Curious to see what an exchange experience is actually about? What adventures expect you when you decide to step outside of your comfort zone? If yes, check out the story of Quyen Nguyen, of AIESEC in Houston, and find out more about her journey in Greece!
When I first applied to become an exchange participant for AIESEC, I did it because one of my best friends, the one person I looked up to, had gone to Brazil the summer before and loved it.
I knew I wanted to go to Europe, but I wasn’t sure what project to choose. I love kids, so an International Kindergarten seemed fitting. When an email was sent to me about working in Greece, I wasn’t very interested in doing it. Eventually, I accepted an offer and a guy named Panagiotis ended up contacting me. It was when I first realized that this was real. That there was no backing out now.
He asked me which program I was particularly interested in and we discussed the International Kindergarten, with the opportunity of teaching English. Looking back, I didn’t know why I even decided to do any of it. I’m a Business major in Accounting and MIS. I love kids but I can’t teach a language, let alone students with no prior English lessons. I thought I had just screwed myself over.
Up to the moment of being in the Houston airport and checking in my two large bags to send off to Thessaloniki, I was still hesitating. I love Greek mythology, but I had never had Greek food, I spoken the Greek language, or even known a Greek person. I just wasn’t ready to embark on this journey.
Turns out, I was wrong. In the end, I felt like I made one of the best decisions in my life in going to Greece. I made so many friends from all over the world, made so many memories with my roommates and ate so many gyros. I loved everything about living in Greece and working at the Kindergarten. I loved the whole experience.
Though my students were young and probably won’t even remember an Asian American English teacher in their lives, I was thankful for every moment I spent with them. I never truly thought that I had made a difference in their lives, but when I came back home, I received a Facebook friend request from the principal of the school that I worked at. She had told the children, When you grow up, learn to speak and understand English, like teacher Quyen from the United States, so you can improve this country one day”. She explained to me that my being there had been enough for them. Being there, speaking English and Greek to them, had been enough. To them, I was an example that there are so many opportunities waiting in the future. That was the best part of the whole experience – being able to bring hope.
It was something that was so much more important than a professional internship or a high salary job. I spent four years going to work during the day in order to pay off the classes that I was taking at night, in hopes of finding a career path that I’ll walk on for the rest of my life. I was so ready to work an office job and become rich after college, but after going to Greece, I realized that it’s never about being monetary rich. It’s about being rich in experiences.
It’s about learning about everything that’s beyond our surroundings and our materialistic wants. It’s about visiting the ends of the Earth to meet with people that you’ll never meet in your hometown or try food that your mom can never learn to cook or live a fulfilling life that you were too scared to start. In the end, regardless of any hesitation that I had, I’m thankful for taking a step out of my comfort zone and out of the country to experience such an amazing opportunity.1