AIESEC - The World's Largest Student Driven Organization
Walking the corridors of our faculty, you can’t miss the AIESEC posters screaming catch phrases such as “Do you stick out from the crowd? Have you got excellent communication skills?”, “Do you think there’s no bright future for you at the employment office? Then it’s you we want. Get to know AIESEC and a whole new world of endless possibilities will open in front of your eyes.” It’s quite possible you will find yourself puzzled, with millions of questions swarming in your head: ‘What exactly does this organization do?’, ‘How did it start?’ and ‘Who is behind all of it?’ We asked a few students whether they knew anything about AIESEC, and sadly, most of them didn’t have a clue. That’s why we would like to introduce AIESEC to you. We believe that everybody should know about this organization’s activities and the impact it has on society. It changes people for better and gives them much more than merely the experience necessary for starting off their careers.
The history of AIESEC started after the Second World War in the destroyed world full of poverty, devastation, turmoil, and despair. The material damage was estimated at $1 trillion, but worse than that were hate and hostility that spread among people. Despite the harsh conditions, there was an urgent need to bridge the gap between people and cultures as well as a growing pressure on business schools to produce capable individuals to rebuild and revitalize the economy. In Europe it was extremely difficult to travel beyond the country’s borders immediately after the war. Nevertheless, there was a large demand from university students to travel in summer. This initial thought of exchanging students between countries in order to make international friends and gain cultural understanding to ensure harmony and peace in the world brought individuals together in Liege, August 1946, and later in Stockholm during the last months of 1948, finally resulting in the first International Congress in March 1949. This is how the foundations of what students all over the world now know and love were laid – AIESEC. Although the idea of student cooperation is now common in the world now, AIESEC was a pioneer student organization after WWII.
The idea was initiated by Erik Malson, a 23-year-old student of economics who became one of the seven founding members of Association Internationale des Etudiants en Sciences Economiques et Commerciales, established in January 1948 with the aim of promoting understanding between the students of economics and commerce through international exchange programmes.
The endeavors to rebuild the war-torn Europe along with the educational need to clearly understand the international relations and indispensable need for cooperation between neighboring countries served as a catalyst to facilitate and commence the exchange activities. In the first years of AIESEC, its activities involved traineeships, study tours and the exchange of information on studies. There were two types of study tours: one was an exchange between two schools or countries and the other, the less common and more difficult to arrange, were the international study tours.
By the 1950s AIESEC had expanded to three new continents, moving from Western Europe to the rest of Europe and on to Africa and America. With the number of exchanges doubling every year and the global expansion, AIESEC became more established and started to organize seminars as a means of conducting the formal study of issues that were locally relevant for society. This meant overstepping the boundaries of merely promoting international friendships. The beginning of educational activities is thus remembered by the first AIESEC-sponsored seminar in Hald, Denmark, in 1955.
What is AIESEC? “AIESEC is an independent non-political, international student organization, which has as its purpose, to establish and promote close and friendly relations between members without regard to religion or race” (AIESEC International Compendium 1961). It is the largest student organization in the world with more than 60,000 members, over 800 offices and operations in 110 countries and territories. It is an entirely student-managed association with a unique global network and with membership drawn from every race, color, sex, creed, religion, sexual orientation and ethnic origin. Its members share a common vision of peace and fulfillment of humankind’s potential. It gives young people an opportunity to activate and develop their abilities for leadership while challenging them to explore their own vision for a positive impact on society. Mainly focused on providing a platform for young people’s contribution to the societal change, AIESEC gives students a chance to participate in international internship and experience a global learning environment.
The scope of the AIESEC activities is large and the power and impact it has lies mostly in their diversity. The organization has a number of identified global “Focus Areas” – themes that any of its activities will address. All of these are areas that AIESEC believes are the most relevant for change in society such as corporate social responsibility, understanding of culture, entrepreneurship, sustainability, women upliftment, health care or financial management.
There are two possibilities how you may participate in AIESEC. You can either become a member of the organization or do an international internship. Professional internship is the most intense learning experience that AIESEC offers. It provides a challenging opportunity to travel to exotic locations and work in one of the 4 focus areas: management, technology, development or education. The programmes offer excellent opportunities to work in the headquarters of local, national and even international companies and organizations, schools, NGOs and non-corporate organizations. Participants will learn about developing strategies and business possibilities for organizations, fund raising, project management and project planning, work with organizations dealing with microfinance to help support local business in underprivileged areas, learn about finances, HR, and marketing, work with media partners for banding and communication, create and develop training resources for institutes or take part in developing the education sector by helping to promote and develop the curriculum, teaching and counseling. There are over 1000 work-abroad opportunities to choose from, with a flexible duration from 6 weeks to 18 months.
