Last week I spoke with AIESEC, our roommate at the University Library. Here AIESEC has her student desk. And NEXT wouldn’t be a good roommate if we didn’t get to know AIESEC. So what do they do exactly? To learn more about that, I talked to Gwen Gerritsen a committee member at AIESEC and Steven Verhoeven, a student who, with some help of AIESEC, volunteered in Indonesia.
AIESEC is a students organization in over 124 countries. The organization was founded after WOII. AIESEC’s mission: Peace and Fulfillment of Human Kind Potential. The goal is to create understanding. This way, AIESEC tries to contribute to world peace. ‘This sounds very big and a little bit vague’ says Gwen. ‘In the Netherlands we are a little more down to earth. This is why we mainly focus on Fulfillment of Human Kind Potential, to get the best out of yourself.’ AIESEC thinks it is very important for students to develop themselves during their studies. By going abroad for an internship or volunteering.
Gwen talks about the teams in the committee. Incoming Exchange and Outgoing Exchange concern themselves with respectively guiding student who come to the Netherlands and guiding Dutch students who want to go abroad. Gwen is part of the latter. Then there are two career teams. Make a move organizes career events and Meet a Mentor links ambitious MA-students to a company for a traineeship.
Gwen and her colleagues at AIESEC all have experience with going abroad. This is not required, but can come in handy. They coach the students who want to go abroad. Most students want to arrange everything for themselves, but other student are happy that they can ask for some extra help at AIESEC. ‘Some students need some encouragement,’ says Gwen. Steven was also happy with the help of his student coach. Most things he arranged himself. Even so, it was nice that his coach told him every now and then that he should really begin planning. Also he could ask him everything, for instance, how to apply for a visa. ‘The hardest part of planning a trip abroad is applying for visa’ says Steven.
Steven volunteered in Jogjakarta, Indonesia, for six weeks. He taught English to Indonesian students. After he finished he travelled through Asia and Australia. All in all he was away for three months and he had to apply for more than one visa. ‘It was a fantastic experience’ says Steven ‘in Indonesia, I was welcomed with open arms’. Also very new and special were the living conditions that differ so much from the living conditions he was used to in the Netherlands. ‘I slept on a matrass on the ground and washed myself with a bowl of water. You really experience the way of living.’ It took a while to get used to, but it is a very important part of your experience, Steven thinks.
Teaching Steven liked very much. He lived in a men-only house filled with college students. Some of the guys that lived in the same house, hardly spoke English. Talking English in the house was mandatory, so this sometimes was a barrier for these students to talk to the others. Steven liked to talk to these guys and encourage them to talk English. He told them how he learned English and also that he doesn’t do it perfectly himself.
The most important thing Steven learned during his trip abroad was the ‘stepping out of your comfort zone’. The teaching helped him to do this, but he also backpacked alone for a long time after his volunteering job ended. ‘The experience of all these different cultures, the beautiful surroundings, the interesting people you meet, you just have to experience it at least once in your life’ says Steven, ‘and when you’re at it, really go to another part of the world. Get those blinders off!’.
We’re running out if time for the interview, but Gwen and Steven cannot stop talking about their experiences. It is clear that in their minds, they’ve returned to the most beautiful spots of the earth they have visited. There is only one conclusion to make; travelling abroad must be very addictive. Gwen and Steven are both planning to go abroad in a not too distant future. ‘And during your studies is the only time that this is possible,’ says Gwen ‘so you owe it to yourself to do it now.’
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