Student Life

AIESEC at Concordia

Volunteering abroad is only a few steps away

If volunteering abroad is something you’re interested in, AIESEC (pronounced eye-sek) is an organization to look into. A non-profit international youth-led organization offering global internships, AIESEC aims to take young adults out of their comfort zones and into a world where their help can make a difference.

On Friday, Nov. 23, AIESEC held a conference at the John Molson School of Business where volunteers, who now work with the organization, spoke about their experiences abroad.

AIESEC has three main sectors for its internship programs: Global Talent, Global Entrepreneur, and Global Volunteer. All three revolve around an exchange system where young adults from different parts of the world travel to share their talents, entrepreneurial skills, and volunteer. The projects they organize are based on the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) created by the UN, as well as the #Envision2030 17 goals for persons with disabilities.

“I wanted to go somewhere completely different from what I knew,” said Stéphan-Thomas Trembley, who went to Indonesia last summer. He worked with consultants on a project aimed to help the economic growth and development aspect of the SDGs. “I think about it all the time, and I wish I could live it again. It’s inspired me to want to travel more, talk to people, and get to know their side of the story,” Trembley said.

Harnessing leadership and communication skills is only part of what is gained from going abroad. Students also learn about different cultures, different day-to-day routines, and even find similarities where they thought would be none. One of the things Trembley found most inspiring is that “people are the same.”

From beginning to end, AIESEC ensures their trips are safe. The Outgoing Global Exchange sector’s purpose is helping students with their exchange process—from airport pickups, to transportation, to accommodation, everything is planned carefully. Volunteers stay with assigned host-families while they’re overseas, and these families are often also volunteers. Depending on the project the student chooses, the time varies from six weeks to three months.

“I went to Romania to develop leadership skills and ended up meeting wonderful people and really creating a network of people all over the world that made this experience the best it could ever be,” said Ève Provencher-Dagenais, Local Branch Manager of AIESEC Canada. “I promised myself I’d go back to Romania, and I also want to go to a different country to learn a new culture.”

According to its website, AIESEC is the largest youth-run organization and is present in 126 countries with over 80,000 members.

“I’m originally from Sri Lanka, and over there AIESEC is a big movement,” said AIESEC Concordia Outgoing Global Exchange Vice President Sathsala Perera. “I was really inspired by what they do with youth development.”

The application process is done online using a step-by-step guide. First, you need to create a profile. According to Perera, the reason for this is that the organization is highly selective of their applicants in order to ensure the best possible outcome for all parties involved. The plane ticket is covered by applicants themselves, and there is a fee of $570 that goes towards the individual’s accommodations, food and basic care while they’re abroad.

“I joined AIESEC for empowerment,” said Perez. “I stayed with AIESEC because I saw this as a platform. A lot of people at Concordia don’t know about it, but it’s an important organization. Come and use us, use the resources we have here.”

Feature graphic by Ana Bilokin

Student Life

Becoming a youth leader

 Upon entering university, you usually want to make the most out of your university experience. A big part of that experience is developing your personal skills and being exposed to different cultures. There are different organizations at Concordia that could help you do just that.

AIESEC is one of those organizations. It is a global student-run, non-profit organization aimed at developing leadership skills through international exchange and internship programs or local leadership programs.

“AIESEC provides a lot of opportunities for students to develop their leadership by getting them to do hands-on activities, so it’s not just by listening. We try to empower our members so they can actually have their own project and gain experience while doing it,” said Naomi Ko, AIESEC’s incoming VP of information and communication management.

In order to fully understand the AIESEC experience, there is no better way than to dive into a real story of a Concordia student. Meet Curtis Deschambault, who is currently holding a year-long AIESEC position in Austria.

Deschambault joined AIESEC upon entering Concordia in 2007 in order to indulge in the university experience and to travel around. After attending the AIESEC information session, he realized that the organization offered him both of those experiences and he eagerly jumped at the opportunity to take part. He started going to conferences which helped him learn more about the organization.

“It was a really good chance for me to expand on things that I have not really looked at in my life, like how to manage my skills, how to motivate people and how to implement real life projects,” said Deschambault. “It was a challenge at the beginning but I definitely grew quite a bit from it.”

Last December, Deschambault decided to apply to go to Austria in order to work for the AIESEC national team. His role is to coordinate their two internship programs on a national level and to expand AIESEC’s volunteer abroad program in Austria. In addition to that, he works on making partnerships between Austria and other AIESEC countries.

As for living in a foreign country, Deschambault found it to be a comfortable and easy transition. He says Austria is a privileged country, with a very good standard of living and minimal homelessness. The language barrier didn’t seem to affect him negatively either. The international language in AIESEC is English, which facilitated his communication with others. He describes people in Austria as supportive and understanding of his linguistic obstacles.

Deschambault is currently surrounded by seven nationalities in the AIESEC team in Austria, including Egyptian and Hungarian.

“It’s a diverse cultural experience for me, so it’s really interesting. I’m really enjoying it a lot and learning cultural leadership as well. I’m experiencing how different cultures interpret leadership,” said Deschambault.

The AIESEC experience, although enriching in many ways, does not come without a few challenges. Deschambault was recently in Kenya for an international leadership conference with about 600 delegates from AIESEC’s 110 member countries. He said that he found it was sometimes overwhelming to have to deal with so many different cultures in the same place. However, he did have the chance to talk with people from different countries about world and leadership issues.

One of the biggest advantages that AIESEC provided Deschambault was being able to travel across the world. So far, he has travelled to 12 countries, allowing him to visit four out of the seven continents. Deschambault says that he never imagined that he would be able to travel this much.

Given all of his experiences so far with AIESEC, Deschambault says his time with the program has been worth the minor challenges. “It was definitely an eye-opening experience. It was probably the best decision I made when I entered university.”

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