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Katharina’s Global Volunteer Experience in Colombia

¡Viaja, explora, disfruta! – Travel, explore, enjoy! That was my motto during my five week Global Volunteer project with AIESEC in Bucaramanga, Colombia, in February 2020. And it could not have been more fitting:

I explored a culture and lifestyles that were completely new to me and learned to love Colombia’s people, cuisine and music. I ate hundreds of arepas, empanadas and obleas de Floridablanca and had a cup of aguapanela every morning. I tried to dance cumbia and vallenato and listened to a lot of reggaeton.

However, working with socially deprived teenagers also opened my eyes to the reality of poverty and crime in Middle and South America. Nevertheless (or maybe because of this), I met the most friendly, kind and endearing people who made me feel very welcome right from the start. It made me rethink a lot of prejudices and realize how privileged I am as a white person from Central Europe. It also taught me deep gratitude for my family, friends, hot water, reliable public transport and many other “minor” things I took for granted.

 

Me at the project

 

Furthermore, I had the possibility to travel through Colombia with friends I made at AIESEC. We hiked through the forests to beautiful waterfalls and lied on the beach in Cartagena in the Caribbean. One day before I left, we even went to San Gil crawling through a cave and bungee jumping.

All in all, I enjoyed every moment of my time in Colombia a lot. Here are some things that helped me to feel good on the other side of the world: It is important to take your time – for yourself and to adjust to the new environment. Do not be frustrated if you do not know how to handle certain situations or if you do not know how something works in your host country – Nobody expects you to! For example, I did not know how public transport in Colombia works and how to behave walking on the streets. Allow yourself to find out and most importantly: Ask! Ask people about everything – about food, traditions, about this and that and everything you want to know. Be curious, open-minded and respectful!

Still, if you need time for yourself take it! I can tell from experience that, especially in the first couple of days, all these new situations and (maybe) having to speak a different language can be overwhelming and exhausting. I used to watch my favorite tv show when I was tired, it also helps to go to bed early and to text your friends/family. This leads me to my next point: Find friends! I am usually not a very sociable person but I loved laughing, going out and travelling with my friends from Colombia. It helps you integrate and feel good in general.

Finally, my last “feel-good factor abroad” is to focus on things or values you have in common rather than the ones that separate you. Even though it may not seem like much, you might like the same music or sports or just have a common interest in other cultures. In a world with so many different political views, interests and also much hate, it should be the goal of all volunteers (actually of all travelers) to be a mediator between cultures and bring people together.

In the end, volunteering abroad has helped me grow as a person and broaden my horizons, apart from giving me the opportunity to make a small place in Bucaramanga a little bit better. And these are things that everybody deciding to do volunteer work abroad can benefit from.

My friends and I in Cartagena

– Katharina Fischer

19 ways how to get around… without unpleasant surprises.

Even though COVID-19  impacted our lives and more or less confined us to our homes, quarantine time could also be the perfect time to aspire to some adventures, inspire your wanderlust and get you up and running for the upcoming projects you might undertake with AIESEC around the globe.  

As you might know, AIESEC is present in more than 120 countries. So before going to any of them, you are not ill-advised to look up and follow its laws and intrinsic rules! While some “no-go’s” might seem ridiculous and unnecessary, they could be pointing out some cultural values which might differ from your own! So here are 19 ways to be an exemplary world traveler.

1. Don’t be surprised if you “get a cobra” on a train in France.

Kissing is forbidden on French trains; it is allowed, though, at the train station but only just before the train arrives. So make sure you time your farewell kiss wisely. Did you know that there is another “kissing law” in Nevada that prohibits men with mustache from kissing women?

2. Keep your shirt on… seriously.

There is a law in Thailand that prohibits anyone from putting their shirt off while driving a car. So next time you are renting a car or a motorbike make sure to keep that in mind.

3. Hiking naked… it’s a thing!

The Swiss government had to remind its citizens that public indecency laws also apply to mountain hiking as well after some Swiss and German hikers made it “a thing”, fining a bare-bottomed man with $100.

4. Ready, set, fire!

A heads up if you are one of those people who love wearing camouflage attire: there is a law in many countries in the Caribbean that forbids it! So check the countries before visiting.

5. Just be sexy. 

This one is exclusively for men. If you want to wear loose-fitting trunks on French beaches, swimming pools or other places where swimming attire is needed, you probably won’t get to swim at all. In France, only Speedos are allowed for hygiene reasons! 

6. Pigeons and breadcrumbs… Are you sure you want to do it?

While tourists are waiting amidst the numerous pigeons on St. Mark’s Square in Venice to get the perfect Instagram picture, the yearly cost for each citizen to clean up after the pesky birdl rounds up to 275 euros per year. This considered, the government prohibited feeding the pigeons in 2008. So just spare yourself the fine.

