"There are many different ways to live life, and one is not neces-sarily better than the other. It just depends on what you want for yourself." -Ryan Leung, a recently graduated Sociology major who was also a member of AIESEC UBC and an exchange participant in AIESEC Global Citizen program.
I was a recent Sociology graduate from UBC in May of 2014 and I was part of AIESEC for about a year. Although already been on a 6-month Go Global exchange before in Sweden, I still decided to go on an AIESEC exchange myself after graduation, so I ended up having a 6-week internship in the city of Porto Alegre, Brazil. Since I worked in AIESEC as a member, I had a general idea of how it worked and of all the possible positives and negatives throughout the exchange, and one thing I definitely recognize during the process is the importance of keeping an open mind. Things may not work as you wish but you need to learned to take them as they go, because they are all part of the experience.
I worked with two other AIESEC trainees from Colombia and China/Australia in a NGO located in a poor and dangerous area. The program was called “Smarketing” and we were basically doing various marketing duties from fundraising to event organization. To accomplish these activities was logistically difficult because of the limited resources and time we had, so we almost did work from the ground up. We made an overview of what we could improve in the NGO; we changed and translated part of their website/Facebook page into English in order to attract potential foreign audience and possibly receive international donations; we also planned an event for the staff/kids during our last week there. This exchange was a good learning experience but in terms of language barrier, resource limitation and the 6-week time constraint, I found it challenging and improvable as well.
One of the great things about AIESEC exchange, no matter what city and local AIESEC chapter one picks up, is the possibility of meeting people from countries all around the world. Mine in particular had brought me incredible opportunities to meet other trainees from different backgrounds. Also thanks to the regularly scheduled social events such as dinners and weekend trips, I had such an amazing time in Porto Alegre and made great long-lasting friendships which couldn’t have been achieved without these events. It just makes all the difference when you work and live with other like-minded people and bond with them over the new experience.
I was definitely experiencing a major culture shock when first I arrived. Brazilian life was different. The differences ranged from the threat of danger in everyday life (not that much, but more than Canada) to openness of one’s sexuality and to the relaxed mindset that people have. One thing that impressed me the most was the way they expressed their passion for life. They value relationships, dancing, music and socializing much more than I am used to. They often live in the moment rather than having things planned out to the exact minute, or even hour. This experience made me realize that there are many different ways to live life, and one is not necessarily better than the other. It depends on what you want for yourself. After living in Brazil, I hope to take back with me parts of their culture and incorporate it into my own personality and the way I treat others.
I highly suggest anyone reading this article go on an AIESEC exchange. It may not be that organized at times or may not be precisely what you expect, but the experience is undoubtedly worthwhile and possibly life-changing. I made life-long friends and memories from just from a short time abroad. It is what you make of it.