By Josh Wingrove
Joey Riel’s trip to China was about more than just sight-seeing.
Yes, he took a trip to the Great Wall and to a five-floor, all-night KTV karaoke bar. He shared an umbrella with a fellow tourist as they watched the flag-changing ceremony at Tianemen Square in the rain.
But he also worked as a marketing and account management consultant.
“It was truly a life-changing experience,” he says. “I finally got to see what’s outside Canada.”
Riel spent most of the summer as a Cultural Envoy for Exchange Development with six universities in Beijing, 10,000 kilometres from home. The trip — his first outside of Canada — was funded by the Canadian International Development Agency and Ryerson. He was set up with his position though AIESEC Canada, a student-run leadership and development organization.
The organization, which gets its name from a French acronym roughly translated as “Association of Students of Economics and Engineering,” set up Riel’s trip through its Ryerson chapter. The group is made up of Ryerson students looking to contribute to the business world and gain experience, said group president Samanthi DeAlwis.
“It’s a way to challenge your perspectives, to do things you didn’t think you could do,” she says.
And it helps people become familiar with the business community, says the president of the University of Toronto’s chapter.
“AIESEC is an organization that brings out a lot of active people, those who don’t just want to sit around and talk, but want to actually do something,” Isabel Dimitrov says.
Dimitrov and DeAlwis are in the middle of recruiting season. They hosted an informal information session at Oakham House on Saturday afternoon.
DeAlwis signed up nearly 100 people last year, but only about half a dozen stayed. The Ryerson chapter hopes to target who they bring in to raise retention rates, focusing recruiting on marketing and human resources classes at Ryerson.
One of last year’s recruits, second-year business student Jonathan Holowky, is involved for the long run. Holowky started off as the “shyest kid” in class, but credits the group with helping him break out of his shell. “I’ve just become a totally different person than I was a year ago when I joined,” he says. Holowky was one of the group’s representatives at Saturday’s recruitment meeting.
As the chapter’s director of corporate development, he goes from company to company setting up internship spots for students coming in from other countries. He sets up businesses with a valuable employee and integrates the guest into the community.
It’s worked for him. He hopes AIESEC can have the same effect on others.
“As long as people are motivated to keep developing their skills, there’s always a place for them here,” Holowky says.
Riel is now back at Ryerson and is in his third year of his program. He says he’s tempted to travel, some more, but is proud of the skills he developed while overseas. He hopes he left his hosts better off than when he arrived.
His experience, Dimitrov says, is exactly why the organization has more than 500 members in Ontario and chapters in 97 countries worldwide. “AIESEC makes the world a lot smaller,” she says.