Something that AIESECers often say is that “what you put into AIESEC is what you get out of it”. You may have heard it enough times to dismiss it as mere platitude, as I did. But after attending Coastal Conference last weekend and making the effort to have the best experience I could throughout the three days, I stand corrected: the more you invest into AIESEC, the more you do get out of it.
I joined Communications back in September 2012 and was responsible for managing AIESEC UBC’s social media channels. I missed the opportunity to attend Western Regional Conference in October, and didn’t think too much of it—after all, what could be so great about spending three days surrounded by overly enthusiastic university students? However, as the months crept on and I immersed myself in the busy January recruitment activities, I found my thoughts shifting and I started to consider attending Coastal.
So I did.
Going into my first AIESEC conference as a somewhat experienced member made me wonder if I would learn anything. I recalled stories about how regional conference sessions are catered more towards new members, as a way of introducing and integrating them into their Local Committees. But as I listened to AIESECers share their experiences during a session, called Opportunity Fair, I realized there was still so much to learn. I listened to some talk about their time abroad, both at international conferences and as part of our exchange programs, and others talk about how they took on leadership positions within the organization. It may seem like these stories could get repetitive, but they didn’t. Everyone had such different experiences, and I was reminded that one of AIESEC’s key strengths lies in the opportunities available and the unique experiences that follow. Lots of people go on exchange, but no one has the same adventures. Conferences may often include similar topics, but the people involved are constantly changing.
May Zhang was a facilitator at Coastal and shared her experiences abroad in New Zealand at the Opportunity Fair.
There were many sessions throughout the conference, and I often had to collaborate with other delegates on some activity or another. One of the sessions was Functional Tracks, which were workshops catered to the different portfolios. I attended the Communications track and learned more about how my portfolio contributes to the Local Committee’s functions. I also brainstormed ideas on how to improve performance and discussed them with other Communications members outside of AIESEC UBC.
Afterwards, all of the delegates were divided into teams and participated in a simulation of what a potential AIESEC year might look like. This forced me to complete tasks that I normally wouldn’t do, as I was representing Communications as a whole rather than just my role as a social media specialist. I had to work with Talent Management and Outgoing Exchange, plan events, and deliver pitches to intimidating facilitators, all under a time limit. While stressful and nerve-racking, I did learn a lot. Facilitators gave me tips on how to improve my sales pitches, and I gained a better understanding of how an AIESEC chapter divides its work among portfolios and the importance of inter-portfolio collaboration.
The most enjoyable part of Coastal Conference was, by far, the dancing. I’ve done AIESEC dances before at monthly General Assemblies and other AIESEC UBC events, but there’s a difference between dancing in a room of thirty people and a room of over a hundred. There was a sort of infectious energy that ran through everyone, and it didn’t matter that we didn’t know half the dance moves, or that we were exhausted from a day full of sessions. Dancing gave us a sense of community and unified AIESEC spirit.
On the final day, we had the opportunity to listen to guest speakers share their own experiences after their AIESEC careers. One of the speakers I listened to was Jillian Walker. She emphasized one main point: “Surround yourself with who you want to become”. These eight words stuck with me throughout her presentation and remain with me now. After spending so much time surrounded by amazing people, I can’t help but feel inspired—by the determination and dedication that they showed, the AIESEC values they embodied, the energy that they exhibited. It’s magical.
A few months ago, if someone asked me what I thought of my AIESEC experience, I would have said, “it’s alright.” And it was just “alright” back in October, when I knew only a handful of members by their names and did the minimum that my job required me to. But now, after attending Coastal Conference and seeing for myself the kind of people who keep the organization running and successful, I would have to say that AIESEC is pretty amazing.