Experiences Abroad
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Estimated reading time:
2 mins

Why Volunteering Overseas After My Exams Was The Best Decision Of My Life

I have always been a super indecisive person… from decisions about what to have for dinner all the way to career and future aspirations. I’ve never enjoyed being forced to make a choice, constantly stuck on the fence of indecision.

So, when it came to SWOTVAC (or SWOTfat as most of us like to call it) in my first year of university, I was at a loss when deciding what to do over the summer. Get a summer casual job? Do a summer semester course? Go on a volunteering exchange? Up until the end, I had to yolo sign my contract to go on an AIESEC exchange to Vietnam in order to make my decision. *Disclaimer: I did consult my parents before doing so!

In the end it was a no brainer. Why spend my summer stuDYING some more when I could be overseas, escaping the wrath of Melbourne summer and making an impact whilst challenging myself. Why going on exchange was one of the best decisions lies in what I gained from the entire experience:

1. A better understanding of the world

During my exchange I worked in a diverse team, with people from Germany, Romania, Malaysia and America. Through our interactions, I learnt a lot about each of these countries and became more open minded and curious about learning more about the world we live in. I am so glad to have met these wonderful people and I am certain these unique friendships will transcend time and distance. I know I’ll have a home in each of these countries in the future and I am so glad to open up my home to one of the volunteers I met, who will be visiting Melbourne over the summer.

2. Inspiration

I was lucky enough to have attended an AIESEC conference during my exchange where I got to interact with youth from all over Vietnam. The thing that struck me the most during this conference was the passion and dedication of all the participants. Witnessing all the issues which pervade their society, instead of shying away, they are all willing to put in 100% in doing what they can to improve themselves and the world around them. I could see, just by speaking to them, how much they wanted to change their country for the better. I use this memory to inspire me everyday to find my place and purpose in making a positive impact on the world.

3. A new found confidence

Another thing about me is that I’ve always hated impromptu speaking. I would always sit before a presentation, rehearsing every line, every cue and praying that I won’t mess up. I always admired people who were naturally good at speaking and had no problem with last minute presentations. What I realised was my fear of impromptu speaking was a manifestation of my fear of going outside my comfort zone. When I realised my fear and how I relied on a lot of other volunteers during my exchange, I made it a goal to become more independent and say “yes” to more opportunities. I wanted to make my exchange more memorable and I knew it depended on my willingness to change my mentality and take ownership of my experience. By having a can-do attitude, I was able to discover some of the most beautiful places in Vietnam and do some pretty crazy things… like ride a motorbike on the hectic streets.

Essentially I went from the girl who was afraid to cross this road...

To the girl who was driving a motorbike :)

Looking back on my experience, it is funny to think how unsure I was about the whole exchange, but I am glad decided to take the plunge ! #noregrets

Isabelle Gao

You could call Isabelle a bit of an “adrenaline junkie”... crazy about epic roller coasters and insane bungee jumps. While that is true, she is a current University of Melbourne student, toughing out a 4 year course in Commerce and Japanese. There is nothing Isabelle would enjoy more than simply reading a good book while drinking a nice matcha latte.