AIESEC is a fantastic way to take a great leap beyond your comfort zone and truly submerge yourself into a whole new and 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 travelling, 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; it was a wonderful experience to be surrounded by like-minded people that wanted to travel and see the world in an innovative way, 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, which gave me the time to explore Egypt and see how modern-day life had blossomed before 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 during this time. Standing before such intricate ancient wonders of the world was humbling, as you could see up close how civilisations thousands of years before us lived and cultivated their societies.
The law firm I worked in was one of the top law firms in Egypt, so much so that the owner of the firm had 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 fulfil your potential. The tasks he set were mostly research tasks on particular International cases that he was working on which 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, a very small oasis town in the middle of the desert. During this weekend we met and stayed with the local desert people 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 a large gender inequality in these places and as a girl from the Western world that has been raised to know my rights, this was sometimes very difficult to see, since I saw girls the same age and younger than me being kept indoors and not being able to go out and have the same freedoms as men.
Although it was shocking, being exposed to this has really sparked within me a greater sense of justice and made me more certain of my career path, as I believe the development International Law and more particularly the enforcement of human rights everywhere in the world 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.
Overall, AIESEC is a fantastic way to take a great leap beyond your comfort zone and truly submerge yourself into a whole new and 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 honest angle, then AIESEC would be 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.