My name is Joanna and I graduated from the Sauder School of Business with a finance degree in 2012. In the summer of 2013, I went on a Global Community Development Internship in Johor Bahru, Malaysia. During the 6-week internship, I coordinated events that raised environmental awareness amongst the locals. It was one of the best summers I’ve ever had.

The reason I wanted to go on an AIESEC internship was to expand my global outlook. My prior involvement with AIESEC has cultivated in me an appreciation for cultural differences and inspired me to go explore outside of Canada. This propelled me to go for an AIESEC internship in Italy in 2009. It was such an enriching experience that I wanted to go through it again, and this time in a different part of the world – Southeast Asia. I have never been to Southeast Asia and have always wanted to experience what it is like to live there. I’ve also always wanted to go to Malaysia. In my mind, it is a place full of exotic and delicious food and is warm and sunny all year round.

The reality was not as pretty as I imagined it to be. The house I was supposed to stay at was not in the best part of the town. There were ditches full of garbage that reeked as I walked by. The sun and the humidity were almost unbearable and the house was in desperate need for some serious cleaning-up. I almost wanted to jump on the next plane home.
However, before I knew it, I fell hard and head over heels in love with the place and the people. How I fell in love with Malaysia was like falling asleep – slowly, and then all of a sudden. This moment occurred sometimes at the 3-day environmental awareness event we organized. It was the first event we had and took place a week after I arrived. We did a lot of work leading up to the event, coordinating the logistics and making props/decorations.  We possibly slept about 10 hours in total for those 3 days. I also became part of the Member Committee for the first time, due to my fluency in English. Having to spontaneously come up with the right things to say on a microphone, without sounding unsure, was definitely quite an experience. The turnout was great as a result of our efforts in promoting the event. At the end of it, we were exhausted but elated that our efforts paid off. In the middle of a busy mall, we started a flash mob. It went on and on, song after song, and we were dancing our hearts out, spreading our joy to those around us. It was infectious. Some passer-bys joined in while others stopped and watched. To this day, whenever I hear these particular song tracks, I would be filled with energy and the day seems to shine even on a gloomy day in the lovely city of Vancouver.  That was the moment I knew I had made the right decision in coming to Malaysia.
I also happened to be around for Ramadan, during which Muslims fast from dawn to dusk. Islam is the dominant religion in Malaysia.  For non-Muslims like myself, we were excited to check out the Ramadan bazaar where an array of delicious food was sold each day as dusk draws in. Skewers, Roti Canai, Nasi Lemak (rice with coconut milk), and Ikan Bakar (charcoal grilled fish wrapped in banana leaf) etc. taunted our noses and tickled our taste buds.
My favourite part about this internship, however, was living and working with interns from all over the world. There were interns from Vietnam, Kyrgyzstan, Thailand, China, Pakistan, USA, etc. We were living in the same house, lovingly referred to as “the intern house.” It is always filled with noise and laughter like a big happy family. We had many unforgettable memories, cooking and cleaning together, pulling all-nighters watching movies, chatting, sharing a room with five other people at times much like a summer camp.  I was able to try authentic cuisine from Vietnam, learn the Egyptian belly dance, and learn Thai words. The local AIESECers are also extremely friendly and acted as our tour guides, showing us around and introducing us to local traditions.
To those who are on the borderline of deciding whether to go on an AIESEC internship, I would say “do it or you’ll regret it”. If you do decide to go, make sure you go with an open mind. There will be periods of time that you’d be homesick, but I guarantee you that once you are back home, you will miss it immensely and you might spend a long time yearning and searching for something remotely similar.

 By Joanna Li, Exchange Participant