Sexagenarian on exchange

Skrevet af Ridhima Kapur - Foto: Niels Poulsen - 4. juni 2008 - 14:080 kommentarer
Geeeez! I thought going on exchange next year would be the adventure of a lifetime, but those old dudes really rocked!

About a month ago, in April, the world’s largest international student organization, AIESEC, could look back on 60 years of world wide learning, exchange and leadership. We've talked to Kaj Verner Slot, one of the seven founding members.

It may be old enough to collect its old age pension in some countries. But the world’s largest international student organization, AIESEC, is still as youthful and spirited as it was at its conception in 1948. CBS students have participated in this organization since the beginning, bringing its vision of post WW2-peace to Denmark.

Indeed the organization has a lot to celebrate. From encompassing 7 countries in 1948, AIESEC is now active in more than 100 countries and can count 23,000 members. Saturday the 19th of April this year, AIESEC Denmark’s active members and alumni celebrated the organization’s 60th Anniversary with a Climate Change Summit at Solbjerg Plads.

Almost a lifetime ago

One of the seven founding members of AIESEC at a global level, 86 year old Kaj Verner Slot, attended and spoke at the celebration, receiving several spontaneous standing ovations from more than three hundred people; mostly AIESEC members and alumni, and most of them 65 years his junior:

- I am amazed how AIESEC has developed. Sixty years ago, we could never have imagined that it would fly to these heights. At that time we were just learning how to crawl, Kaj Verner Slot, who is also a former CBS student, recollects and explains:

- I have great difficulty explaining to students today what Europe was like 60 years ago. All youngsters were prevented from travelling. Universities were shut. Most towns were in ruins. It was disastrous.

It was only after returning from service as an officer in occupied Germany in 1948-49 that Kaj Verner Slot was able to resume his studies at Copenhagen Business School. Here he was soon elected Chairman of the Student’s Council, and at that time in history, there was a great demand in business schools for establishing an international exchange program for students.

So he made his first task as Chairman to get CBS in touch with an exchange organization, he had heard was starting between Sweden and France, called Associations Internationale des Etudiants en Sciences Economiques et Commerciales (AIESEC). The goal of this organization was simple: making international friends and gaining cultural understanding in order to create harmony in the world.

By 1951, Denmark had become one of the founding members of a considerably more internationally oriented AIESEC, and CBS was one of the founding local chapters.

Evolution of a vision

AIESEC’s central concept is much the same today as it was in the beginning. The main aim of the organization has always been to create and ensure greater contact between students, institutions of learning and business life. The primary means was local AIESEC members organizing internships and study tours for students from abroad, while members from other AIESEC countries did the same for them in return. This was (and still is) known as an AIESEC exchange.

Through the 1950s, the organization expanded nearly five times over, organizing around 4000 of these ‘exchanges’ a year in the 1960s. By the 1980s, the Danish chapter of the organization found new ways to ensure this contact between students, institutions of learning and business life and began to organize a large career fair, now known as KarriereDagene (Career Days). Since then, through the ‘90s and now into the 2000s, the organization has evolved to focus a lot more on the personal development of its members and their leadership skills.

Fewer exchanges

Creating internships for international students here in Denmark or sending Danish students on an internship abroad (exchange, as they call it in AIESEC) still lies at the core of the organization’s work, but with every progressive year, fewer and fewer exchanges happen. One would assume that the drive for globalization would really help an organization that fundamentally promotes international cooperation, but that is not the case.

- It is getting hard to get Danish companies to take a trainee from abroad, because they worry about cultural and language barriers. This is at cross purposes to how they really ought to act. Denmark is a small country, and we need to be more internationally oriented, explains Therese Hjermind, Vice-President of External Relations in AIESEC Denmark.

Another aspect could be that business schools the world over have become more internationally and globally oriented through the last 60 years, arranging exchange and the like themselves as part of being a modern educational institution.

Still building bridges

While members today may not even remember what the full expansion of the acronym AIESEC is, somehow they never forgot that the main objective of the organization was to reach out to people from different parts of the world and understand each other.

Therese Hjermind explains her passion for the organization:

- At the AIESEC International Congress last year in Turkey, we welcomed new members from Iran and Afghanistan. This year they have started planning an expansion to Iraq. That is really cool. Where else do you see that among people our age in this time and age?

Rifling through old archives of the organization, one finds the word ‘bridge building’ repeated constantly. Founder Kaj Verner Slot had an explanation for that:

- The philosophy is in the mentality of people. One can see it in Europe today. People want to be friends and have open borders.



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