Working Towards Achieving the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals: Reflections on my AIESEC exchange in Taiwan

By Michael Pham, Undergraduate student in the School of Business Management, Ted Rogers School of Management and President of AIESEC Ryerson

Note from the Editor: AIESEC is the world’s largest non-profit youth-run organization. It helps develop global-minded leaders by sending students and graduates abroad through its global volunteer, talent and entrepreneurship programs. Michael Pham participated in AIESEC’s Global Volunteer exchange program, which focuses on achieving the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals. 

I chose to go abroad because I feel strongly that in the landscape of today, the key to leadership is to understand the world around you.

My entire world has always been the city I live and study in. Before participating in AIESEC’s exchange program, I knew that I wanted to challenge myself.

I once heard a quote saying that you only grow as a person when you are uncomfortable and I knew that I was too comfortable in my city, in my bubble. I wanted to learn how to be comfortable with being uncomfortable.

Having never been outside Canada before this exchange, my view on the world was solely from the Canadian perspective. At that point in my life, I hadn’t even been to every province in Canada, so for my first international experience, I thought why not go directly to the other side of the world – and so I chose Taiwan.

I chose to do AIESEC’s Global Volunteer exchange program, where I would volunteer for 6 weeks at an elementary school called Nan’an, located just north of Kaohsiung City in Taiwan. I taught English and created structured lesson plans for topics based on Diversity, Cross-Cultural Sharing, and Climate Change. My exchange focused on working towards the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals, Quality Education (SDG #4) and Climate Action (SDG #13). I was able to not only be a teacher to the students at the school, but I was a student myself learning from the culture of Taiwan. I was able to take part in religious and traditional celebrations at school.

My favourite part of my exchange was the entire experience of course! The food was so cheap and delicious, and the sights were beautiful and surreal.

It is so hard to narrow it down to what I liked most, but I think it would be the people that I met on the exchange. Every person who I met has made a lifelong impact on me and I was able to develop bonds that I will have for life. My host families, my students, the teachers, the fellow exchange participants, and the friends, as well as fellow AIESECers who I met abroad are all people who I will always remember. Even after the exchange, we still stay in contact, sharing daily slices of our lives, even though we are on the opposite sides of the world.

I think the beauty of an AIESEC exchange is that the experience doesn’t end after your exchange. If I could give any tip to someone considering an exchange, it would be to always keep an open mind.

There will be ups and downs, and challenges. The exchange is meant for you to discover yourself and unlock your leadership potential through cross cultural understanding. It isn’t just a vacation, although sometimes it feels like one. Be willing to accept the fact that you will only grow by feeling uncomfortable.

A final tip I would say is go somewhere you never imagined yourself going to because you’ll find yourself wanting to go back immediately once you leave.

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