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Turning Off Autopilot

Writer Amanda (right) with fellow AIESEC interns on her first night in Cartagena.

By  Amanda Ariganello–Araujo

What it's like to complete a six-week AIESEC internship.

After spending six weeks in Colombia, I know what it means to really turn off autopilot. Travelling half a world away, with minimal information on the culture I would be integrating into, I really had no idea what to expect. This was the best scenario I could have asked for because this enabled me to wake up and really enjoy the trip.

During my time abroad I met some truly amazing people. We were a mix of all types of personalities and backgrounds that made even the car rides to work an adventure. With regards to planning we were left up to our own devices; which ended up being a blessing in disguise.

As we were a smaller group, planning stuff out on our own ended up working out well because we got to see what we wanted, on our own time. Relying on each other for everything also let us bond a lot more than I think we would have in a larger group, and form genuine friendships. Everyone was always so open, and welcoming they really made our group of people an environment you wanted to be a part of right away.  They are a huge reason why this trip was by far the best experience I’ve had in my life.

In our group there was never a dull moment. We spent nearly every weekend travelling. Over our six weeks, we got to see Sincelejo, Cartagena, Baru, Santa Marta, and Tayrona Park. While we did spend a lot of our free time on the beaches, each place offered something unique. And sometimes, some of the weirdest places we stayed in turned out to be the coolest ones.
For example on the island of Baru in Playa Blanca, we stayed in a little wood cabin. The majority of our group slept in hammocks while others stayed in a room. Did I mention we took showers with a bucket? And in pairs? But we were easily right on one of the most stunning beaches I had ever seen. The water was clear, blue and warm and best of all it wasn’t crowded.

Our placement was in a great city called Barranquilla, which became home for us very quickly. We were fortunate enough to have host families that welcomed us as their children, which enabled us to go and experience what the city had to offer during the day and night. I can honestly say during my six weeks in Colombia there wasn’t a day where I thought I was bored. We worked from Tuesday to Saturday teaching English.

What was different about our program was that while we were there the students were on summer vacation. So we taught in different neighbourhoods around Barranquilla in the evenings to students that worked full-time jobs. This was an interesting experience because classes varied so much from day to day. Not only would we be teaching at different parts of the city but we would have different amounts of students that would show up as well. The students were so friendly, and we had a lot of fun working with them.

This trip by far was the best experience I’ve had in my life, I think part of the reason for that was, it was so different than what I was coming from. For a long time at home, I felt completely alone, and days seemed to blend into a meaningless routine.

On the plane flight into Colombia I had made two promises to myself, to get as involved as I could, and to let go of everything holding me back in Canada. Keeping these in mind, I was able to step out of my comfort zone and finally shut off autopilot.

I met some absolutely fantastic friends that I hope I will have for the rest of my life. And finally, I got comfortable with my own voice, and what I want out of life for myself as an individual.

Amanda Ariganello–Araujo is a 19-year-old communications student from Mississauga. She spent this summer teaching English to university students in Barranquilla, Colombia with AIESEC. She enjoys creative writing, and would prefer to live life beachside.

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