It’s always interesting to hear someone else’s story and learn about their experiences, especially when they are extremely different to what you encounter in day-to day life. I recently had a chat with Fatin, an exchange participant who has recently returned from Romania to learn about what it was like to travel to Romania, teach high school kids, and share her culture with those abroad. All things vastly different to what I have done in recent years and all very intriguing.
I’m going to be honest, when I think of Romania all that comes to mind is Transylvania and vampires. But, I quickly learned from Fatin that there is a lot more to it than that. She travelled to Sfântu Gheorghe (Saint George), one of the largest cities in central Romania to teach high school students as part of the 'Discover Communities' program. The idea of this program was to assist the students with self-discovery in a way that complements the formal educational system of Romania.
When asked why she chose Romania, Fatin told me that while on a different AIESEC exchange she met another exchange participant who was originally from Romania. It was this exchange participant, who kept talking about how great his home country was, that inspired Fatin to pick Romania as her next exchange destination. She described him as being a “really good marketer for his country” and I think that meeting someone that passionate about their home country would make it hard to resist travelling there one day.
Fatin said that the main reason she chose this project was because she is very interested in cultural exchanges and community impact. She loves to learn about other people while sharing her own culture with them. This creates a very effective learning space with a lot of give and take between cultures, making it a great environment to grow and develop in. When asked whether she was concerned about the language barrier she described herself as a “language geek” and said that even learning simple phrases really helped bridge the gap and made everyone much more comfortable.
Fatin said she also chose this project because of her interest in Sustainable Development Goal #4, Quality Education. She grew up in a family of teachers and because of this realises the importance of education. When I asked her more about this she said she believes education is every person’s ‘window to the wider world’. Although, her biggest takeaway from this experience was the opportunity to put in someone else’s shoes and experience things from their point of view. This different perspective allowed her to self-evaluate and focus on her positive aspects and achievements while being mindful of her own personal development.
Thankfully, my experience with AIESEC has shown me that this is an effect that exchange has on a lot of people. Stepping out of your comfort zone and undertaking strange and exciting opportunities allows you to develop yourself further, identify your weaknesses, and most importantly focus on your strengths. Fatin believes that after this exchange experience she has been able look at her accomplishments and more clearly evaluate her potential future life and career paths. If the cost of self-development is making a radical departure from things you do in your day-to-day life, well then Fatin and I both think that’s a small price to pay.