Eli Peterson, one of the 2013 JoAnn Boland International Scholarship Fund recipients, recently attended the AIESEC International Congress in Egypt. Eli currently serves as the Local Committee President at AIESEC Madison and writes below to tell alumni about his life-changing experience there. 

As I looked out the window of the airplane somewhere over the Atlantic Ocean, I began to reflect on my experience that I had at AIESEC’s 65th International Conference in Egypt and I had about nine hours to do so. In my application I spoke about “a sense of ethnocentrism in others around me” and how an international exposure such as mine helps to dissolve this. Thinking back on this recent experience, I can now see how true this is, both for AIESEC United States and for everyone else in this country; AIESEC is just a microcosm of the larger picture. I realized the necessity of AIESEC United States to grow to benefit the entire global network, not simply to boost our own numbers and inflate our egos. We are the bottleneck that is holding back the world’s growth in AIESEC. When we put a Traineeship (TN) on our system, we receive endless applications from individuals all over the world that are desperately trying get an amazing experience but we cannot raise enough TNs to meet this demand. The global network is demanding native English speakers to help companies expand internationally but we cannot raise enough Exchange Participants (EP) to meet this demand. Thus, AIESEC US is a perfect example of a bottleneck. Our global mission for 2015 is to impact every single young person around the world, every single one. But yet, as a country, we are unable to look beyond our own local committees (LC) and realize our relevance on a global scale. When people from 124 countries and territories are approaching you asking how they can get internships in the US or asking how many native English speaking EPs we have, every answer I had seemed unfulfilling. It was difficult for me to have this realization during my experience, yet necessary.

This experience made me realize the importance and the impact that my LC (Madison) can have on the rest of our global network. Most individuals, when they look out at our global network, feel small because they are only one of 86,000 members, only one of 700+ Committees, only one of 124 countries. But when I reflect on my LC, I feel big, I feel connected to the network, and most importantly, I feel a responsibility. This is a responsibility to grow AIESEC United States as much as I possibly can and to not be complacent. The world is relying on us but yet we sit comfortably back in our seats saying, “we are doing a good job.” Subsequently, I am redefining my definition of success within this organization. I cannot use key performance indicators such as member applications, retention rate or meetings scheduled. I need to measure the amount of impact that my LC can have on our global network. And when you critique your performance using this scope, it is very difficult for me to say that we are successful.

This trip gave me countless new perspectives for both our organization and for myself personally. In AIESEC currently, we use terms such as a “WOW moment,” which is something in a session or elsewhere that truly impacts you. I personally had my WOW moment late one night at the conference. I was walking around with our American Flag but I was being cautious given my knowledge of the tension between the United States and many Middle Eastern countries including Egypt. But I wasn’t cautious enough because suddenly an Egyptian gentleman that was both taller and stronger than myself walked up. I become extremely tense preparing for the worse as he introduced himself as Ahmed and proceeded to ask me, “Is that an American flag you are carrying in the bag?” I passively responded with “Yes.” This is when the situation turned into something that truly impacted me. Ahmed then asked me in broken English, “Is it okay with you if I wear your flag and take a picture of it? I would be honored to do so.” I was shocked. I understand that this is such a small gesture and this might not mean a lot to some people but I will remember that moment for the rest of my life. Given everything that is currently happening in his country and everything that has happened in the past between our two countries, we were able to connect as individuals over one simple conversation. This was my WOW moment as my perception of people from different parts of the world was completely inverted.

The experience that I had was more than amazing; it is something that will live with me for the rest of my life. The importance of AIESEC on a global scale is truly remarkable. Its ability to bring together young people from all over the world to develop the leaders of tomorrow is a product that is incomparable by anything else in the world. We connect as people and as leaders regardless of which country we come from. We have many differences but share one commonality. We strive to develop as many leaders as we possibly can to develop a generation of young people that will make a positive impact on society. What we do for this organization throughout our careers is returned to us ten times over again. Regardless of our current relationship with AIESEC, it is always important to realize its relevance on a global scale and its necessity to continue to grow.

I truly do wish that every person out there would be able to have an experience like the one I just had. It is absolutely necessary for every person in the world to gain an international perspective and to always make decisions based on the amount of positive impact that you, as one person, are able to create.

Contact Eli to learn more at sepeterson3@gmail.com.

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