Well, what I am going to share with you is quite different from what you are used to hearing. It’s the story of how AIESEC changed me as a person through the exchange. Let’s just say I was not in a good place at the start of 2018 and I needed a change of scenery and that came from a person who was spamming Instagram about volunteering. I was curious and wondered why she spammed so much, and I decided to drop Dulshini a message.
Fast Forward two months – after being bribed with a plush key tag – I am waiting in the queue to the boarding area of the plane heading to Vietnam to take part in the project “Global Navigator”. I was nervous about going through the airport since I was alone and this was my first time traveling abroad. As I was getting through security, someone tapped me on my shoulder and said “long time bung, fancy seeing you here”. I turned around to meet one of my school friends grinning like a fool. After catching up with him, he walked me through the procedure as he was heading to Malaysia on the same plane. We sat next to each other and spoke about this unexpected coincidence.
We parted ways when we landed, as I had an 8-hour transit. I kept asking the counter every hour about the plane, due to the anxiety I had of being stranded in Malaysia, and the lady there was kind enough to assure me that everything is alright. During the 8-hour transit, I spent my time trying out different food and free samples at the airport.
Once I boarded the plane to Vietnam I felt a huge relief but at the same time, I was tired of being awake and walking about. So, I asked the hostess to get me some apple juice and since I was feeling exhausted, I collapsed into a deep sleep. Talk about being lightweight.
The next time I panicked was at the airport of Ho Chi Ming. The WIFI was down that day and I had no way of contacting my buddy. But luckily there was this cute, short-haired girl dressed like a boy, jumping up and down in the crowd, frantically waving at me. I chuckled at myself for being stupid and worrying. She took me to my hostel and asked if I wanted to eat, but I opted to sleep in a bit as I was really tired from the journey. She dropped by in the evening to take me out for dinner and to show me around. It was one of the best meals I ever had.
It was a few days later I met my fellow volunteer, Sofie from Belgium, with whom I would be working, for the duration of the project. During the IPS the project members of “Global Navigator” introduced themselves. First was ‘Chi’ (it was a part of her name) and she was like a little sister to me throughout the project. The second was ‘Summer’, she was basically “The Boss” but she had a very big soft side too. Finally, it was ‘An An’ the mother figure, she would literally pester me like a mom every time I did something stupid and hurt myself and would always be checking up on how I was, knowing that I was the clumsiest person she met.
Over the next few days while Sofie and I were getting ready to make our worksheets and presentation, we were informed, due to lack of people we will only be working 2 days a week, not 4 and they will be longer workshops. It meant we would have plenty of time to walk around and that’s exactly what we did. We tried out so many types of coffee, we were literally running on a caffeine rush for most of the day.
A few days after my project started, a new tenant came into our hostel. I was working on my presentation and felt a case of the munchies in the middle of the night and was going to get myself “Banh Mi”, a staple food of Vietnamese people, which became my staple food as well. I invited him as he was awake, and kids that’s how I met my British Best Friend. He made me try various new things starting from drinking like an Irishman to Scuba Diving and Skydiving. If you had asked me to do any of these before I went to Vietnam, I definitely wouldn’t have done them. But meeting him and having crazy late-night escapades really opened my eyes to new opportunities and experiences.
He wasn’t the only one to open my eyes to change and bring about hope for a better future! I made so many memories and met a lot of wonderful souls throughout my journey, especially my students. One such memorable moment was at the Global Village I visited. This global village was in a rural part of Vietnam. A small kid no more than 10-years-old came and spoke to me. She wanted to travel the world and kept on asking for more and more details, and at the end with a sad face she said; “I want to travel but we don’t have money”. It melted my heart. But I assured her by saying, “don’t worry about money, just work towards your dreams and it will come true”. The happiness in her eyes was a sight to behold. This made me realize something; we all are trying our best and sometimes all we need is a push and guidance in the right way.
After my project ended, I headed over to Phu Quoc for a few days. I was greeted by warm weather, golden beaches, and amazing seafood. After traveling around exploring, meeting new people, and eating a lot of “Durian” with Pan – which made our friends stay away from us for most of the time. Eventually, it was time to head back to Ho Chi Minh. I was going to travel up north and discover Hanoi as well, but it happened to be my best friend’s birthday and death threats were given if I didn’t make it in time.
It was finally the time to say goodbye to the OC of Global Navigator. For one last time we enjoyed a meal and needlessly to say men don’t cry, they weep. It was emotional to say bye to people who became family.
As I was, yet again, sitting in the airport of Malaysia for an 8-hour transit, I pondered about how the exposure to AIESEC culture, people, challenges, experiences, and most importantly opportunities, changed my goals and objectives in life whereas now I am working towards my masters in sustainability and working towards a better tomorrow.
Want to take the perfect pathway to discover you ideal version? AIESEC Exchange Opportunities could be of a great help for you. Check them out from the links given below
By – Harendra Koralage
AIESEC in USJ