Brazilian native Jose Mario wanted to come to Canada from the time he was a child. “Brazil is a very good country,” he says, “but it has lots of poverty and social problems. I wanted to visit a country that is more developed and try to learn things that might help back home.”
As a computer science student in Brazil, he learned about AIESEC and found a way to make his wish come true. AIESEC is a student-run organization with chapters around the world; its goal is to facilitate international internships that give university students or recent graduates the opportunity to work in another country. Mario’s local chapter helped connect him to the University of Guelph, where he was able to find an internship. The Guelph chapter helped him figure out what documentation he needed to travel to and work in Canada.
Since it is student-run, AIESEC offers many opportunities for interested students to get involved. In fact, recent U of G grad Gelaine Santiago says working with AIESEC can change your life even if you never leave the city.
“I was part of the organization for four years and had the opportunity to take on lots of responsibility. I learned how a business works and eventually managed a team of seven people doing recruitment, training and co-ordinating volunteer development initiatives. I even helped to organize a conference.”
She adds: “In the end, I fell in love with human resources despite being a biology student.”
After all those years helping other students arrange internships, Santiago finally went on one herself; she travelled to Romania in May and spent three months there. Her internship had one important thing in common with Mario’s experience in Guelph: strong support from their host AIESEC chapters. Upon arrival at their destinations, both saw friendly faces waiting to greet them and provide transportation to pre-arranged accommodation. “They even helped me open a bank account and get a SIN card,” says Mario.
He recently completed an 18-month internship in U of G’s Department of Computing and Communications Services and admits he found Canada quite different from his homeland. Some of the differences surprised him: “I expected that all Canadians would look the same. Instead, I found a very multicultural society; that was a really good surprise.”
He also noted that it’s cheaper to buy fruits and vegetables in Brazil than in Canada. “You can buy a dozen lemons in Brazil for the price of one in Canada. We have McDonald’s in Brazil, but you’d only go if you have lots of money. Here the fast food places are cheap and the healthy foods are more expensive.”
English was a challenge for Mario; he studied the language in Brazil but working in English every day was tough at first. “I had a headache every day in the beginning because I had to concentrate so hard. And I couldn’t joke or flirt or express my ideas very well, so it was hard to be myself.” He gradually became more comfortable and says he could actually think in English by the end of his internship.
He adds that the Guelph experience has made him “a more complete professional. When I arrived in Guelph, I was just a techie guy. Now I have a better business vision and a better understanding of the big picture.”
Now back at school in Brazil, Mario says he learned that people are pretty much the same in both countries. “Young people are young people wherever you are; they have the same ways to have fun, the same dreams, the same ideals.”
Santiago’s experience left her feeling inspired by the people she met in Romania. “It is a very poor country. Discrimination is also a continuing problem, and women’s rights are not a priority. Because of the poverty, many of university students go to school full-time and then work at full-time jobs in the evening,” she says, “but we did find some great volunteers, and the people I met were very optimistic and filled with hope. Despite the difficulties in the past and the challenges that people still continue to face, they already see how things have improved, and they are not waiting for someone to change things for them.”
Santiago is now studying human resources but would love to do another internship through AIESEC in the future. Click here to read more about her AIESEC experience.