Who are you?
That’s a deep philosophical question I ask myself every day when I look into the mirror. It’s also one of my least favourite job interview questions that’s almost always asked. But if I was pressed for an answer:
-recent (June 2013) BBA co-op Strategic Management graduate
-<insert 3 highly relevant job related skills>-
Or let’s just stick with a recent graduate, who in humble my opinion, helped run two of the best clubs on campus (unfortunately I didn’t discover AIESEC until I was near graduation).
Where did you go on exchange?
Europe. More specifically, Poland. Even more specifically, Lublin. If need want me to be even more specific, you either work for the US Government, or need help.
How did your exchange experience change you as a person?
I remember asking a friend who returned from exchange a very similar question: ‘how was your experience?’ She, an AIESECer, gave me a vague answer. And for good reason: it’s really hard to describe it, especially if asked late at night and half drunk (me, not her). But seriously, it’s an experience, at least for me, that changes you in many subtle ways.
I had new found independence, and confidence. Think about it: I just went abroad, on my own, thrown into an unknown country, with a new language, and new culture. Just that alone is enough to freak some people out. And under all that, we’re expected to do what we were hired to do. But we have the benefit of the awesome community of AIESECers around the world. My LC particular did so much to help make the transition so much easier and fun.
I realized how much in common young people have around the world.
I became much more aware of the issues facing others around the world…For example, I didn’t really realize how bad the youth unemployment abroad is until I saw, and had several conversations my some of my new friends.
My eyes truly open up – from before, where I only have the school spoon-fed ‘multiculturalism is a good thing’, to seeing WHY it’s a good thing, and how much of an amazing of a thing we have here in Toronto. Similarly, I realized how stupid racism is, and became a lot more open, and less tolerant…of racism.
I feel a lot more connected to the rest of the world – I have friends, some of them very close, all over the world now! Turkey, Brazil, Germany, Australia, Sri Lanka, India, Ukraine, Vietnam, China, and of course, Poland. AIESEC is awesome that way.
I had decent presentation skills before, but when you’re thrown into a room full of kids where their exposure of English mostly came from imported American shows and their English teacher, you really learn to become engaging beyond just your words. I learned to engage my whole body – my facial expression, my gestures, walking around the room…everything non-verbal became emphasized. And then you realize how important those elements are in communications.
There’s a lot more than this, but this section is already a little bit crazy…sorry!
How did the AIESEC community help and make the experience better?
I partly answered this before, but the AIESEC community, in my opinion, played a huge role in the experience’s awesomeness. The LC did their best to make us feel welcomed, took their time to show us around, organized outings and crazy shenanigans…it’s kind of like having awesome friends you never knew you had, but were always there…you just needed an excuse to meet up with them.
The other exchange participants was also played a very important part of it all. In my project in particular, I spent most my time with the other EPs, and became close to a few of them. I’ve made some really great friends, shared many…interesting…moments with them. It’s hard to describe, but I’ll at least say this much: it was really hard having to leave them when the project ended, and I miss them very much.
What did you learn after going abroad and being placed in an entirely new environment?
How important preparation is, and being flexible and quick thinking. Preparation helps get your mind ready, but things don’t always go the way you think it will, especially in a new environment. But preparation gives you a base to work from, when you need to adapt and be flexible. But in the end, being open minded plays a huge role in surviving in a new environment.
Oh, that and initiative. Things don’t happen unless you go out and do it!
Biggest challenge and how you overcame it:
There is all that talk about new culture, new language, new environment, etc etc…but my biggest fear was this.
Engaging them Polish high school students. I have new found respect for teachers. I had the advantage of being from another country and different ethnicity, so that alone made me interesting. But consider this: English is not their first language, and you can sure bet they’re different culturally.
I had a presentation prepared, but I wasn’t sure how the students would receive it. But you know what: it’s all part of a learning process. In the beginning, I experimented with different techniques, and I learned to adapt based on the student’s reactions. If they’re laughing and paying attention, then I’m obviously doing something right. If they’re falling asleep, talking to each other or playing card games at the back of the classroom (true story), then something is up.
The important thing is, no matter what the challenge is, you won’t learn from it until you try to overcome it. That whole journey and process is what will make you a better person. Cheesy, but it’s true.
Biggest “culture shock” moment?
I don’t think “customer service” is in the dictionary of Eastern European countries.
What was the funniest moment(s) you’ve had on your exchange?
It was in a club in Lublin. That’s all I’ll say. (to be honest, too many to count, and too many to tell)