It’s a rare occurrence that a Local Committee Vice President of a Local Committee goes on an exchange himself. But rarely doesn’t necessarily mean ‘never.’ So we are going to hear from one such a rare individual who changed the ordinary. He applied to a foreign internship opportunity all by himself, got approved by himself, finally made his approval poster himself, surprising his whole team.
What is special about Anupama? Who are you?
I’m Anupama Dilshan. I’ve been working as an AIESECer with the AIESEC in University Of Sri Jayewardenepura for four years, and I was the LCVP for Outgoing Global Talent in the term 20/21; and I chose to end my journey as an AIESECer by going on an exchange program.
Can I know in which country you worked as an intern?
I went on an exchange to Egypt to work as a Full Stack Developer. My internship was for two months. So now I’m actually back after my internship experience.
Why did you choose to work as an intern in a foreign country? What inspired you?
Firstly, I wanted to get out of my comfort zone. And if I worked in a local company, I don’t think I would have been able to get this amount of technical improvement. And apart from that, when I’m choosing an opportunity, I’m a person who would analyze what benefits I would get and what I can give the opportunity in return.
If I had worked for a local company, yes, I would have gotten that experience. But I thought, what if I take a chance and try this opportunity myself. I was trying to match foreign internship opportunities for others throughout my term for the other people, so I thought, why not try the opportunity on my own.
I should say that before this opportunity, I haven’t ever worked as an intern before. So when I applied for this opportunity, I was actually doing a job here in Sri Lanka. I thought I should also do an internship and to get that experience to explore another country on my own. And, of course, hearing the experiences of the previous exchange participants who have worked in Egypt also made me apply for this opportunity.
Is there any special reason you selected this country in particular?And how did you come across this opportunity? What made you apply particularly for that internship?
It was actually quite random that I landed upon the opportunity to go to Egypt. I applied to internships that relate to my field of interest as a Full Stack Developer, where I can get my technical competency improved. So I applied for a couple of internships, and at first, I didn’t have any particular country preference. But after I got approved, I did full research with the past exchange participants. In AIESEC in University of Sri Jayewardenepura there were quite a few exchange participants who had traveled to Egypt, so I talked to them, and I heard their experience, and I took the decision of going to Egypt.
Any challenges that you faced and How many interviews did you have to go through before actually landing on this job opportunity?
Well, I arranged the interviews myself because I knew the procedure. But the recipients didn’t know that I’m a Vice President, and neither did it make my interview process any easier. It was the same as any other applicant, and I had to complete a technical task as well.
If I mention the interviews, I had to face one with the AIESEC, and it was to ask about the availability, financial requirements, skills, and to go through my CV as well. It was rather a discussion between the parties.
In IT-related opportunities, different countries use different frameworks and programming languages. So in Egypt, they used a whole new language called Laravel. So I even got to learn something new and unique as well. I think the Technical task was the measurement they had, and after that, they approved me.
Were you scared of going to work in a completely new country with new people, no family, different language, and different food? How did you make yourself ready?
Obviously, those were the barriers and fears I had. It’s a totally different culture following a different religion. I was going to meet new people with who I had never associated before. My parents were also concerned because not many Sri Lankans chose Egypt as their travelling destination. Most Europeans and Americans choose to explore Egypt. The climate is very similar, but the culture and the people, everything is different.
On the other hand, I was living with my parents, and when I went out, I was worried about how I could cover up my basic necessities. Before this, I have never put myself out of my comfort zone, I didn’t even know how to make myself a meal, but with this experience, I even learnt that.
I was also worried about what my workplace will be like. Will they give me excessive work? Even if they rejected me from the job, I had no choice. Even with all that fear, I choose to go ahead and be ready to face anything of that sort.
In Egypt, how was the accommodation you obtained? Were you with a host family or an EP house?
So in Egypt, they don’t have houses, what they have is something like flats. So I got a complete floor with the kitchen, lobby area, and everything. The accommodation was really good. I shared my flat with another EP from Brazil who was working at the same company. And so we would do the general cooking and cleaning, but the company was very helpful. If we mentioned anything regarding the accommodation, they even provided us with maintenance assistance.
How was your work environment there? Did you get support from your office?
