Hey guys, my name is Kelly and I am a 4th year Economics student here at UBC. How I was introduced to AIESEC was very random but I am very thankful for it. Last year I was working in the nightlife industry, and while at first it was very exciting and fun, during my second semester it really took a toll on me and I realized I was surrounding myself in a very superficial environment and needed to do something different with my life. A friend of mine who was working for AIESEC at the time told me about the internship opportunities, and I literally handed in my application on the day it was due. Last year was a weird year for me, because I was stuck between the state of still wanting to have fun in university, and trying to figure out what I wanted to do after I graduate. I have always wanted to go to Europe and I knew I needed to go somewhere different to gain some perspective and cultural growth.
I started applying a lot of different places all over Europe, and a friend who was Portuguese heard that Lisbon was one of my options and strongly promoted Portugal as a destination for me. I really didn’t know anything about Portugal, but Google told me the weather was amazing, there were tons of beaches, and everything was going to be cheap, which in turn really sold me on Lisbon. I went on the Global Community Development Programme, working at a school teaching English and cultural awareness to students ranging from grade 5-9, and it was honestly the most humbling experience I’ve had. I was very lucky and the teachers I worked with were accepting and kind, and a few of them became like mothers to me, whom I am still in touch with. The thing with volunteer positions is that, if you get a good placement, you can really feel the excitement of these children to see you and hear you speak, and you can really feel yourself making a difference. The school I worked at was not in a wealthy area, and it really got to me at times because the children were so genuine and talented but their opportunities in life were lacking and it was hard for them to keep motivated to do well in school. I spent my 6 weeks trying to inspire them, and it was probably one of the most rewarding experiences of my life.
As I mentioned before, I am extremely lucky and my experience in Portugal was absolutely perfect. I flew into Lisbon with my Portuguese friend Alex and through him, I was able to meet a lot of the locals on top of the university students I met from the residence. His cousin actually lived around the corner from where I was staying and had a car, so I was able to really experience Lisbon from a local’s perspective as well as a tourist’s. The best thing that AIESEC offers that backpacking can’t is a much different and better of an experience from living somewhere for a while, as opposed to just spending two or three days. I learned so much about Portuguese culture and history and made friends there that I can honestly say I will have for life. I also absolutely fell in love with Portugal and my friends can attest to that because pretty much all of them are sick of me obsessing about Europe. The people there were so friendly and genuine, the food was amazing, the wine was ridiculously cheap, and the weather was hot, but Lisbon has this amazing summer breeze and the beaches were just so beautiful as well. I left the day after I finished exams in April, and unlike my friends who stayed in BC, I was able to have four full months of sunny summer.
My favourite part about my internship abroad was probably the people that I met and the personal growth that I gained. Sometimes I feel like growing up in such a privileged place like BC, you’re kind of in a Vancouver bubble and going to Lisbon really opened my eyes to how people live and what they value in Portugal. I always had a problem with how difficult it was to get all of my friends together sometimes, and I was so shocked that in Portugal people really put effort into their relationships. The first weekend I was there, I went with Alex to his cousin’s house for dinner, and it was literally like someone said “hey, I’m having a dinner party” and someone brought wine, people cooked, someone brought bread, and then everyone just pitched in a few dollars.
Of course there were some challenging times as well. Sometimes I didn’t get along with the other interns. There was a time when I got lost, was late for work, and cried hysterically on the train because I also lost my ticket. But I promise that you will gain so much from living abroad and you will meet so many people who will leave an impact on your life. When I look back on Portugal, all I think of are the simple times of walking down the narrow streets, or biking along the Atlantic Ocean, or the crisp summer breeze on those hot days. I miss Europe every day and once you open your eyes to travelling, you will get hooked and want to hop on a plane right away. There is so much you can learn when you travel that you just can’t learn in any other way, and the unlikely friends and connections you make will also open up many opportunities you didn’t know about before. I strongly suggest everyone to live abroad and go out of your comfort zone, because it will be extremely rewarding, especially if you’re at a stage in your life where you’re a bit confused and need some new life experience to reignite your passion and inspirations.
Kelly will be speaking at our info session on Wednesday, January 16 at 2:00pm in the Math building, room 203.