In 2005 I spent two months in Ukraine for a social good project called ‘World Without Boarders’ organised by student society AIESEC. It was before the time of digital photos and Facebook- or if I took any I’ve no idea where they are now!
Around 30 of us gathered and went on tour to visit schools and share about cultural differences and similarities. Students could ask us what it was like to grow up where we were from.
My overwhelming memory of this trip was ultimately how similar we all were coming from all over the world. And how much fun we had together. And how easy it was to settle into life in Ukraine. By the end of my time there I had a solid routine of my favourite cafes and I had got used to the nightly curfew of the student accommodation we were staying in.
I’d even managed to learn the alphabet and started to understand what people were speaking of at a basic level (when they spoke slowly!)
We stayed in some ‘interesting’ accommodation – some that had previously been military barracks – yet when we were there working on the World Without Boarders project, it had a sense of change, hope and adapting to new ideals.
Whilst my Ukrainian Peers were idealistically very like me, they did remember their own parents telling them about what life was like during the Soviet Union, and sobering visual reminders such as loudspeakers still on the corner of many buildings at that time. I spent a month in the small town of Ternopil and a month in the bigger city of Kharkhiv. Everyone was so accommodating and we experienced a lot of traditional Ukrainian food (and Vodka of course!)
For me thinking back to these 2 months 17 years ago, I remember that time as my first real trip away from home, and really immersing myself in another country. I suppose it’s a greater sense of connection. Of knowing the land now being bombed was once where I was. Of still feeling that connection and being in WhatsApp chats with people actually there right now.
AIESEC itself was a really unique kind of Society to be involved with- it was all around increasing cultural understanding through doing exchanges – both between universities around the world and also placements in large companies around the world who wanted to bring in a bit more diversity into their workplace (way ahead of the trend in 2004 when I was involved, and certainly having been running for 50 years already at that point!)
I loved the people I met through AIESEC- we were all united in our beliefs that things could be different. Being university students in the noughties we also were united by drinking a lot and having really fun nights out. I wonder how things are panning out nearly 20 years later.
There wasn’t a specific point to this blog post other than to share a memory. And if you know anyone at University now, definitely recommend AIESEC as a society for them to join if they want to meet an eclectic but passionate group of people who believe in global citizenship.
I wonder what all the others who joined me on that trip are up to now. Thanks to Facebook deleting my account I actually have no way to reach out to them! So Robin, Olessea, Masha, Alex, and many others- I’m thinking of you. I still believe in the vision of the project we joined. We can overcome the darkness.