Coming to the working peers, the company I was working in was a startup and not a big company. So all the employees and even the CEO were close to us. On the first day, the CEO himself took us to dinner. The work colleagues sometimes even bring us food which helps us greatly in cutting down our costs on food so that we could use our limited budget more effectively. Also, our workplace was a bit far from our accommodation, and when the other workers were going back, they would even drop us there. They were very helpful and friendly. Sometimes we stay in our workplace from morning to evening, coming back to our accommodation only for sleeping. It was such a Joyful environment to work in. The reason was the Co-workers. We had parties, and we made food together, we went out together and played football. It was a really good welcome and support they gave us, which wasn’t what I expected before going to the country.
Would you like to share your experiences traveling in the country? What other things did you do in your free time?
So my exchange was for two months, and there were only eight weeks. Egypt is a big country, and between one place to another, there is a huge distance. Since I worked all five days, I only had the weekend to travel. So, I made a schedule for my trips. Every weekend I travelled, and if I were to tell you about my unforgettable experiences, there are many things.
So I’ll tell you one experience, in the first week I wanted to travel to Cairo, the capital of Egypt. And it was a bit far from the city I was living in. I travelled alone and was planning to take a bus. I asked for the timetables from my work colleagues. And when I went to the bus station, it was a huge station and all the buses were named in the Egyptian language. Most Egyptians don’t speak English. I asked around ten to twelve people how to go to Cairo, but no one was able to understand me. Then I gladly met a doctor who showed me the bus to Cairo. Even on the bus, I didn’t know where to stop. I thought the bus would go directly to Cairo, but I found out that it won’t go, from two siblings I met. While talking with them, I learned that I should take two more buses to get to Cairo. These two siblings knew that I didn’t know anything, and what they did was they came the complete trip to Cairo with me.
We became good friends after this incident and apparently, they are also living near my accommodation. So we even met later, had dinner together, and yes, so this is one unforgettable memory I made.
If they were not there, I would never know where I would even end up. And sometimes even my debit card didn’t work, and I didn’t have a cent in my hand, so people helped me in those situations.
I should say that I have no regrets because I travelled everywhere in that country.
What difference do you see between working in Sri Lanka and that country? What would your answer be?
I think working as a foreign intern is a great value addition to your CV compared to a local company. And about the other benefits, I got out of my foreign internship, I got to interact with the foreigners, and as my opportunity was IT-based, I got to learn a completely different language. And also, since it was a startup, we got to learn a much wider scope just than the role of a Full Stack Developer. We knew about the clients, and we could even take part in the company decisions, and everything which was a great plus in the learning I got, and that developed me so much.
After you traveled to your dream country and dream job, did it satisfy your expectations?
Yes, Travelling to another country for an internship is a totally different experience. This was very different from a normal travelling experience. When you travel you visit a country for a couple of days, visit its central locations and come back to your country. But in an internship opportunity, you are going alone, and you are going to meet some people who you have never met before. It was only the AIESEC network that was there to rely on. Being in a different country and working in a different working environment and not just that there are several other challenges you have to face other than your working responsibilities.
We had to manage the work stuff, and when we went back home, we had to wash our clothes, make food. And I had a travel plan as well. Any one of us will want to explore when we go to another country. So I had to manage the limited time I had among my work responsibilities and travel plan. I think I learned time management, so everything was an overall addition. I’d say it was two for one.
Moreover, the general perception about Egypt among the majority of the locals is not the actual situation in Egypt. I myself was able to achieve what I wanted to explore through my experience in Egypt.
Would you recommend a foreign internship with AIESEC to someone? Any message you would like to give to any such interested individual?
I have seen many undergraduates who have no proper plans on what to do in the future, they just focus on their studies and getting a better GPA. As a university student, I think we are actually lucky to be in AIESEC. And going for a Foreign internship is an eyeopener; we get to see the big picture and look out of the box to plan our next steps in our career.
Then again, any person can apply to a foreign internship through LinkedIn, but when it comes to AIESEC, the main benefit is the network. Since there is a huge network not only the company, but there are other people in the country who would look after you. You get an EP buddy who is there for you in anything. You can get any help from him as well as tell any issues you have. It’s not just the company. It’s actually a plus point for me to even apply for this opportunity. So summing up why interning through AIESEC is better because of the trust and the network.
What do you think is your greatest personal achievement from this opportunity? Would you like to tell me about your overall experience? How will you rate it?
I’d say it’s problem-solving skills and adaptability. Now I’m not afraid to go to any country or anywhere. So in that way, I’d say I developed so much. And if I’m to rate it out of a one to ten scale, I’d rate my experience a nine.
By Lakna Abeywickrama
Showcasing Team – AIESEC in USJ