Over 2 Years Later: What does it mean?

It's been two and a half years since I started this blog. A recent experience of running an Outgoing Preparation Seminar for new EPs to start their own internships has got me thinking about my own internship again.

Before I went to Ukraine I was a 21 year old taxi driver who was half way through his VPOGX term of AIESEC Saskatoon, and the only city I had been to outside of the prairies was Ottawa (except for a 5 hour stop in Toronto). I wasn't very confident, had never had a girlfriend, and had only recently started to have a social life.

I came back from that internship slightly more traveled, but more importantly I was more confident and had a greater appreciation that other people were what defined my happiness and my life experiences.

Since then I've been to three more countries (Russia, Singapore, and Egypt) and plan to go to many more (travel bug!). I've taken on more leadership roles as LCP of AIESEC Saskatoon, NST Team Leader for OGX, Conference faci for NC2013, and now in my current role as National VP of OGX. Similar to catching the travel bug, I now have the leadership bug. I'm sad to say that I haven't kept up with as much of my friends (from Ukraine and from Canada) that I would have liked, but I've also made lots of new friends and I find it a lot easier to meet people and socialize that I did 3 years ago.

So, how does my internship fit into the greater story of my life? If I had to describe the impact of my exchange in one word I would say: Empowered

I thought that I was leader before my internship. I thought that I was smart and driven and on a great path to success. I wasn't. I probably would have gone on to accomplish a few things, but I wasn't self-aware enough to know that I needed to push more. I was complacent, I would have settled for being 'pretty good'.

I can't stop now, I need to keep going. It's not that I feel more ambitious or more confident either. To say that would suggest that I want to keep driving further for the sake of accomplishing something or to become great. It's different than that. I need to keep making myself better and pushing further because anything less would be boring. It would be dull. My eyes have been opened to a world of colour and I can no longer settle for black and white.

That's the impact of my exchange. Good enough is no longer good enough. It's changed my expectations of the world and what I want to get out of life. It has changed my natural state of being. The impact of my exchange was not the change of who I was before and after my trip, it was the path that it set me down.

One Year Later: Reflections on my AIESEC Internship

At this time last year I was jetting across the Atlantic about to begin my AIESEC internship in Kyiv, Ukraine. It being my first time travelling and my first time outside of Canada I wasn’t quite sure what to expect. It ended up being an amazing adventure where I ended up meeting great new friends, learning a lot about the world, and learning about myself as well.

Here I am, one year later, hearing about the many people starting their own adventures this summer and I can’t help but reflect on my own experience and how it impacted me after I got back to Canada.

I’m going to condense my advice down to a short list, and then I’ll explain it afterwards:

1. Write about everything, take pictures of everything
2. Don’t buy touristy souvenirs, they won’t matter
3. Grow a beard
4. Reverse culture shock sucks
5.When you meet another intern/AIESECer that you don’t like at first, have a long conversation with them
6. Don’t travel just to say that you’ve been somewhere
7. Use it as an excuse to make a big life change and become the person you want to be.

Writing:  in hindsight, blogging was one of the greatest things I did when I was on my internship. I decided to write blogs, but I think any kind of writing would be helpful. Infact, I wish I would have written more. There are a lot of small details and inside jokes that I forgot about. My advice to anyone on an internship right now would be to write a lot. Write about the meaningless stuff, it’ll be valuable to you down the road. Write about your thoughts, your mindset will change with time.

Pictures: see above. Take A LOT of pictures. Don’t take pictures of the buildings around you and the great tourist sites. Take pictures with friends, take pictures of that weird supermarket down the road, take pictures of the funny public transport, and take pictures of the stray dog that follows you home one night when you get lost coming back from the Statue of the Lady (after all this time, I will admit that I was lost when leading our group home….those who were there will understand this statement). Looking at pictures of my time in Ukraine has been one of my favourite things to do to remember my time and tell stories to others. I didn’t take many pictures of my own, but fortunately all the other interns did and posted them on Facebook.

Souvenirs: the shirts I bought at tourist places, the little trinkets…they don’t really matter at all. The magnet I have from Singapore, the metro token, the free shirt I got from a cultural festival….those are the best souvenirs. They have stories attached to them. They aren’t supposed to remind me of the great sites and the country, they remind me of the small moments and in hindsight those were the greatest moments of all. Oh ya….and remember to take something to give to people you meet. Even if it’s something stupid you bought at the airport before you leave. It’ll mean something to someone one day.

My beard: I miss it.
Ole' beardy
Reverse Culture Shock:  reverse culture shock is real and it sucks hard. I had little to no culture shock when I sent to Ukraine, but when I came back it took me over 2 months to get over it. I lied awake at night on my comfortable bed yearning to go back to chicken feather pillow where spiders crawled on me at night, or to the apartment with 8 people sleeping in each room. I missed all the people I spent amazing time with, and I still do. It will pass….but it sucks.

