Working or travelling abroad after graduation is an aspiration for many university students, but realising it is often more difficult than it seems. For one thing, graduate job offers used to force individuals to make the choice between a safe career path on the one hand, and risking it all for the uncertainty of an experience abroad. Now that getting a job offer has become less of a certainty for UK university students, the challenge remains to find the time to organise an experience abroad, whilst preparing for finals. Luckily there is a student organization - AIESEC - that is there to help.
Many companies offer opportunities for work experience abroad, especially volunteering projects. However, AIESEC claims to be different. For one thing, it is an organisation run entirely by students and recent graduates; it does not charge the exorbitant fees that specialised companies often demand. Moreover, though the organization also offers opportunities with NGOs, many of the traineeships on offer are paid placements with partners like Kraft Foods, HSBC and P&G, as well as local SMEs.
Understandably, one of the main issues with undertaking a work experience placement abroad is not knowing anyone 'on the other side'. But since AIESEC placements are organised by students for students, that's not an issue. There is always a welcoming community of local university students who will help participants settle in and show them their country and culture in ways no tourist could ever experience. In this sense, getting over the fear of living and working in a foreign country is less of a challenge. As Lingesh Thayala - a SOAS student who will be working in Ecuador in June - told us " what makes me confident is knowing that there are people there that are always very helpful and make sure you are taken care off."
A unique opportunity to build your CV
With local committees in 106 countries AIESEC - which is said to be the world's largest student organisation - offers a unique range of work opportunities. A quick peek into the organisation's online database showed more than 900 placements currently available; they ranged from internships with Bangladesh's Grameen Bank (whose founder, Muhammed Yunus, won the Nobel Peace prize in 2006), to an 18-month placement with Alcatel Lucent in Egypt. Clearly, an AIESEC traineeship can be quite a highlight on one's CV. "You automatically stand out because you have international experience, which very few British graduates have" says Jaimal Karia, a student at Manchester University who spent last summer working on an HIV/AIDS project in Colombia, adding that "despite the credit crisis, in a globalising world economy international experience is important"
And, talking about the credit crunch, it seems like the crisis has given a boost to the organisation's exchange program. As Shaun Emerson - a Warwick graduate, now vice president of AIESEC UK - explains, "we're actually having troubles matching the opportunities on offer in our database. While the credit crunch has put a brake on graduate recruitment in the UK, companies abroad are beginning to turn to graduates as a means of reducing their recruitment costs". At the same time, the demand for volunteering interns has remained steady, with many development projects and language teaching placements still on offer.
With graduate recruitment poised to fall by 5.4% this year, an AIESEC placement offers the opportunity to escape a dire job market, whilst adding unique experiences to one's CV that can give you a valuable head start once the graduate job market picks up again. Working abroad does however involve some disadvantages. For one thing, salaries that graduates could aim for in the UK are generally less common elsewhere. Although living costs can be significantly lower abroad, it is unlikely that a graduate job - even in continental Europe or the US - will allow one to set aside a great deal of money. Language barriers can also be a issue, as confirmed by Ioana Samarandache, a Birmingham University student who worked on a language project in Izmir, Turkey. "It was somewhat frustrating at the beginning to see that people struggled to speak English", but she adds "every challenge or problem made me stronger and more prepared for the real world."
A unique organisation...
As well as having an impressive network that involves more than 25,000 students worldwide, AIESEC is also one of the oldest student organisations around. Founded in 1948, it began organising work opportunities in order to promote cultural understanding among European university students. It quickly outgrew its mission to become a global organisation with exchange projects all over the world. AIESEC's website (www.aiesec.org) puts Bill Clinton and former Japanese prime minister Koizumi among the list of famous alumni. In the UK, AIESEC is represented in 23 universities and has a national office in Cowper Street, London.
To get more information about AIESEC placements, visit www.aiesec.co.uk . Alternatively you can call the AIESEC national office at 020 7549 1800.