Overall, AIESEC is a fantastic way to step outside your comfort zone. Especially through truly submerging yourself into a whole new, completely different way of life.
This year, as the buzz of summer break came ever closer, I decided that I wanted to do something different. I have always been a big advocate of voluntary work, as well as traveling, but the pressure of University to go and do an internship in the field of my study (International and European Law) loomed over my head.
I didn’t know what to choose, until a friend said ‘Why not combine both and try AIESEC?’ Needless to say, the next months were a blur of preparation as I had chosen the Justice project; working in a law firm in Cairo, Egypt.
When the day of my flight came, the entire preparation process from a cosy room felt like a distant blur as reality hit me in the face. I was going to Egypt. And I was going for 6 and a half weeks.
My first few days in Cairo were a hustle and bustle of car horns, bartering for prices and listening to prayer calls echoing over the city 5 times a day from the many mosques that lay nestled within the metropolis. It was also the time I got to meet all of my co-volunteers that came from all over the world. All in all a wonderful experience to be surrounded by like-minded people that wanted to travel and see the world. Each of whom had their own unique ideas on changing their world for the better.
It took a week and a half before I started my internship. This gave me the time to explore Egypt and see how modern-day life had blossomed. All in front of the magnificent backdrop of ancient history. I was lucky enough to visit the Giza pyramids and the breath-taking Valley of the Kings in Luxor. Standing before such intricate ancient wonders of the world was humbling. You could see up close how civilizations thousands of years before us lived and cultivated their societies.
A law-firm like a family
The law firm I worked in was one of the top law firms in Egypt, they even received a commendation letter from the ex-president! It was a very different style of working than in Europe. Namely because the working hours were a lot longer and each of the lawyers in the firm, the interns and particularly Mr Loutfi (the primary lawyer and founder of the firm) got on like a family.
If you ever encountered any problems with your tasks you could go to Mr Loutfi’s office and he would sit and explain legal issues to you in a kind, caring manner and always pushed you to fulfill your potential. The tasks he set were mostly research tasks on particular International cases that he was working on. This was perfect for me and my studies and challenged me to obtain a full understanding of International law. From a European, Egyptian and English point of view.
The overall practical work experience helped me to gain confidence in myself and my knowledge, which sometimes wavers in a classroom and strictly theoretical environment. The internship allowed me to put my knowledge into practice and see first-hand how international legal systems function which made me feel much more secure in my future career confident about going into the world of work in the future.
Exploring Cultural Differences
On the weekends we really immersed ourselves with the people and the different cultures all over Egypt. A primary example is a weekend we spent in Siwa Oasis. It’s a very small oasis town in the middle of the desert. During this weekend we met and stayed with locals and learnt about their customs and way of life. How they survive such hot summers in the desert and the way in which they cultivate food in such sparse growing conditions.
However, there is large gender inequality in these places. As a girl from the Western world I grew-up knowing my rights. Seeing the local reality was sometimes very difficult for me. Seeing that girls my age and younger couldn’t go outside whenever and didn’t have the same freedom as men.
Although it was shocking, this reality has really sparked a greater sense of justice within me. I became even more certain of my career path, as I believe in the development International Law and more particularly in the enforcement of human rights. This is a job that will take time, but I feel more certain now that I myself can make an individual difference in making sure that this job is done.
Thank you, AIESEC!
Overall, AIESEC is a fantastic way to step outside your comfort zone. Especially through truly submerging yourself into a whole new, completely different way of life. My experience enabled me to see beyond the media induced stereotypical image of Middle Eastern life and to discover it for myself, which allowed to unveil the beauty and kindness of the people and gave me a greater understanding of their culture. If you want to see the world from a different, more intimately angle, then AIESEC is perfect for you.
This post was written by Anna Blake. Carolin went on a voluntary project powered by AIESEC in the Netherlands. We offer international voluntary projects and professional internships with the aim of developing leadership in youth.