My Journey of Discovery with IAESTE
“It is good to have an end to journey toward; but it is the journey that matters, in the end.” – Ursula K. LeGuin
My journey started in the university town of Manipal in South India. Manipal is two hours away from the nearest airport, but the student community is well connected to the entire world – courtesy of the organisation called IAESTE, the International Association for the Exchange of Students for Technical Experience. In Manipal University (known as MIT), IAESTE is entirely run by student volunteers. It facilitates international student traineeships by generating job offers locally with faculty and employers, and exchanging them at an annual conference with other member countries. We looked after all administrative processes including hosting exchange students and organising cultural events, helping outgoing students with visas, as well as all the internal activities like finances, sponsorships and public relations.
I became a volunteer with IAESTE India MIT in 2008. I am not sure what I wanted to take away from the organisation then, but I now know that my life wouldn’t have been the same without it. I wore different hats during my four years, including those of exchange coordinator and chairperson. I went on traineeships to Poland and Ireland (more about that later!), and represented IAESTE MIT at conferences in Thailand and Spain. Every time a traineeship or conference ended successfully, my mind would trick me into thinking that my IAESTE journey had come to an end and
something new was awaiting. It was only a few years afterwards that I realised that the journey to keep on discovering yourself never comes to an end.
Being in a new country – in the midst of people from several others – teaches one many things, especially in the formative student years. Often, an IAESTE traineeship can be a student’s first experience of living away from home. In my case, I realised that you don’t need to know a language to communicate: a smile, eye contact, a simple ‘hello’ to people passing by, or a grateful hand gesture to the driver who stopped for you to cross the road is sometimes enough to make you feel connected with people. Besides adding valuable experience to your own field of study, an IAESTE traineeship comes with a plethora of opportunities. It’s a chance to make new friends, to find prospective long-term opportunities with employers and to learn that people, whatever country they call home, are all essentially searching for similar joys: meaningful relationships, fulfilling work, good health and an optimistic approach to their respective journeys in life.
During my eight-month IAESTE traineeship with Ericsson in the quaint town of Athlone, I met my now husband. When he first asked me out, I said ‘no’ out of fear of the distance that would come once my traineeship ended. His reply to the rejection was that he’d follow me around the world if we were meant to be. True to his words, we did end up following each other around the world in the five years we have been together. We coordinated the limited holidays we had, to be together for Christmases, Diwalis and special occasions. Divided between the continents of Europe and Asia, home gradually became wherever we had the chance to spend time together. He even followed me to the United States when I was on a work assignment there for three months.
My journey with IAESTE taught me to question everything: to find what traditions on each side of the world meant to me, and how I wanted to adopt them in my own way. It taught me to be brave, to find a ‘better me’ in every challenge that came our way. And there were challenges, be it visa rejections or breaking the news of our decision to marry to conservative family on my side. In my family the concept of choosing your own partner from a different community – let alone from the other side of the world! – is very unknown. The idea of living together before marriage is also a big taboo. Things did not come easy for us. At every step in the journey I took, I would come across people (both acquaintances and family) whose definition of what one is ‘supposed’ to do did not match what I wanted to do. Learning to do what I believed in, and not to feel guilty about not being in sync with others who disagreed, was very liberating. Self-earned independence comes with the responsibility of being accountable for the consequences of your choices. That’s something I learned while working in IAESTE for four years.
Through all this, my friends from IAESTE, college and school stood like pillars by my side. My husband and I finally moved to Ireland after getting married in a small neutral ceremony surrounded by close friends and family who had been a part of our relationship. I recently met the IAESTE fraternity in Ireland during the Dublin weekend which they organised. It was very heartening to meet people from several countries again and see glimpses of my journey in their experiences. IAESTE not only sets you on a journey to discover the world, but also a journey to keep discovering yourself – for life.
All images courtesy of Neha Choudhary. If you’d like to share your story on ‘Insights’, contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.