After my AIESEC exchange in Lima, Peru, I gained a lot of valuable friendships, important lessons and beautiful memories. If I can, I would love to work abroad again through AIESEC.

I am going to enter my fifth year of college this coming fall. Instead of interning at a company, I decided to work abroad this summer. If you do an estimation of a person’s life, on average nearly 25 percent of our life is contributed to school, 40 percent to work and 35 percent to retirement. Since we will spend the majority of our lives working, I want to develop a better understanding of myself and the world before entering the job market.

Throughout the eight weeks when I was in Peru, I allocated 70 percent of my time for the local community development project, 10 percent for making friends, 10 percent for traveling and 10 percent for learning the culture. The reasons why I would like to go exchange through AIESEC again are because of the opportunities to make differences in a social development project, to make friends with global leaders, to gain eye-opening experiences and to think as the local.

70 percent professional leadership experience for social development projects

I worked as the human resources manager for a non-profit organization called UBiP, which is a non-profit organization aiming to create libraries in every town in Peru. After communicating with the executives, the two other international volunteers  and I learned that the biggest challenge of the organization was that they did not have a structure or system. One of the benefits of being the volunteer for the organization is that we are given the flexibility to decide what we would like to do for the organization. Therefore, we decided that each of us would have a focus in three areas, including human resources, marketing and public relations. As a human resources manager, I had four main topics to work on: recruitment, orientation, performance management and sustainability. In the end, I recruited seven national volunteers, created the tools for recruitment and performance management and provided strategies in recruitment, training and development, performance management, and succession through an seven page sustainable human resources management plan. Before I left the organization, I transited all my knowledge to my successor.

10 percent global network/self identification

The other best part about AIESEC is that you go alone to another country and meet international volunteers there. You not only make friends with internationals and locals, but you also learn how to make friend with yourself. By exposing yourself to an environment where everyone is different, you will be questioned about your own culture and yourself. I have developed a better understanding about my Chinese identity since I needed to introduce my city, my country and my cultures to others. I have developed a better understanding about my abilities since I need to solve a lot of problems by myself in another country. For example, I got my luggage delayed, and I had to call the airport to get the luggage. Another example is that I needed to figure out how to lead a group of four when traveling even though I do not know the language.

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There is no doubt that the best gift I have received from this experience is the close friendship with so many great individuals – people who have leadership skills and desire to make the world a better place. ( I actually met a guy who wanted to be the president of his country.) I lived in a 13-person trainee house, and I went to the AIESEC Lima office a lot of times. I have made good friends with Peruvians, a British, a Spanish, Brazilians, Mexicans, a Croatian, Colombians, Americans and so on. Thanks to AIESEC, I not only experienced the local Peruvian culture, but I also learned a lot about all different kinds of cultures. You would not be surprised to learn so much about politics, economics and cultures of other countries when you go exchange with AIESEC since these are what the majority of the exchange participants care about. Other than that, you will be surprised how common you are in the taste of music type, dance move, drinks and so on. The biggest common thing we share is leadership. These are all college students or young graduates who are willing to volunteer their time in another country working for a local-development projects. They believed that leadership is the fundamental solution to solve global issues.

10 percent traveling: an eye opening experience

When you travel, you are an adventurer every day. You explore and learn new things every single moment. Sometimes you will learn about important life lessons, and you will always make good friends. Throughout my time here, I have experienced a lot of firsts. I surfed in the Pacific. I sandboarded. I experienced altitude sickness. I climbed a mountain for six hours. I experienced a protest. I also learned a lot of lessons. I learned to always compare prices before negotiation. I learned to always double check the tickets three days beforehand, and I learned to check both the seat and the ground when I leave the taxi. Traveling allows me to see the world and to not taking things for granted. Fun fact is that I like Huraz (the 15,000 feet mountain) more than Machu Picchu because I enjoy the experience of hiking more than just taking pictures. I realized that I like hiking because the process when we motivate each other and the process when we are out of breathe and we recover after constant rests. Hiking taught me how to live as a person. We need to take stops when needed, and we should always encourage our friends who are taking the same journey with us.

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I also appreciate humanities more when I travel. There were a lot of times when I took the wrong bus, and then people helped me search for the right way to come back. There was a time when I was really thirsty on the middle of the mountain, and a stranger gave me his 300ml of water. There were times I saw people in the buses giving their seats for people who needed. Humanity is another common language that every human share, and I appreciate the chance to feel it when I travel.

10% cultural learning: thinking like a local

After the eight weeks in Peru, I consider myself as 30 percent Peruvian. Not just because I lived in a Peruvian house, I took the Peruvian transportation and I ate the Peruvian foods, but even more – I got the chance to think like a Peruvian. I wrote a blog “If I were the mayor of Lima.” In the blog, I talked about how necessary it was to transform the transportation system. After that, I got some feedbacks from Peruvians. I was told that the system was way more complicated than I thought and that it was not going to happen in the near future. I learned that thousands of job opportunities and the numbers of private companies are the barriers for the government to change. I was actually a little surprised when they told me that Peruvians did not want to change even though you want to help them. It is so different from the United States where people are eager to make improvements for their society. It is interesting to see how politics, religions and culture limit people’s mindset to make a change. I told my friends that there was no easy change but rather it was more important to see the long term welfare for the whole society. I encouraged them to think out of the box and to see the big picture. It eventually came to a conclusion, which is what AIESEC believes in, that we come to the other country not to solve the problems for them, but to empower them with tools and a mindset and let them make the change by themselves. I learned the way Peruvian think, and I learned to respect and accept. In the meantime, I wanted them to understand that they can if they want.

AIESEC provides the challenging environment for students to grow as leaders. I appreciate the chance to make some difference on the other side of the world by empowering the non-profit organizations with the system and tools I created. I appreciate all the friendships I have made in Peru. They have encouraged me to be a better person. I appreciate the opportunity to see the world from traveling and from talking to the locals, which allows me to appreciate nature more and to think from different perspectives. This is a life-changing experience for me, and I would like to share it with more people so that together we can create a better world.

About The Author

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Gladys Lai is a cook/match-maker, photographer and an AIESECer. She is majoring in economics, operations & technology management and marketing with specialization in supply chain and certificates in math and leadership. Believing that leadership is the fundamental solutions to solve global issues, she is on a two-month volunteer community development program this summer to Lima, Peru.

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