Following on from our Society Spotlight on AIESEC, Elliot Grater interviews Harry Sloane, who went to Hanoi in Vietnam as part of the scheme.
How did you find out about AIESEC?
A friend of mine dragged me along to an information session. She had been ambushed in one the corridors of Avenue Campus by a member of the marketing team. I remember it was raining, I hadn’t had dinner yet, and I had an assignment to work on, but I went anyway.
Tell us briefly about what you did during your time abroad and how you found it.
I was in Hanoi, Vietnam, helping to promote cultural understanding. There were five exchange participants (EPs) from Britain, Russia, Germany and the Netherlands respectively. Each of us were essentially serving as cultural ambassadors for each of our countries, and we introduced our cultures to each other and our students. For Britain, this mostly meant getting people to drink tea, dunk biscuits, watch John Lewis Christmas adverts and listen to Oasis.
There was a lot of freedom to take the project in whatever direction we wanted to, which meant it was challenging but in the best way possible. We got to decide on the activities and content for every class which meant we had freedom to fail or achieve however we saw fit to do so.
What was the most significant challenge you faced volunteering abroad?
Working with the other interns on my project. While everyone was lovely and amazing, we each had different ideas about what we wanted to include and it was not possible to satisfy everyone. I also had to respect that each of us approached tasks in different ways. It took a lot of compromise, and we could have improved in certain areas, but overall we managed to make it work.
What was the single greatest part of volunteering abroad?
The people! AIESEC is an entirely student-run organisation so it was an amazing chance to meet students around my age from all around the world. The AIESEC entity in Hanoi, who were the people we worked alongside, were amazing. They picked us up from the airport, helped us to integrate into Hanoian culture, took us out to dinner and drove us around on their motorbikes (and taught us how to cross the roads!).
There were four Japanese interns on a similar project to ours at the same time, and we became best friends! I met many different people, and the highlight of that was knowing that we were going through this experience together, that we need not explain how we felt to each other as each of us already knew, a sense of comradeship naturally emerged between us. That’s something I’ve never experienced before.
How far have your experiences with AIESEC changed how you view the world and other cultures?
It’s definitely changed my perspective on things. Now, after having been on exchange, I always think more globally and feel like I can make an impact on the issues facing the world today, whereas before I tended to be quite cynical about such things. Getting to know the differences and similarities between British culture and Vietnamese culture, as well as the cultures of the other interns, has definitely given me a greater sense of what makes certain cultures unique. At the same time, however, I feel I have more in common with people from the other side of the world than with people from my own country, that national identities and stereotypes are arbitrary.
Do you feel that AIESEC has had an impact on your life and potential career path?
The main impact AIESEC has had is that I now realise just how many places in the world there are that I want to see. In a way it has put me off wanting to get, what my mother would term, a ‘proper job’. I feel I want to explore the world and see as much as possible before settling down to a career. I had been toying with the idea of a career in the Diplomatic Service before I left for Vietnam, and now I know that’s definitely what I want to do.
Do you feel AIESEC would be suited for inexperienced travellers, or would a few vacation notches in the belt be ideal?
Prior to the exchange the only time I had been abroad was on school trips during secondary school, and I had most definitely never left Europe. AIESEC is more than just suited for inexperienced travellers, it definitely gives you the confidence you need to travel. You get so much support from everywhere, be it from the local committee back home or the host committee in whatever country you’re going to. For an inexperienced traveller like myself that support was really important, and now I travelling holds no fear over me anymore (except turbulence).
Do you feel you’ll ever do anything like AIESEC again, or was it more of a once in a lifetime experience?
I’m actually hoping to do the internship programme AIESEC offer. The Global Teach programme offers the chance to teach English as a foreign language in either China, Indonesia or Vietnam, and it’s 3 – 12 months in length. I would definitely never have considered doing it had it not been for my volunteering experience in Vietnam. It’s also reluctance on my part to part ways with the most passionate and rewarding youth run organisation in the world!