Staying in touch: It’s tough. Technology makes it as easy to talk to my fellow interns and Ukrainian friends as easy as it is to talk to someone in my own city, but that doesn’t mean we’ve been able to stay in touch. We were the greatest of friends for 2 months but now we’ve all gone our separate ways. I’ll always remember them and I wish I could talk to them more often, but there just seems to be something preventing me from starting a conversation when I see them online. Maybe they’re busy….what is there to talk about?...are they doing more important things in their life now?....if you’re reading this, say hello some time! (for no reason at all!)

Meeting new people: I’m really glad that I made an effort to get to know everyone I met. I didn’t hang out with people who were similar to me, and I didn’t avoid people that I didn’t like at first impression. I got to learn about a lot of different cultures and became good friends with people I thought I never would.
this helps you meet new people
Not leaving Ukraine: Before I left, I really wanted to leave Ukraine and go on a trip to Budapest and Prague and Berlin and everywhere else. I decided not to go, and in hindsight I’m glad. I don’t get to tell people that I went to a lot of different places, but I had a pretty awesome experience right where I was. My advice is to not worry about checking a bunch of cities off your list and building up your travel resume…have the best experience you can where you are. I didn’t go to Prague, but I went to a rainy, miserable, dirty, cold cultural festival on the edge of Kyiv….and you’d have a really hard time convincing me that Prague would have been a better choice.
Better than Prague
Make a resolution: Make a real resolution. Hopefully your experience will change the way you look at the world and the way you see yourself. Unfortunately, when you get back no one is going to know that. Everyone is going to look at you as the same person, even though you’re not…and with time you are going to forget who you were on your internship and forget about the changes that you decided to make. Writing will help this, so can look back on your thoughts….but something better would be to make a huge life change. I decided to stop drinking alcohol and become a vegetarian. I can safely report that it was wildly ineffective. Within 2 months I was drinking and after 6 months I was eating meat. What was left? Not a whole lot. Make a huge life change, do something that is going to make people look at you different. Let people know that the person who came back isn’t the same person who left…because I can guarantee you it’s not. You’ll be hard-pressed to ever again in your life be motivated to truly become the person you want to be instead of the person that you’ve become and who others want you to be. It’s a good excuse too…..use it.

Picture Recap: Part Three - Odessa and Goodbye

An excessive amount of seaweed in the water causes us to grow seaweed mustaches
With the help of my towelcape and old-man hat, I develop super powers
All the interns in Odessa!
Karaoke Night
Supernatural forces cause Ada's hair to get stuck in her hairdryer, and lock her in the bathroom. The rest of us drink vodka and laugh.
After a night of police, bumper cars, and shisha, we watch the sun rise over the Black Sea
Ferris Wheel at one of Ukraine's random small amusement parks
So pretty..
Wax Museum
Random walks and cloud gazing in public places. Odessa <3
  A Short Return to Kyiv
Ping pong becomes violent
Metre-long pizza!
Bowling Night
The last time that I ever see Guru and Yvette((((
 Final Goodbye in Kyiv

Finally get to the Lavra
Palata No.6 and tequila shots!
Papa Carson wears his pretty clothes
The apartment is a little crowded by this point...
OMG a SUPERmarket!
One last party in the flat, it is a success
Final night. I buy a wiccy wonka and look damn sexy in it
We all hang out one last time, Ira makes a funny face
...and goodbyes
...and goodbyes
*sigh* aww.....Goodbye Ukraine

for all the friendships....
for all the memories....
for all the unforgettable experiences...

Thank You Ukraine!

I Miss You!

Picture Recap: Part Two - Camp Life

Camp 1: Leadership Camp
6 of the 30 kids from Leadership Camp
No chairs, sit on each other!
I make you play silly games!
The ground is made of lava!
No idea
'and I drink your milkshake!'
The aftermath of a flour fight
just a kid wearing a dress
This is how they acted every night when it was time for lights out
Ghost stories and smores!
Playing 'Phase 10' with the kids
Business pitches (I taught them something!)
Camp 2: English School
Welcome to my classroom
No jumping allowed. I don't think I was a very good camp counselor
Somewhere near the Ukraine-Hungary border
Ukrainian Spiderman
Some quality time with Franz
No comment

One day we all just threw rocks at a log in the creek
 The View
The town of Skole, where my camp was. 12 hours from Kyiv
My back yard, the Carpathian mountains
The small town of Grebeniv nearby
A 3 hour, $1.30 train ride to get this view in L'viv
The view when you take a stroll up the mountains
Driving through the Ukrainian countryside, sharing the road with cattle
Enough snakes, frogs, lizards, and spiders to go around (they were in my bed too)

Next: A trip to Odessa, and a final goodbye...