By now most of us have realized it it is not enough anymore just to make it out of university with above average grades and a warm recommendation from a professor who you kind of seemed to get on well with. The job market wants you to be so much more. Summer internships at prestigious company A, volunteering in some far-off third world country, fluency in a couple of languages, mad IT-skills and on top of that leadership positions in dozens of clubs, societies and organisations.
It’s easy just to write this off as a game of buffing up your resume and for some part also your ego, but there is a lot of value in striving to experience more than just the ivory tower that is your university. This is what we call “practical experience” – “learning by doing”. Something we not only stand for, but value in AIESEC.
In a nutshell AIESEC is an exchange organisation. Our volunteering and internship opportunities abroad are created by students for students. It is a very daunting process – after all sending people abroad is not your typical waiting-tables-student-job. It is an understatement to say that not everything runs amazingly in our organisation. On a normal basis AIESECers are confronted with everything from minor glitches to this-might-get-us-sued scenarios (fishy things happen when you work with legal documents – I’m just saying: visas and contracts).
When you’re in AIESEC you feel like you step into an exam unprepared. That’s the way it’s supposed to be. Actually that’s the whole point of it. There is merit to acing exams, but there is really nothing more fulfilling to be confronted with a difficult scenario, rising up to the occasion and giving it your all to solve it. There will be no red pen that will mark out that you were wrong. When you’re confronted with real life situations, you are never wrong, you just haven’t figured out the right way yet. You have all the freedom in the world to get up, brush it off and find a new solution that will get you what you want and where you want to be.
Being in AIESEC has shown me that there is no such thing as “coming prepared”. If anything our future is filled with uncertainty. Will we live in a dystopia run by dubious business tycoons where robots will wipe out the human workforce? I don’t know. What I do know is that I will be able take it in my stride to face problems, challenges and crises that seem unsurmountable. Being solution-oriented in this case doesn’t mean being armed with academic degrees, internships under my belt and mad IT-skills to combat robots who will steal my future job (though I’ve been reassured that robots won’t be replacing lawyers any soon). Solution-orientatedness is not a set of skills you get through “practical experience”. It’s an attitude – an approach – you adapt after time and again being confronted to difficult situations that is more than just trying to remember who battled whom in 202 BC in an exam hall.
When it comes to the debate of why we should stock up our resume with all the experience in the world. It’s not to have a flimsy piece of paper that screams “I’m prepared for the world”. Whether or not you’re “prepared” for all of the world’s challenges boils down to your willingness to take the plunge into cold water, regardless of whether or not you came prepared, and knowing that you only need to make one choice: sink or swim?
By Hoang Anh Nguyen