As a freshman, Lyna Saad never thought she would end up in Bahrain, a tiny island off the coast of Saudi Arabia, after graduating. Now, Saad is one of 50 GW students in the past five years who found work abroad through GW’s chapter of the world’s largest student organization – AIESEC.
“AIESEC has taken me all over the U.S., to Mexico, Costa Rica, Panama, Bahrain, and soon Qatar and Morocco. It has opened up doors for me. This is not just any student organization,” said Saad, who graduated last year.
According to AIESEC’s Web site, the organization is an international platform for young people to discover and develop their potential to have a positive impact on society. Students securing employment through AIESEC can choose to teach English, or work in fields like technology, business or international development.
AIESEC has chapters at more than 800 universities in more than 90 countries and territories worldwide and operates through an issue-based internship exchange program that is entirely run by students and recent graduates.
“Our role on campus is to form a bridge between all cultural organizations. Our mission involves increasing understanding, (and) we are very open to many different types of people,” said graduate student Richard Brower, president of GW’s chapter of AIESEC.
Brower added that the organization has an “overarching international presence” at GW and that last year, GW’s chapter sent 26 students to countries including Finland, Ecuador, India, Malaysia, Thailand, Latvia and Turkey.
AIESEC was founded nationally in 1948 and began operations at GW in 1974. Though it started off as just a small group of students, GW’s AIESEC chapter won a best chapter in the country award in the mid-1990’s and AIESEC D.C. was named the leading-edge local chapter in 2005, the most prestigious award given in AIESEC United States.
Today, GW’s AIESEC chapter has 74 undergraduate student members and 2 graduate student members, but worldwide the organization boasts as many as 18,000 members.
Mike Guarino, a 2005 graduate, used AIESEC’s Salaam program to go abroad to Cairo, Egypt, following his graduation in May 2005. The Salaam program works to create a greater understanding between the United States and the Muslim world.
During Guarino’s time in Egypt, AIESEC Afghanistan formed, and when a position became available in Afghanistan, Guarino said he jumped at the opportunity to work there. He became the first person in the world to work in Afghanistan through AIESEC. Guarino worked in the country’s television industry.
“Being the only American in the company was very unique,” Guarino said. “It took a while for me to adjust, but I definitely grew to love Afghanistan and, more than anything, the people. I hope to return to Afghanistan at some point.”
Students like Saad and Guarino – who both served as president of AIESEC’s GW chapter – said they were instantly swept into AIESEC’s mission.
“I remember sitting in the Marvin Center conference room, watching a PowerPoint (presentation) about the mission and vision of AIESEC and being blown away,” Saad said. “It’s the kind of organization that continuously challenged me, expanded my interests and offered me life-changing experiences.”
Guarino added, “I walked by a group of energetic AIESEC’ers in Kogan. From there, I went to my first AIESEC conference in Detroit and was absolutely hooked.”
Saad will be working in Bahrain until July through a grant AIESEC received from the State Department. She is part of a three-person expansion team working to build AIESEC program’s in the Middle East’s Gulf region.
“I don’t need to be here, but I gain satisfaction being part of an international force that is challenging societies to be more entrepreneurial, more interconnected and more globally minded,” Saad said. “AIESEC makes it easy to sleep at night.”