When I joined AIESEC during my first year of university, in 2005, I had no idea that it would have such a huge impact on my life. Yet here I am, seven years later, about to finish my second AIESEC internship and finally move on to being an AIESEC alumni. How did I get here? And what comes next?
I was elected as a member of AIESEC Edmonton’s Executive Board when I was 17 years old. I had never had a job; I didn’t have a cellphone or a day planner; as an English major, I was more of a bookworm than business-savvy; I had done plenty of volunteering but never in a leadership position. My Local Committee President admitted later that she wasn’t sure I wouldn’t make it through the term. What happened instead was that I stretched my personal boundaries more than I had ever thought possible. As Vice President External Relations, I ran successful media and fundraising campaigns and helped reactivate our alumni network. My portfolio was recognized for its excellence at National Congress that year, and in fifteen months I went from being an awestruck young girl at my first AIESEC conference to a facilitator, passing on my knowledge to people in many cases older than me. The next year, during my academic exchange in Norway, I joined the virtual National Development Team and helped raise AIESEC’s media presence across the country.
My Executive Board at Turnover, February 2007
Of course, AIESEC was always about more than professional experience. Many of my most lasting friendships have come out of AIESEC – and even a few romantic relationships. As a member of this organization, I went from a shy, socially awkward nerd to an outgoing and confident… well, still a nerd, but a nerd who had learned to work hard and party harder. After returning from Norway, I took a bit of an AIESEC “break” – at least officially. I still spent much of my time organizing events for AIESEC Edmonton’s interns and the University of Alberta’s international students and hosted a CEEDer from Poland at my house for a month, while my old AIESEC network had become my social network.
Eating couscous royale with my adopted Moroccan family, May 2010
Partway through my Masters degree at UBC, however, I decided I was ready for more. I had already been abroad a few times through academic programs, but never through the organization to which I had committed so much. During the summer of 2010, after a lightning-quick matching process, I headed off to Rabat, Morocco, on what was then called a Development Traineeship – in today’s lingo, a Global Community Development Project. It ended up being more of a subsidized vacation: I only had to work two hours a week teaching English courses, but I had AIESEC Rabat’s support network and a free apartment, where I shared a room with two other interns. While this internship didn’t end up being much of a professional experience, it was a fantastic personal one – I left Morocco with all my stereotypes shattered about what it was like to live in a Muslim country. Plus, who can complain about getting to travel for two months?
Since my first year of university, I had been set on getting my PhD – but as the end of my Masters degree approached, I decided I wanted some real work experience first. I was also planning on moving from English Literature to Comparative Literature, which meant I needed to strengthen my second languages. How could I do both at the same time? If you’re thinking AIESEC’s Global Internship Program, you are right.
I have spent the past six months teaching English courses and running intercultural workshops at La Universidad de la Sabana in Bogota, Morocco, and in many ways this experience has been the opposite of my internship in Rabat. I work 45 hours a week, teach three courses with about twenty five students each, design virtual courses, organize French conversation clubs, structure exams, and generally provide support to the Department of Foreign Languages here. The job has not been without its challenges – I have had one of my biggest culture shocks ever dealing with the university’s very conservative Catholic orientation. That said, it has also been incredibly rewarding, not least of all because my concerns about my employability have long since faded. It turns out I can always work at a university in Latin America!
Meanwhile, I have been able to travel all over this spectacularly beautiful country with a group of interns from across Latin America and Europe. I have learned to appreciate a sprawling, complex city with a high rate of urban crime but fantastic cultural offerings. My Spanish is far better than it was – even if my friends still mock my accent and call me La Gringa – and I’ve also been able to take Portuguese courses for free at the university where I work, the perfect preparation for my planned seven weeks in Brazil once I wrap up working here. As I look forward to beginning my PhD at New York University this September, I also find myself looking back – to seven years in an organization that has taken me around the world and taught me more than I ever would have imagined. I will soon officially be an alumni, but my faith in this organization is stronger than ever. Where will your AIESEC experience take you? The only way to find out is to live it.
– Amanda Perry