AIESEC Study Abroad Experience Gives Students Perspective into Foreign Cultures

The Cap Times (April 1, 2010) — Like a growing number of college students across the country, Teresa Welsh considered spending a semester studying abroad.

“But I’ve heard from a lot of people that you basically go and hang out with other Americans or English speakers, live in a dorm with others like you and don’t necessarily integrate yourself with the culture or students in your classes,” says Welsh, who is set to graduate from UW-Madison in May with a double major in journalism and Latin American studies. “That’s not what I wanted.”

Instead, the native of St. Paul, Minn., opted for an exchange program through AIESEC, whose members are encouraged to step outside their comfort zone by working, living and immersing themselves in foreign cultures in ways the typical study abroad program may not provide.

With hopes of improving her Spanish so she can some day work as a foreign news correspondent, Welsh decided to head off to Colombia — a country known not only for its coffee, Amazon safaris and gorgeous beaches, mountains and jungles, but its drug trade, corrupt government and four-decades-old civil war.

“My parents were convinced I was going to die before I left,” says Welsh.

She not only survived, but may have garnered the ultimate resume builder by spending January through July of last year in the city of Bucaramanga teaching supplemental English classes to Colombians.

“I had taken Spanish since sixth grade but just felt like I couldn’t really speak it — which became very apparent when I arrived in Colombia,” says Welsh. “I was like, ‘How is it possible that I’ve learned every tense of this language, I can conjugate verbs up the wazoo, but I don’t know what they’re saying to me right now?’ ”

Adds Welsh: “Now I not only feel I can use Spanish but I can say to an organization, ‘Look, I can do this. At the age of 20 I went by myself and lived in Colombia for six months, so wherever you send me I’ll be fine.’ And for me, that’s a big thing.”

AIESEC — which is the French acronym for the International Association of Students in Economic and Commercial Sciences — is the world’s largest student-run nonprofit organization, with some 35,000 members at 1,700 universities living in more than 100 countries across the globe.

AIESEC (pronounced “eye-sek”) got its start following World War II in an effort to bridge cultural gaps between those in different countries. The first exchange of individuals was between France and Germany in 1948.

Continue to read The Cap Times article, written by Todd Finkelmeyer.