that Airbnb was for more than just weekends, but you can set a date range and see what people have in the area,” he said. “You also get a longer stay discount so it ends up being comparable to other apartments in the area, and it comes furnished. You stay in someone else’s apartment for six months, but it’s basically the same as subletting.” 

Likewise, Huber said he chose Airbnb because it felt like the safest option for housing in a completely foreign country.

“I looked over a couple of websites and a few Facebook groups but ultimately I ended up getting an Airbnb because the websites had poor reviews and some people ended up getting scammed,” Huber said. “I wanted to be sure that my housing situation was secure.” 

Huber said he spent some time looking at the housing resources that Northeastern provided, but he did not remember finding them useful. Kryzanski expressed a similar desire for help from the university.

“Being connected to affordable housing options would have been really nice because you don’t want that to be a barrier for people and for someone to accept a co-op that is not realistic for them,” she said. “Maybe even an extension of a co-op counselor to help you through that [process of finding housing] because once I got a job I wasn’t really supported.”

Huber also faced unique challenges going abroad. He said he “absolutely” thinks Northeastern needs to make changes to its current system of supporting students.

“The process of filling out all of the forms before you actually go on global co-op is so terrifying and stressful and you have no idea if you’ve done the right form or talked to the right person,” Huber said. “If there’s some way to combine all of the responsibilities that someone has to do before they go abroad, I think that would take a lot of stress off of students. There’s multiple Northeastern organizations that all have to clear you to go abroad but none of the organizations really coordinate and none of the forms are in the same place, which makes it confusing.”

Co-ops outside of Boston give students the chance to explore new cities without the burden of classwork and expand their professional networks, a benefit of Northeastern’s extensive program. However, they can be an isolating experience and leave students without connection to either their new city or to the campus that was once their home. 

“I felt like I didn’t have any connection to Northeastern at all,” Guo said. “I didn’t even check my Northeastern email and I felt like I wasn’t even a student. Other than my friends in Boston, I was completely separated from the school.”