I’ve often heard that travelling is the way for you to truly learn about yourself. Being a naive first year student, I knew that I needed a challenge of some sort to develop myself and find some inspiration for the rest of my university days. Thus, I applied to AIESEC’s Global Community Development Program and ended up spending six weeks living the experience of a lifetime.
I embarked on my adventure to Krakow, Poland on May 9th, 2013 for a project called International Kindergarten. In this project, 25 interns of various nationalities came to teach Polish kindergarten students English and the culture of their original nations. The kindergarten that I worked in was Przedszkole EkoSkrzat (Eco-friendly Pixie Preschool), where I conducted workshops to educate them about Canada, led some games, and participated in their kindergarten activities. The job may sound easy, but it took me a few days to figure out how exactly to interact with these 2 to 6 year old children who were barely figuring out their own Polish language, let alone English. At first, I got a few blank stares when I tried speaking to them, but soon I realized that body language, sounds, facial expressions, pictures, and simply playing with them was enough to spark smiles on those adorable faces.
“Did you come today by plane?” asked a child after one of my first workshops at the kindergarten. It was adorable to witness the children’s mixture of confusion and curiosity for my culture. I was especially touched when I saw them trying to draw the Canadian flag or scream out “Kanady” (Canada in Polish) when we encountered topics that I had mentioned in class. On the last day of my internship, I handed out Canadian souvenirs to the children and the teachers, who had also been very welcoming and kind to me. I hope that during the past six weeks, I had the chance to make a difference in some of their lives—perhaps through enriching their English vocabulary or building on their perspectives of cultures. Either way, I hope that in the future, they will find the souvenirs and remember this Chinese Canadian girl who spent a summer with them.
From my six weeks in Poland, I can honestly say that I love Krakow, the culture and the people. I keep wishing that I were back in Krakow’s beautiful Main Square, walking down the lively streets full of shops, people, and music. That area was the meeting hub; there were always events going on with new locals and tourists to chat with. I miss Raspberry Grandmother, our go-to restaurant for pierogies, kielbasa, goulash, and the rest of the fine Polish cuisine. Considering how much I love the place, it may seem odd that I initially found it a challenge to integrate into the Polish lifestyle. When I arrived in the city, there was no doubt that I sensed the culture shock that previous exchange participants had warned me about. I did not expect to see so little cultural diversity in the city and for so few people to speak English. I was especially worried since even the receptionist at my student hostel could not communicate with me. It was daunting to be in a country where everything was so unfamiliar and where the comforts of home were so far away. Nevertheless, I discovered that this drastic difference made me embrace the Polish culture even more as I was able to talk to more locals in my dormitory and immerse myself into their lifestyles. Prior to this experience, I knew almost nothing about Poland other than where it was on the map, but now I feel so attached to the city and the people there. I especially miss many of the amazing interns, who were from countries all over the world, including Singapore, China, Malaysia, US, Brazil and India. Many of them became my closest friends as we spent the six weeks living, travelling and exploring together.
This summer of active exploration has been one of the most valuable learning experiences in my life. From taking care of myself in Poland to surviving crazy trips around Europe, I can sense that I have changed and become more independent, courageous, and open-minded. Plus, living in an unknown continent for two months helped me see beyond Canadian and Chinese culture, and gain a greater understanding of what the world has to offer. As a current member of AIESEC, it is amazing to truly experience what AIESEC is all about.
For other students needing a little inspiration in their lives, travelling abroad is definitely the way to spark it. I would encourage you to apply for an AIESEC internship, go on an exchange, go backpacking, or do whatever you can to explore another part of the world. There are lessons from travel that you just cannot replicate through daily life. So take every opportunity you can to venture out, as there is so much out there in the world for you to see and be in awe of.
By Kimberly Chang, Talent Management