AIESEC student group

Getting to know fellow students from around the United States in college isn't enough for some.

Late in October, University of Georgia junior Yuliya Bila traveled with a student group to Cluj-Napoca, Romania for a week to meet new people.

As president of the Association for the International Exchange of Students in Economics and Commerce, Bila attended an international training conference for president-elects of 2013 across North America and Europe.

“Basically the way that AIESEC operates is that it’s a social enterprise, and we have conferences to build that network,” Bila said.

While at the conference, she and the five other delegates from the United States met to discuss internship opportunities with delegations from other countries. The United States delegation met with Bulgaria, Turkey, Hungary and Ukraine among others.

“You can [network] over email, but it’s easier face-to-face,” Bila said.

But while in Romania, Bila did more than network professionally.

“From a personal level, it was so powerful to have 40 countries represented and to be able to converse and make connections and figure out what their realities are – not in terms of AIESEC but in terms of life,” she said.

The conversations between nationalities facilitate mutual understanding.

“It’s facilitating dialogues that would not have happened otherwise," Bila said. "People are very localized, and they don’t always understand that on the other side of the divide, even within the same country, are people just like them. Even if they have a different religion and their parents fought on the opposite side, at a basic, fundamental level we are all human.”

Hearing these types of experiences has convinced Bila of the power of AIESEC.

“That kind of thing you’re not going to get sitting in a classroom,” she said. “I mean, you will learn it from a professor but it’s completely different when you hear it from someone whose uncle had his arm shot off in the war.”

Bila, who is majoring in Spanish, Russian and international affairs, was born in Ukraine and grew up in Czech Republic. She joined AIESEC her freshman year and worked with the outgoing exchange team, matching UGA students with summer internships abroad.

“That was quite an experience,” she said. “I was new to the organization, and I hadn’t been anywhere, but I was helping to figure out where these people wanted to go and connecting them within our network.”

Her sophomore year, Bila ran recruitment. When she joined AIESEC her freshman year, only four UGA students went abroad through AIESEC, but during her sophomore year that number grew to 28.

University junior Emory Weyand was one of those 28.

“I found out about AIESEC kind of randomly,” Weyand said. “I was just searching ways to go abroad for cheap, and I stumbled upon it and realized there was a UGA chapter. I liked it because I was able to get everything set up last minute.”

Weyand, an international affairs major, went to Egypt for seven weeks and worked for Nile University in Giza, teaching opinion article writing.

In exchange for working, he received housing and lived with six other international interns, all of whom were working for the same AIESEC chapter out of Nile University.

While living in Egypt, Weyand found he had plenty of time to travel around and explore the country.

“I found out that AIESEC focuses more on cultural exchange – they want you to go to a different culture and share your ideas and your lifestyle and your personality with them, and that’s the most important thing,” Weyand said.

Weyand was living in Egypt during the presidential election season, which allowed him to view the United States with new-found gratitude.

“It was the first time that they had an actual, free election, and everyone was brand new to democracy, so I gained a real appreciation for the freedoms that we have in the United States, including a free media and a democracy,” he said.

When he returned to UGA in the fall, Weyand decided to join the UGA chapter of AIESEC.

“I enjoyed my whole experience, so I figured this would be a good organization to get involved with,” he said. “Now I help other people go abroad.”

Though Bila has given a lot to AIESEC over the past couple of years, she feels like she has benefited personally from her involvement.

In addition to Romania, Bila has traveled to national conferences in Chicago, New York City and regional conferences in the Southeast.

“I came into college and I was really shy – I had like three friends, maybe four,” she said. “AIESEC pushes you outside of your comfort zone on a daily basis. At AIESEC conferences, you get to give inspirational speeches at three in the morning to people you’ve never met before but who become your best friends.”

Bila said she thinks that AIESEC’s mission can help students interested in almost every field.

“An international background on any level will be really beneficial,” she said. “People want to see that you’re well-traveled, that you’re open-minded, and that you can get along with different kinds of people.”