Preparing for Co-op in an Unknown Place
So here’s the deal- you’ve just landed your first co-op with a company while you’re attending RIT! You can’t believe that you nailed that technical interview, and you’re filled with an overwhelming sense of pride and joy. You want to start celebrating right away, but the thought crosses your mind that you’ve never been to that city / town before, and know next to nothing about what it’s like to live there. How does one prepare for an experience like that? It can be daunting for sure, but that’s why I figured I’d use what I’ve learned over the past couple years to provide you with some (hopefully) helpful tips to preparing for your new adventure in a (semi) foreign land.
First of all, it’s kind of like going off to college.You’re already living on your own at this point, potentially have secured your own housing, probably either cook for yourself or know how to budget for food, all of that good stuff. That knowledge is certainly going to be helpful for you, but it’s still a big step to venture out on your own, especially for a job where there will be a lot less hand-holding when it comes to taking care of yourself. So let’s break this down into pieces and tackle them one by one.
Probably the first thing you’re going to be thinking about is, where am I going to live? There is a chance that your new employer will provide housing for you- in which case you won’t have to worry about it, but most companies will have you do this part on your own. Some companies will provide you with a stipend that you can use to cover some housing expenses and most companies will give you resources for looking for housing or even tell you where previous employees stayed in the past.
First of all, don’t worry so much about the money. Your main focus is getting good on-the-job / life experience. If you can keep your rent costs under 50% of your income, then that’s pretty good. However, if a place is going to cost a bit more but is in a safer part of town or provides a closer commute to work, strongly consider those factors. In addition, furnished places will cost more but trust me when I say it is WORTH IT and you DO NOT want to be moving in your own stuff.
Secondly, make sure your rental location has everything you need to live comfortably. For example, if you cook your own food, you’ll want a well-equipped kitchen. If you’re not going to be the only person on a co-op at your company, consider reaching out to your fellow co-op people to see if they’re interested in rooming together. Doing that can cut your costs dramatically, and also provide you with some people to hangout with over the summer. Don’t compromise your own sanity though- for example if you like your privacy, make sure you have your own room in whatever living arrangement you end up with.
Lastly, when searching for housing, don’t use questionable sources like craigslist. Go through nearby campus housing (if there is a nearby university / college) or use a site that has a solid reputation. The last thing you want is to end up paying for one thing and getting something entirely different. If it sounds too good to be true, it definitely is.
After ensuring that you have a place to live- or at least a floor to sleep on, the next step is figuring out how you’re going to eat. If you cook, figure out what kind of meals are going to be within your remaining budget. Scope out local grocery stores on Google Maps and plan routes before you get there so you can shop quickly and efficiently. If you prefer buying pre-made food, it’s especially important for you to plan ahead and construct a weekly budget for yourself if you don’t want to end up spending all of your hard earned cash (also note food is typically more expensive in a city and there may be additional taxes that you aren’t used to). Again, assuming you’re spending less than 50% of your budget on housing, you can make your food budget anywhere in between 15% - 40% of your budget (leave some room for having fun if you can).
Entertainment & Social Life
Trust me when I say it will be a very long summer if you plan on living by yourself and spending your weekends in your apartment alone. You may not have any friends in your new location yet, but you will certainly meet people on the job. If you do know anyone in the area, make an effort to contact them and meet up while you’re there. It’s also important to save some of your budget for going out and doing things. Whether it be going out to eat, to the movies, a fair, a concert- you name it, they all cost money (money that you’ll now have because of that job). Enjoy your experience both on the clock and off the clock. Co-ops provide you with unique opportunities to try out living on your own in different scenarios, so take full advantage of that.
Hopefully those tips will get you started. If you’ve got questions, talk to people who have gone on co-op before- you don’t have to figure out everything alone. Preparing to live on your own can be a bit scary, especially if it’s the first time you’ve had to figure out every piece of the puzzle. Try not to worry though, because you will figure it out. Set yourself up one step at a time, and get help from your friends, family, and even your employer when you need it. Keep your budget in mind and try not to empty your bank account, but make sure that you give yourself the opportunity to enjoy your summer in all respects.