Cal Poly students learn lessons overseas with international program

Cal Poly graduate Amy McGivens, 22, wanted to experience life abroad in a new way when she left for Ecuador last summer to teach computer and English classes.

An international club at Cal Poly called AIESEC — which has chapters in colleges and universities in more than 100 countries — enabled McGivens to stray from the traditional exchange student route — an experience she enjoyed already in Spain.

“I realized how much you can grow and get back from giving to others,” McGivens said. “My Spanish improved, and my heart was warmed every day I saw the children’s English improve.” McGivens — now employed by Oracle in Redwood City — found her volunteer job in Ecuador through AIESEC.

The Rotterdam, Netherlands, organization’s name is an acronym for Association Internationale des Étudiants en Sciences Économiques et Commerciales, French for international association of business students.

Cal Poly is one of 1,700 universities in the world in AIESEC, which sends students abroad to internships.

Students view job listings through AIESEC, including managerial, teaching and development positions. Some are paid; some are volunteer-based.

“There is so much we can learn from having a global outlook on business and life, and AIESEC is the platform to do just that,” McGivens said.

The Cal Poly chapter was founded in 1997 and is advised by faculty members Mike Geringer, Colette Frayne and Jere Ramsey.

AIESEC is open to students of all majors at Cal Poly, though it tends to attract business students. McGivens studied graphic communications and minored in Spanish before earning her bachelor’s degree in December.

Twenty-three Cal Poly students in AIESEC are applying to work in countries this summer, including Chile, Ecuador, Turkey, Germany and Brazil.

Cal Poly’s AIESEC student president, Alex Royalty, said the club has about 30 student members and about 60 who attend weekly meetings often featuring speakers from local and national companies.

Not all AIESEC participants will go abroad, but those who do typically take internships lasting six weeks to 18 months.

“In a time when jobs are slim and students are eager to go abroad, these internships are a fantastically different slice of life,” Royalty said. “And they can provide life-changing opportunities.”AIESEC club members in the participating universities assist each other with required paperwork, housing and communications with host companies to ease the transition into a foreign work environment.

A local goal is to find San Luis Obispo County companies willing to participate in AIESEC and take on foreign students, Royalty said.

The club hasn’t been successful in lining up local internships for foreign students the past few years.

“It has been tough recently to get local companies on board, but we really hope they’ll step up in the future,” Royalty said.