Amy Chen stands uncomfortably as she faces the classroom of children who look at her and then bow in unison. Chen, a 19-year-old Baruch College sophomore from Huntington, New York, laughs about how strange it was for her students to bow to her every morning and at the end of the school day, but she also realizes it was a memorable experience. Chen first heard of AIESEC from her cousin who was the vice president of marketing for the organization at Baruch, and she knew it would be a good opportunity for her to meet people as she entered school as a freshman. AIESEC is a global non-profit organization that has chapters in universities across the world and helps train the next leaders of the world.
“We send people abroad to volunteer or intern,” said Chen, an accounting major. “They can develop leadership skills, but also just being in the organization itself you learn to be a leader as well as developing different skills.”
Individuals interested in joining AIESEC have to go through an application process. After being accepted, they go through a training process before they begin to figure out what they want to do in the organization. While some travel abroad to intern or volunteer, others can be general members who are in the organization and still get the same benefits as those who travel to foreign countries.
“I wanted to send people abroad,” Chen said. “I was in the Outgoing Global Volunteers, where we send people abroad to volunteer. I like to hear people’s stories. Members also get a lot out of AIESEC, those who don’t travel, because they get to hear the stories and learn about the experiences of traveling and working in many different locations around the world.”
As a freshman, she was a general member for her first semester and then moved up to a team leader by her second semester. As a team leader, she took pride in her ability to help her members find opportunities to volunteer or intern.
One member went to Puerto Rico to promote organ donation, while another went to Morocco and developed his marketing abilities. Chen realized that she was ready to volunteer and take what she learned and apply it in Taiwan.
Chen spent her summer in the countryside of Taiwan in the town of Ruisui. She taught kids English, farmed tea leaves, painted murals at local parks, did community work and cleaned temples. Being in an area where people primarily spoke Mandarin was a challenging experience, especially since she only spoke English, but luckily another volunteer from Hong Kong was able to help her acclimate to the community.
“The people in the village and the students I taught had never met an American,” explained Chen. “They didn’t know anything about New York. So in a weird way I was a representation of America.”
The village of Ruisui is very poor and the exposure to foreign culture helped Chen be grateful for the life she lives in New York. The houses were made of cement blocks with sheet metal roofs. Culture sharing was an exciting time of day at school where the students heard stories about New York City and Chen learned stories of Taiwan.
“In AIESEC we want our people to walk away with four different qualities,” said Chen. “We want people to gain after the project the LDM, the leadership development model; to gain self-awareness, empower others, be solution oriented and be a world citizen,” she continues.
The leadership gained in this program will help students grow as individuals who will positively impact their communities as they take those lessons and apply it to real life situations.
Having AIESEC at a school like Baruch, with a strong reputation in diversity, will only help the understanding and appreciation of cross-cultural relationships in the classroom and community. The opportunity of traveling to a foreign country will only benefit the students of Baruch who can develop “business-like” abilities and apply them to the domestic workplace.
Chen added, “As a member I do develop my skills in the business field, communication, leadership, customer service skills, but going abroad inspired me to be a lot harder working and helped me to get my priorities straight.”