7. Sightseeing in high heels.

In Greece, high heels are banned from places like Acropolis or any other ancient monuments out of fear of causing damage.

8. Have a prescription to chew!

Any manufacturing, selling or importing chewing gum in Singapore is forbidden. It could get you fined or even imprisoned unless your “chewing” has a medical or therapeutic purpose.

9. Just plan your last loo time.

In some flat blocks in Switzerland it is forbidden to flush the toilet after 10 pm, because apparently some residents get disturbed by it.

10. Take care of your chicken!

Yeah, sure, we all like to casually pet chicken. Just don’t take it with you for a hot-air balloon trip in New Zealand…there is a law restraining you from it. But make sure you don’t leave it wondering freely if you are staying in Georgia (Quitman); chickens are prohibited from crossing the street.

11. Sharing bathrooms.

There is a law in Scotland stating that if anyone should knock on your door asking for a toilet, you should let him use it. How considerate!

12. Show some decency, Winnie!

If you have some Winnie the Pooh shirts tucked in your backpack, make sure you don’t wear them in public in Poland. The cartoon bear isn’t wearing knickers, so it is considered inappropriate.

13. It is illegal to wear a suit of armour in British Parliament.

We all have this one suit of armour lying around at home for that trip to London, which is fine, just don’t go to the British Parliament wearing it. There is a law from 1313 which prohibits it; but since it is not as fashionable as in the Middle Ages, the British government won’t revoke it. Because why would they?!

14. Registering to a hotel room reconsidered.

A law in North Carolina states that if a man and a woman register together at a hotel and say they are married, they would by the common law marriage rules legally be considered just that, married. 

15. Taking an Uber in Colombia

 This is a weird one. Uber is illegal in Colombia because they failed to register as a taxi company. Maybe consider using a regular city cab instead.

16. When not to ask for time.

Think twice before asking for time in Madrid between 3:40 PM and 6:50 PM, as there is a socially accepted ban of “time-asking”. This isn’t an official law, though, but wearing a watch might spare you the looks

17. Hanging your underwear outside in Seville

If you are spending your holidays in the state of Seville next summer, make sure not to hang your underwear or any “suggestive attire” outside.

18. Selfie with Buddha?

In Sri Lanka turning your back to Buddha is considered disrespectful and it is also punishable by law. So selfies are a big no-go in sacred places.

19. Be a responsible driver!

When driving on the German motorway, make sure you don’t run out of gas because you will end up paying a fine. And if you want to quickly walk to the petrol station to get some spare gas, you might be advised to restrain yourself. That’s prohibited as well.

Are there some weird laws and rules I missed? Feel free to comment and add your own experiences with strange laws. Remember, empowering others is an AIESEC leadership skill; so let’s keep our criminal records clear.

Written by Klara Pahor

An opportunity to share

Never an easy thing having friends who were part of the Global Citizen volunteering program. Listening to their endless stories, about how lucky they got during their journey, or how the experience had changed their lives, can only make you wish you knew about AIESEC’s opportunities a little earlier.

As sharing is caring, mates from my local committee wanted to tell you about their life-changing experiences.

“Going on a volunteering experience with AIESEC isn’t just an opportunity to explore the world. I know that now, anywhere I’ll go, I have family. Being surrounded by those people during my journey in São Paulo – Brazil was the best experience I’ve ever had so far. Don’t be afraid to be out of your comfort zone, away from your habits. Take every opportunity to celebrate life and create the best stories. That’s what I did!”

-Myriam Hemrit

Myriam Hemrit


 

 “My experience with AIESEC was one of the best things that ever happened to me. Everything went incredibly smooth from the beginning to the end. I was surprised how fast and easy was to find an opportunity in India, Bangalore. I went there and the local people took good care of me. I met the most amazing people that I encountered in my life. Working with children was a bit challenging but immensely fun. Getting out of my comfort zone and facing some obstacles on my own really helped me improving myself. I would recommend anyone to try AIESEC’s programs and live the same amazing thing that I lived.”

– Youssef Ben Ahmed

Youssef Ben Ahmed


Thinking about their experiences, I can picture which places I will be visiting in the future, and imagine in how many ways I can affect peoples’ lives.

I can only wait for summer to come, to cease the opportunity and go as far as AIESEC can take me.

 

Do you want to do something meaningful this summer?
You also have a chance to volunteer abroad.

Click  here for more info!

Author: Wala Ben Ali slike za blogere

Wala is passionate, goal-driven AIESECer from Tunisia. She has an excessive love for music, music coming from every corner of the globe. It helps her expand the knowledge of the world.

