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Boland Scholar Essay: Arlene Cortes
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Arlene Cortes (standing in photo)
Local Committee President AIESEC Miami, Florida
Conference Attended: International Congress, Hurghada, Egypt Summer 2018

A year ago, I wrote an essay with the hope of being able to attend an international conference, to better my local committee and our international relationships with other LCs and to streamline our process for our exchange participants. With the JoAnn Boland scholarship I was able to accomplish this and so much more when I used the scholarship to attend AIESECs’ international conference in Egypt. At the time, I was at a crossroads with many decisions I had made or failed to make for my Local Committee and was worried about the health indicators (investments, productivity, and retention). This conference helped guide me through so many questions I had at the time, some that I didn’t even know to ask. It helped me realize to appreciate the process and that even when I think I have such specific problems to just my LC, there will be another president who is going through something similar, so we should never forget to reach out for help, because when you do, there will be an AIESECer with a few options.

It was mesmerizing to see 100+ countries in one place for a common goal, each in different phases, some countries making hundreds of exchanges in a couple of months, others setting foundations to reach their goals. During this conference, I fortified specific LC to LC relationships in which we both felt comfortable to be able to rely on each other by creating group chats with our exchange VPs and Presidents to be able to have more transparency - ultimately helping  young people make a change in the world and within themselves. I learned in breakout sessions how to identify if there is someone on your team that should be let go, and how to correctly facilitate that space and how to transition afterwards. At the time this was a decision I was trying to avoid but knew it was necessary and it was taking away attention from my other VPs and the organizational work. I learned later it was the right decision to let one of my VPs go for both our LC and them. 

During the sessions, as LCPs we were able to see the inner workings of a national committee as well as the new AIESEC International team and their strategies for the upcoming year. It was an eye opening, welcoming experience because even though we were LCPs, our MC and AI personnel were asking us for feedback; how and if strategies would be downscaled properly or how to be able to facilitate the sharing of knowledge and skills. For that I want to thank Lydia’s MC. They might not know it, but they helped me reconnect during that conference and I was reenergized and sought more AIESEC experiences after my term.

Another great take away from this conference, that I have been able to apply in work and life is how to appropriately use and interpret data, using tools such as CORE and excel sheets to determine processing time and who will be better fit for International relations based on coinciding processing times. I became comfortable explaining the use of data to my team back home and how to downscale to their members. I even use it for my own life (study time per chapter to be able to create a schedule before the exams) which in turned helped me maximize the way I spend my time and my stress level. Being president with many VPs you truly need to know how to manage your time correctly for yourself as well as your VPs. 

Most importantly, I learned what it meant to be an Exchange participant and how AIESECers can truly affect the way our EPs feel during their exchange. I stayed in Egypt for 5 weeks, with AIESECers, in which my experience could’ve gone terribly but with the help of AIESECers, it was truly amazing. When I arrived my luggage was lost. With help, I was able to get it back within 3 days. I also fell terribly ill during the conference and though I had purchased the international health plan, this was my first time so far from home in a country where I did not know the language at all. I was taken to a clinic and was helped with the doctor, translating, and navigating the local health care. During my extended stay after the conference I found out that one of my immediate family members was in an emergency surgery and I couldn’t have felt more helpless and lonelier knowing I was so far away with limited knowledge of what was going on. The AIESECer I stayed with and their family, truly made me feel reassured and heard when I voiced my concern and provided me with options, I can honestly say that I have a second family and home because of their hospitality and understanding. 

Overall, I would say I am honored to be part of an organization that truly is an international network. I was able to break down my own misconceptions of a country as well as understand what it feels like to be a foreigner and reflect on the growth I went through. I am more empathetic towards our country's foreigners and our exchange participants. This conference made me a better president, AIESECer and person, and it wouldn’t have been possible without the opportunity AIESEC LIFE provided me.

Thank you for the amazing opportunity AIESEC Life!

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