In order to apply for an international internship, you need to join and understand AIESEC. Applicants can have their experiences and motivation for going on an AIESEC exchange reviewed by a professional board of committee. This process consists of a selection interview, language tests and some other steps depending on the country one is applying from. The selection process is aimed at ensuring that everyone who participates is suitable and will have a positive experience while on exchange and also will be mentally and physically able to cope with the pressures of living in a foreign country.
AIESEC offers two types of internship programmes. They are the Global International Program and the Global Cultural Development Program. The former usually offers a business, IT or management internship in international companies in different parts of the world. It is paid, but also more difficult to get into because companies more often than not require previous educational and professional experience and the candidate usually has to pass an interview with the company representatives via Skype. If you decide to go for the second program, the chances of you travelling abroad are high because the possibilities are just endless. This kind of internship is usually not paid, but the costs for accommodation and food are covered. The candidates are placed in developing countries such as Brazil, Mexico, Venezuela, Columbia, India, China and lots of African countries. Their main aim is to help build the country’s education system, i.e. by teaching children English at schools or promoting projects to help prevent the spread of diseases such as AIDS, etc. A friend of mine went to India on the cultural program, where she spent time visiting small Indian companies, telling them about the possibility of donating to primary education in their own countries.
Another way how to get involved in AIESEC is to become a member and participate directly in the course of events. If you are a part-time or a fulltime student of any degree, you only need to fill in an application form and pass an interview. Successful candidates are offered to choose from two positions: a team-member or a team-leader. Both jobs will provide you with great experience for your future life and career. You will acquire lots of skills, e.g. learn how to communicate effectively, work in a team or lead your own team, take responsibility for your tasks, etc. There are many advantages to being an AIESECer: trainings will improve your skills and develop your existing talents immensely, you will meet new people from the other side of the globe, attend conferences, travel to marvelous places, and, last but not least, AIESEC will help some to actually find themselves.
As we said, as an AIESECer you may participate in conferences, lectures and workshops led and held by professionals from various fields and areas of knowledge. You may now wonder who, for the love of God, would volunteer to study at weekends or spend their free time sitting in a conference hall. Such a waste of time! But, in my own experience, it’s just the opposite. The workshops are organized in an unconventional way by inspiring and successful people who know what they are doing. AIESEC has a motto, which characterizes the organization as such: "Work hard, play hard". AIESEC combines hard work with real fun. The working environment at AIESEC is friendly and welcoming, and, what’s more, it’s the same everywhere in the world. Nights spent at pubs with a drink or two, talking to exciting people from around the world come as a reward for everyone’s hard work during the day; the only drawback are the difficult mornings, when you have to get up for the next day’s lectures. But a cup of coffee will do its job and pump you up with energy for new trainings and workshops.
Those who decide to quit AIESEC may remain active as alumni. Alumni stay informed about AIESEC’s activities, receive news and are invited to participate in events and conferences. They often offer support and advice to new members and interns. Alumni can still experience the feeling of involvement and contribution to a great idea by becoming a mentor. Many deliver sessions and/or provide advice and contacts and get involved in discussions with other alumni all over the world and across industries. Some even support the current activities and projects with financial donations. Some of the well-known alumni include Helmut Kohl, Kofi Annan, Mick Jagger, Bono Vox or Andrej Babiš, the richest Slovak living in the Czech Republic.
In Slovakia there are 6 local centers, two of which are in Bratislava. One is called LC BRATISLAVA with a seat at the University of Economics and the other is called LC CU with a seat at Comenius University. More information about AIESEC in Slovakia may be found at its homepage www.aiesec.sk.
To conclude, we would like to encourage you to think about all the various possibilities you have as a student, such as the international internships. You may get so much experience from these, form lifelong friendships, learn a lot about yourself or finally decide what you want to do and how. AIESEC will change your life’s perspective. Don’t hesitate and go! Here is another inspiring AIESEC idea for you:
When people meet, they get to know each other,
when they get to know each other, they understand each other better,
when they understand each other better, there is no place for hate,
and where there is no hate, there is peace.
Zuzana Maderová in cooperation with Zuzana Starovecká
Note: Zuzka Maderová attended a conference called DARE, which took place in Rudava, a small village in the west of Slovakia. There were separate trainings for old members and newcomers, but the main idea behind all of them was to develop people’s skills. The conference was organized for the Slovak branch of AIESEC, but the facilitators came from different counties such as the Netherlands, Turkey or Germany. Here are some pictures Zuzka took at the conference.
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