From Russia, Spain, and China, With Love

From Russia, Spain, and China, With Love

Jason Wu is a student in his 4th year at Baruch College studying Real-estate Investment. For the past 3 years, every time he has had time off from college, Wu has chosen to travel the world with AIESEC. When Jason was a freshman he traveled to Moscow, Russia for 2 months,; then as a sophomore to China for 2 months,; and as a junior this Summer he went to Valencia, Spain on a 3 months professional internship. This is an interview with him about his experiences as a traveler.

“Are you graduating as a competent problem solver or are you graduating as a good test taker?”

Why AIESEC?

Going on a trip for 10 days is about exploring, and you do not get much of chance to absorb the culture. You will probably visit popular tourist attractions and have a dinner at a popular restaurant but that is about it. Going as a student, the locals see you as a student. You go to this university and are here to take classes. But when you go with AIESEC you are working in the community and the natives see that and understand that you have come a long way from your country to make a difference and put hours of work every single day. Then you get treated differently with a level of more respect and consideration. Going with AIESEC you spontaneously have 20 to 30 friends and that is impossible with any other organization in the world.

What was the most challenging thing about your trips?

The most challenging and rewarding thing was motivating and inspiring the children to learn. This is how I started his classes: “Okay class, I am going to teach you English and you are going to teach me [Russian, Chinese, Spanish]." Students love the idea that you can learn from them. A mutual idea of exchange of languages. However, one particular student caught my attention: a girl who misbehaved in class, never listened and did not do the work. I wasn't sure how to deal with her, only to realize that she was dyslectic and behaved this way because she was embarrassed in front of all the other children. She didn’t want anyone to know that while everyone else finished reading the whole paragraph she was still on the first sentence. In this case I made an environment where it is not cool to be bad but it is cool to learn. At the end of the class she wrote a paragraph for the first time in the camp, this is what inspires me to be a teacher. I want to be that one teacher that inspires my students the way a teacher inspires me in me classes at Baruch.

I made an environment where it is not cool to be bad but it is cool to learn. At the end of the class she wrote a paragraph for the first time in the camp, this is what inspires me to be a teacher.

You told me that before taking a trip you would learn basic conversation in the native language, which made talking to people easier. Where there any other cultural difficulties or challenges that you faced besides learning the language?

Understanding the language doesn’t mean understanding the culture. One cultural difference I faced on my trip to Russia compared to New York is people have diverse social norms. 

In New York we often hold the door for the person behind us but in Russia don’t be surprised if the door slams you in the face. They are a cold and tough culture. But as cold as they may seem, they are also warm. They love learning about other cultures especially of the American culture. They watch Hollywood movies, drink coca cola, wear jeans and speak the language. They know a lot about the American culture, while we in America still do not know much about Russian culture. 

Russia is still alien to Americans. The way I see Russians is, they are very extreme spirited, if they are going to do something they are going to do it to the most extreme they possibly can. If they decide to make you their friend then they will make you a priority in their life. 

Russians also still have a classy side to them. When I worked in the school in Moscow, there was a gentleman and a lady moving things and I approached and asked the lady if she needed help. The gentleman responded in Russian saying, “you see the girl, but you are still asking.” It is still very traditional.

On the other hand, the Spanish culture is much more intimate and expressive. People greet each other with two kisses. People care about people differently. You do not avoid people, you acknowledge them by making eye contact and smiling. By being aware you pay them respect. People are also more community involved like in New York. It is not how can we help each other, it is I will help you know and you never know you will help me in the future.

Relate your experience as a teacher to your career goals of Real-estate Investment.

Studying real estate, knowing languages and cultures are skills not many people have. I am hoping in the future to use the knowledge from Baruch and AIESEC to sell property to foreign investors. 

You go to another country and learn the way people are and how they do things and come back home to America and things seem weird.

For example, in New York we avoid eye contact with people unless we want to approach someone but in Spain it is rude to avoid eye contact. AIESEC shows you more opportunities and different ways you can live your life. “You discover that there are other options out there within your career path.”

What else did you learn from the cultures and the students?

First, “Sharing is empowering.” I love children. If I give you my knowledge what are you going to do with it? To be able to teach it is like a superpower. Teaching children has a great impact on a community. Children have thought me to be more appreciative of the stories I hear and gave me an emotional value, [compassion]. I can relate to their stories of growing up with struggles. 

Second, people see New York as glorified place, a place where people dream of coming but will most like never get a chance. People around the world know of Central Park, Brooklyn Bridge, and Statue of Liberty.

Third, young people abroad are very ambitious even with fewer opportunities. Spain has one of the highest youth unemployment yet the young people are very ambitious to do more then what the country offers. Russians and Chinese know their economic and political crises and that motivates them more to learn English and acquire as much to make a better future. They understand that knowing English their “economic opportunities multiply”. In America very few people will think of learning Chinese to get better economic opportunities.

Let the magic happen after you leave as well. Teach your students to teach themselves.

Why did you choose all these places to travel?

I love languages and cultures. 

I went to Russia to learn Russian, I went to China to learn Chinese, and went to Spain to learn Spanish. 

I'm an American born Chinese. I grew up and still live in a mainly Puerto Rican neighborhood in Bushwick, Brooklyn. Going to school, I was the only Chinese student so kids called me "Chino." For me, the Spanish language is really relevant even though, at the time, I could not understand it. Going to another country and learning the language deeper, away from the neighborhood gave me a different understanding of my neighborhood, and now I experience the home town differently. Now walking around in the community, I can have conversations with neighbors in Spanish.

How difficult is it to get the teaching internship in Spain?

It's not difficult at all. There is a great necessity to learn English around the world, that’s the demand and we being from America can provide the supply that is needed it, which is native English speaking. However the management of the camp recognized my previous experience of teaching English and gave me a position as a manager. I was given the responsibility not only of teaching but also leading the teachers and planning daily lessons, training, developing, giving feedback and making sure that tasks and activities are run correctly. 

If you can have the attention of children for 90 min who do not even understand you, then you can hold a presentation for 15 minutes.

This is a real work experience we as college students wish and need to gain. It is all about the knowledge sharing and learning from each other. In Spain and also Russia and China, I taught classes to students from elementary to high school.

What is a souvenir that you took from each city that you worked in?

Every city that I go to I take a metro card, it proves that I was immersed in that society. The [metro] in Moscow is a museum, each station is done by a different architect. Another intangible souvenir that I took is seeing shooting stars and starlit nights in Valencia, Spain for the first time.

What would you tell students considering on traveling with AIESEC?

Just do it! Only now do you have the time and the money. In the future you may have [more] money but you will not have the time. And you can get paid internships as well as help from the travel grant. If you are worried about money, which is a great worry to have…in the future you will make [so much more] are you really going to worry about it in the prime of your youth. You will have an experience that changes your life you can make millions of dollars after that.

Thank you for taking the time to read about one of the many experiences of AIESEC exchange participant. It is your world too, how will you shape it?

Miljana Monic

Originally posted March 2016

Miljana Monic

A model, dancer, and actress at heart, Miljana is a current student at Baruch College. Hailing from Yugoslavia, Miljana has a passion for nature, animals, and helping others. She is a multi-talented woman with years of acting and beauty experience behind her, but doesn't lack a mind for business. She's an all-around killer queen.

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