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An insider’s guide to working in international holiday work placements

Posted on 19/07/2023 by

Shelby Cooper is the Operations Director at International Working Holidays. Here’s her insider’s view on the industry!

One of the many special things about the ITC and Study From Home family is our connections across the travel and tourism industry.

With those connections, we’ve been able to reach out to industry insiders to provide behind-the-scenes looks into what it’s like working in bungy jumping and in HR at a leading hotel.

Today, we’re excited to share our insider’s guide into life as the Operations Director of International Working Holidays. That’s all thanks to Shelby Cooper, a talented and passionate woman who kindly answered all our questions!

Can you tell our readers about your career? What roles did you do before you became the Operations Director for International Working Holidays (IWH)?

During University, I had a side job as a horse wrangler on film sets. This is where I met Claire who was working for International Working Holidays and who encouraged me to do the Camp America program! I ended up loving that program so much that I did it from 2013-2016. Over the years, I have been lucky enough to take part in our volunteer adventure programs in Asia & Africa during my time here. 

In 2015, I started working part time with IWH and fell in love with everything they did and what the overall mission was. To help change people’s lives by sending them on international working holidays plus bring the world closer together. Our mission is to make these opportunities available to everyone, not just those who can afford it. 

I couldn’t feel more fulfilled by anything else and knew this was the job I wanted to be in for the rest of my life. 

What is the career journey of someone working with IWH?

The opportunities we have for anyone studying at ITC are all overseas! As long as your course is at least one year in length or more, you’ll have access to the J1 12 Month Work & Travel visa. With this program IWH provides not just the sponsorship of the visa which is required to work in the States, but we also have placements available all across the USA at 5 star hotels & resorts with a range of jobs. 

Our agreement with our employers is for them to agree to our financial assistance program. This means our employers will front foot up to NZ$6,500 to help get our students on the plane (and a flight home) with a visa in hand and full medical insurance. Students then pay this back out of their pay.  

Once our students come back, not only do they feel more independent and sure of who they are and what they’re capable of, but they are miles ahead of anyone in New Zealand because of their training they’ve received overseas which they cannot get anywhere else. 

For anyone who wants to eventually work with us at IWH. Your first step is… do a program! The key thing we need for anyone who wants to join our team is to be in the shoes of someone taking part in our programs for the first time. 

 Where can you send students? 

The USA is our biggest one. With the 12 Month Work & Travel program the employers who are offering financial assistance for this program include; The Ritz-Carlton (Florida + Georgia), The Broadmoor (Colorado), Big Cedar Lodge (Missouri), Enchantment Resort (Arizona), Sea Island (Georgia), Pendry Park City (Utah), Mohonk Mountain House (New York), Montage Deer Valley (Utah) and Ocean Reef Club (Florida). 

We also run Camp America for NZ, Canada Work & Travel, Asia & Middle East Internships (students or recent graduates only) for 2-18 months, Japan Work & Travel, Au Pair in America, UK Visa Services + Pub Program and volunteer programs in Asia, South America and Africa.   

 What would surprise us about working for 12 months in the USA?

What surprises most people I think is their ability to adapt to their temporary home in the USA. A lot of people think that 12 months is a long time, but most people tell us that it flies by!

Most people will struggle for their first 1-3 months but then I’m always surprised by the ones who initially say they are missing home who end up asking me how they can stay longer, go back, or what other country can they go to next! 

What do you look for in employees who want to work at IWH?

EVERYONE. We want all study backgrounds, all experience levels, all cultures, whether you’re travelled or not. If you feel that this is something that will help you as a person and your career, we will be here for you. 

Is there anything that is unique about IWH?

Our financial assistance program I think is something that makes us really special. There’s no other type of program that I’m aware of that has something like this. 

The other unique thing that people don’t normally realise is that this visa for the USA exists at all. It’s the best visa you can get for the USA (aside from a Green card of course) and it’s only Kiwis and Australians that can access it, but only up until 12 months after you’ve graduated so you need to be quick!  

Is there anything new or exciting coming up for IWH?

We have a couple of employers coming over from the USA to hire Kiwis. We are always so grateful for our employers who come over in person because they can offer students insight into working at their resorts from real experience with their presentations. Plus it’s always the best opportunity for students to be hired for a role they may not have realise was available. 

I also really like our Asia & Middle Eastern Internships. This program is the best one for anyone who is extremely career focused and is thinking of going overseas long term as it can lead to huge things for people. 

Do you have any final advice for anyone who wants to work overseas?

Remember that it’s not forever, this is a once in a lifetime opportunity for you to take with both hands and make into your own. Be confident in yourself when you interview and talk to IWH if you need any help with finding where you want to go and what you want to do.

We make it easy so what are you waiting for?

Enrol at the college that kick starts your career

At ITC, we love to build and maintain strong relationships with those in the industry. This helps us to connect students and graduates with real work opportunities, and ensures we stay up to date on the latest travel and tourism trends.

If you’d like to be part of the family that lives and breathes travel and tourism, we’d love to have you. We’re enrolling now for our July courses, so you can graduate with your first qualification this summer!

Contact us today to learn more about what you can learn with ITC and where that can take you.

Campus Study – 0800 TOURISM (0800 868747) or

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