At 50, AIESEC ponders its future

The Yale chapter of the global student exchange program AIESEC celebrated its 50th birthday Saturday evening with a gala event in Dwight Hall.

AIESEC, which is a French acronym for the “International Association of Students in Economic and Commercial Sciences,” was launched at Yale in 1957 through a student-led effort following the organization’s debut in the United States at Columbia University. While AIESEC members said the Yale chapter has grown considerably in the last few years due to rising interest in work abroad opportunities, students who participated in the International Bulldogs internships pointed out what they described as disadvantages of the international organization as compared to the Yale-sponsored program.

AIESEC focuses on developing work-abroad exchange programs between its member countries. One such program sends students from the U.S. to gain practical work experience abroad and hosting individuals from around the world to train with companies in the America.

Shannon Guy ’08, the incoming president of the Yale chapter, said the organization — which reaches 98 countries and over 800 college campuses worldwide — serves as a perfect “stepping stone” for students interested in becoming local leaders of global companies.

Students present at the Saturday evening gala attended special sessions to discuss opportunities within the AIESEC network. They also discussed the organization’s future and its mission of promoting international understanding and cooperation. Special guests included international students currently stationed at U.S. companies through the program, local business leaders and University alumni dating back to 1962, organizers said.

Yale College Dean Peter Salovey, who also attended the gala, described the AIESEC student community as “energetic, passionate and visionary.” Salovey said similar groups frequently inspire the University to establish more partnerships with academic institutions and programs abroad.

“Often, new programs come out of collaboration between the international team in the Yale offices and internationally-oriented student organizations,” he said.

Guy said the organization was originally founded in 1948 to rebuild relationships between European countries after World War II. Although the Yale chapter suffered a decline in student interest, leading to the disappearance of the organization on campus in the early 1990s, membership has risen since it was reestablished six years ago. AIESEC Yale currently boasts 70 registered members, Guy said.

Last summer, 172 students went abroad through the Bulldogs program. In contrast, the student-run program sent 38 Yalies on international work internships.

Blair Epstein ’09 said she considered participating in AIESEC last summer, but changed her mind when a spot suddenly opened up through the International Bulldogs program for an advertising agency in Monterrey, Mexico.

“I thought [the Bulldogs program] offered a better strength of opportunities and logistical support,” she said.

Epstein said she appreciated that the Yale program took care of her paperwork and housing and did not include an application fee.

“You want to focus more on the job you’re doing than how you’re going to get there and live,” she said.

But AIESEC member Joshua Ford ’09 said the AIESEC program provides more opportunities to offset room and board expenses with “generous” salaries from participating companies.

Guy said slightly over half of AIESEC abroad programs include paying jobs, and many others cover some costs of living.

Among AIESEC’s alumni is Sen. John Kerry ’66, who traveled to Switzerland through the program.

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