Wednesday, 14 May 2014

Beyond boundaries, beyond my comfort zone: explore AIESEC, explore yourself

Taking on challenges is a fact of life. There are some challenges, though, that take you beyond your ordinary sense of feeling comfortable in your own bubble of family, friends and culture. By being pushed outside this ‘comfort zone’, one can observe a true test of character and adaptation taking place. For me, I hadn’t thought such an experience was possible while I was still at university. Enter AIESEC.

In brief, AIESEC is the world’s largest youth-run organisation that develops leadership through exchange. To think of how this works, imagine working with a different culture for 6 amazing weeks and getting the chance to really impact their local community. For me, a true leader is the person who makes the effort to ensure that each action they take is positively contributing to someone else in some way. And this is what my exchange was all about. 

Grabbing this ‘big opportunity’ to do something life-changing, I embarked on a 6-week AIESEC exchange to Hungary over the recent summer break. With my passion in teaching, my program was to teach a range of subjects including English, Mathematics and Economics to high-school students at a  Hungarian high school in a lovely city called Kecskemet.

Fun times with awesome classes like these: 9D Group 1
A typical day would involve getting up early, around 5-6am to arrive at the school by 7:45am. As the students enter the room, I would greet them in Hungarian and tell them we were going to have a fantastic English lesson. To make my classes really engaging and fun, I always made sure to get everyone to participate at least once as well as ask the students questions on different topics such as health, food and even transport to stimulate their interest in English.

My fellow teachers at Kada Elek School of Economics
Aside from teaching, it was great to have the support of other AIESEC interns who were going through the same experience. The international connections I made with people from countries like Brazil, Korea and Egypt will always remain and have given me an enriched global awareness of the power of youth.

Upon reflection, the thing that stands out to me most is how fortunate I was to have built such great relationships with the Hungarian people. Linking this with my vision of being an inspiring leader for the students, the small actions were highly valuable. I will never forget the experience of trying to learn Hungarian every night from Google Translate, or from students, teachers as well as random people from the street. I will never forget the movie days I organised and the chats I had to get to know each and every student. While the language barrier was extremely tough, real persistence like this is the best form of living and breathing another culture.
One of the most amazing host families I stayed with, true blessing
While teaching in a professional environment taught me how to present and teach English effectively, this exchange meant more to me in terms of redefining my understanding of cultural diversity. It showed me how important good education is to realising one’s potential and that challenging yourself greatly improves trust of your own capabilities.

In a nutshell, I have developed a thicker skin and am now better equipped to deal with uncertainty. When I said it was ‘life-changing’, I definitely meant this. There is no better time than now to invest yourself into a project, which you’re passionate about whether it’s teaching, conservation or any other cause. The professional development to be gained speaks for itself too. The bonus of attaining key employability skills such as a adaptability to change will differentiate you by miles.

Special thanks must go out to the Business School for providing  me with a scholarship that has helped me realise my personal goal of  improving the educational outcomes of less privileged high school children. I am now more committed than ever to continue volunteering in meaningful ways. For example, participating in the Business School Peer Mentoring Program and helping the community in whatever way I can.

Steven Chan

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