AIESEC Toronto

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Take Me To: Colombia | Shiaoshiao’s AIESEC Exchange

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As I sit on the green grass and watch my Grade 11 students play, my right arm coated with the paint from their presentation on Jamaica, and after teaching grade 8 vocabulary and role playing in learning the values about friendship, I realize that I have had the unique opportunity of teaching 1800 kids in the course of my internship.

1800 kids sounded like an arduous task at first because well, I don’t have remotely any experience in teaching, much less classroom management of every grade from kindergarten to grade 11. In itself, this presented some amazing and challenging experiences.


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I came to Colombia because I had Colombian friends who are some of the most hospitable people I have ever met and it came as a huge contrast from what I heard about Colombia through newspapers, media, and foreign affairs departments. I wanted to find out what it was like living in the country who still as of today, is responsible for manufacturing 90% of the world’s Cocaine. Actually, the province I live in is considered one of the most dangerous. Pasto, the capital of the province Narino, is the only ‘safe’ city by Canadian government standards, nestled in a valley in the shadows of an active volcano, Galleras. Talk about living on the edge.

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I remember my first morning and drive into Pasto vividly. We were driving from Chachagui, the town where the Pasto airport was located. I landed at 8am, having little sleep and sitting in the car with local AIESECers was a welcomed change. Drifting on the windy highway, listening to blaring dance music, I saw lush forests sitting atop mountains that went forever. It dawned on me that I would be living in the Andes mountains for the next 3 months. I was anxious.

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Now, two months and a week in, yes I live at an altitude of around 3000m, but Pasto has shown me its quirks, charms and the people that I have come to know and befriend here remind me of the warmth that my Colombian friends exuded. I found myself right at home. I live with a landlady who doesn’t speak a word of English and we laugh heartily often, I have had strangers drive me to the bus stop because I was lost, students who took me to parties and made sure that I felt comfortable, friends who stayed with me when I was in the hospital and ensured that the doctor could understand my symptoms, teachers who would walk me to the bus because there was a transportation strike. Even though I’m not a party animal like everyone here, I had made friends that I could count on for anything and even if it’s just a walk in downtown, or an outing to have coffee, those simple moments often fabricated some of the most memorable of times.
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Of course, I’ve had my bad times. This one class I was teaching made me so frustrated that I cried. Getting suspected food poisoning meant I missed my trip to Bogota and I lost so much strength and weight in the matter of 3-4 days. I lost my smartphone in a taxi.

Though, when you’re on exchange, these bad events often seem like blessings in disguise –  you learn to pick up yourself and smell the roses rather than obsessing about the dirt on your clothes.

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Consider supporting your teachers more, consider teaching abroad, or even teaching in your community. One of the greatest gifts humankind has to offer is education because one can make more informed, logical, and moral decisions that have the potential to better the world around them. If this exchange has taught me anything, it’s that education is the foundation of our futures and it is every bit part of our common responsibilities to nurture, foster, and support ways so that quality education can reach the most remote areas of our planet. If this exchange has taught me anything, it’s that our fear largely stems from an absence of willingness to understand and to connect. The more I travel, the more I learn that the human connection only needs an open heart, mind, and the empathy necessary to cross the invisible but apparent barriers that block us from sharing our common humanity and future. If this exchange has taught me anything, it’s that we are truly on our own in this world, and it is up to ourselves to invoke the internal change if we seek the same change within the surroundings around us, regardless if we are on exchange or not. Exchange makes you realize that you are a tiny raindrop, but raindrops can make waves. You will miss home, it will not be 100% amazing, but it will change you.

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Take Me To: Taiwan | Tommy’s AIESEC Exchange

So this is how I start, or more specifically, this is how we start:

During the summer 2014, I went to Taiwan through an AIESEC Global Citizen exchange program. My project was to give kids a wider “vision” about the world, thus helping them cultivate their ambition and perspective. It was one of the most passionate places I have ever been to. The school I went to was called Shuyi Elementary School, with a traditional Minnan building style that enhanced the countryside of Taichung. There was around 300 students per grade, which sums up to approximately two thousand students attending the school. I had the responsibility of holding at least one lesson per class all the way from grades 1 to 5.


At the end of the working day, my throat would hurt and during the break, there would be a number of kids lining up with their important questions awaiting to be answered, such as “What is life like in Canada?” and even “Do you have a girl friend?” However, what fascinated me the most was their simplicity in life. There was a time when I asked my homestay* student what he really wanted to do after he achieved an “A” on his math test. He responded, “a Facebook account”. There, I was shocked (*note: the homestay I lived in had up-to-date technology, such as iPhones) and it was then that I realized that happiness can be so simple. This made me wonder what I really wanted in life by taking a step back and looking at the bigger picture of things.


No matter wherever, whenever I was, there was always a lot of food surrounding me. Students brought fruits for you, teachers gave out snacks, and the homestay was always there for you. What made this trip a bit unique was that I lived with a vegetarian family where the grandmother, or what they called “Ar Ma”, was in charge of cooking. According to one of the most famous parts of Chinese culture, treasuring food is an important role in Taiwan; therefore, whatever dish you don’t finish today, you have to see again tomorrow.


Riding a motorbike for the first time!

The message I brought back from Taiwan is that, sometimes, we do make careless mistakes in life. Throughout my exchange journey, I missed my flight and my visa expired. However, sometimes you just have to slow down and reflect in order to progress in life. Rosa, my AIESEC “buddy” back in Taiwan,  supported me throughout the times of my exchange problems I ran into accidentally, but most important of all, provided me with a different angle to reflect about myself whenever I talked to her. And since then, she actually became my girlfriend, and we’ve been together ever since.

I am not saying that going on exchange will always result in getting a girl/boyfriend. However, throughout any exchange, as long as you remember to keep an open mind and take as many opportunities as you can, you will truly have a life-changing experience


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