 

No Llamas in Colombia

“There are no llamas in Colombia,” he affirmed. This small detail caught my attention and resulted in an hour-long storytelling session in which I realised how few I know about South America.

My friend Hazar worked 3 months in Colombia. In the suburbs of Bogotá, the capital of Colombia, he helped in schools and taught English to young kids. He worked together with a dozen of students from all around the world. Some of the kids had never seen people from somewhere else than South America. Most of the team could not speak Spanish, which resulted in communication problems. Hazar and his team had to adapt to the situation to create an unforgettable experience for the kids and themselves.

Columbia3

“After living in Vienna for a while, it was hard to imagine how things can get unnecessarily complicated.” he told me when I asked him about his biggest culture shock.

While they worked during the week, they explored Colombia during weekends. Soon, Hazar realized that there are no llamas in Colombia. His friends can assure you that he loves those furry, spiting beasts. Knowing this they organized a short trip to a petting zoo. So he could take a photo with one of the few llamas in Bogotá.

Columbia2

During his time abroad he lived with a host mum and her son. The advantage of living in a host family was that the mom cooks great and that he could enjoy the Colombian cuisine. Her son and some other locals taught him, on the other hand, how to get around fast in Bogotá. Because apparently the traffic in the city was terrible.

“I don’t like to travel just for sightseeing, so Global Citizen was a good opportunity for me to travel and to be of use. I had a great time there. I met some people, who will always be very precious to me and I saw great places.”

At the end of the three months Hazar had enough time to travel to the Caribbean. By swimming there he fulfilled one of his long hold life goals.

We all have great destinations and goals on our list. What is keeping us from reaching ours?

Author: Lukas Bensch

Peru: Your story is waiting to be written

Peru, one of South America’s hidden gems, is no longer a secret as toursts flock to this Spanish speaking country year-round. The land of Incas and gastronomical capital of South America has more to offer than its indisputably enchanting nature and mouth-watering cuisine. It also offers foreigners the opportunity to submerge in the Peruvian culture, way of life, and values unique to this developing Latin American country.

Chimbote, located on Peru’s pacific coast, was Austrian volunteer Mara Weiss’ destination. Peru, a large country, with rainforests, mountains, sea, and deserts, has many different landscapes and cities to visit yet Chimbote is not a popular touristic sight. ‘’As I scavenged online for information about the city I mostly got warnings not to go as it smelled like fish and was mostly an industrial city with no tourist attractions whatsoever,’’ Weiss claims. However, this didn’t stop her from wanting to explore Peru as she embarked in her long adventure anyways.

‘’I was rather nervous and insecure, but I was also curious because I’ve always wanted to go to Latin America,’’ Weiss explained. Arriving in Peru she discovered that most of her expectations were inaccurate, the city did not smell like fish and despite being a small town it was enjoyable to be there and interact with the locals.

peru3

Weiss crossed the Atlantic Ocean to volunteer with ‘’EduAction’’, a NGO bringing students from all over the world to Latin American countries to host workshops for local kids focusing on global topics and issues, such as sustainability. ‘’We gave workshop classes to children in eight different schools, all in Spanish, which made it a challenging but outstanding experience,’’ Weiss explained. The locals appreciate this as it brings the world to them through the many volunteers visiting towns throughout Latin America. ‘’The students appreciated our work and the knowledge we shared with them as many might not travel outside of Peru and their thirst for knowledge of the outside world is immense,’’ Weiss added enthusiastically.

‘’Not only do the students learn about the world, but also about themselves while enforcing their confidence, leadership, and creativity among other skills,’’ Weiss explained. ‘’ We were like their mentors and they appreciated it as they grew comfortable around us’’ Weiss adds. The students grow as individuals and begin to think differently and creatively, an important factor for impoverished countries like Peru where children are the bright upcoming future.

Peru4

‘’During my 10 weeks in Chimbote I brought change to the classrooms of Chimbote, but I also learned from the children I interacted with,’’ Weiss said. ‘’I learned that we are all similar and that this was a unique opportunity to bring two different realities together and share experiences and time together, ‘’ Weiss added. This and the countless Peruvian sights and mouthwatering cuisine make Mara miss Peru, and long for her return.

As with most developing countries in the world, Peru is in need of volunteers that are willing to bring change in any form. Mara’s experience in Chimbote illustrates the need for volunteers in Peru and how much one person willing to spend their time and energy can really do. When it comes to helping and volunteering it is the time and energy you spend that brings the change we want to see in the world. Not only do you ameliorate a community but you also grow as a person and become a global citizen that can proudly claim ‘’I did make a change’’. So what are you waiting for? Be the change you want to see in the world, as Gandhi once said.

Author: Mauro Ortíz