Thursday, June 18, 2009

My AIESEC internship in Netherlands!

Hello, hello everyone! Greetings from Holland, the city of Groningen - the capital of the same named province. In this city there are 185 thousand inhabitants and about 50 thousand of them are students. I've been living here for five months now and I find it a quite nice place to be.

I live in a student house among 24 other Dutch people on my floor, each having their own room. Leisure room, two kitchens, 3 showers and 6 toilets are shared. Thankfully, there is a cleaning team coming by every morning that takes care of common properties. A Washing machine and a dryer are also usable. Specially noteworthy is my Internet connection speed in my room: astonishing 11 MB/s. Followed by another astonishing number 350 EUR per month I pay for rent. Although Netherlands has one of the highest populations density in Europe (396/km2) this number has not affected my "quality of living" in any way.

I am working in Library of the University of Groningen under the department of electronic services. It is a medium sized library in the center of the city which is always filled with a decent number of students. I was told that the time it was built they never considered this to be become such a popular place among students. The university itself was founded in 1614 and has therefore a strong reputation. In fact, on my first day my boss took me to a tour inside the building and also showed me some very old books. Interestingly enough, some of them were serious kick-ass magic books with spells and stuff, the kind of you only see or hear in TV shows, "Supernatural" comes to mind.
Anyway, I am working as a web developer and I am trying to come up with new tools and systems that might become useful for the armies of professors, researchers and students in here. I have a flexible work schedule as usual with IT workers, though, most of my dutch friends were very surprised as they heard it. I believe, they have usually much more rigid work discipline. Dutch people are in general very kind, very direct, very hard working and yet always ready to party. I didn't have problems getting used any of these sides. Also, absolutely everyone seems to be able to speak English. That includes older people that are, well, old. The second foreign language Dutch people speak is of course German. I am about to finish my Dutch language course (payed by my employer, impressive 495 EUR for 25 two our lessons) and I must say that if you know English and Germany like I did, then it is rather easy to learn Dutch as well. It is pretty useful skill because the item names and instructions how to prepare the food is usually Dutch only (I am a bad cook). I am already capable of some meaningful conversation in that language ... if and only if the other person speaks slowly and clearly. Otherwise, that includes conversations between locals, I understand nothing. However, after I've finished here I, will most certainly resume working with my (almost nonexistent) Russian. The idea came from the fact that the majority of the current set of AIESEC interns, that is from Kazachstani, Moldavian, Ukrainian, Bulgarian and two from Russian itself speak Russian very well. That leaves just me, Czech, Macedonian and Indian, last two of them have already finished their internship and now working/studying in here. They started to like the town.

Every month there is one Saturday whose events is organized by one LC in Netherlands. That means that every month people all over Netherlands come together to have some games, a dinner and in the end a party. The latest event I visited took place in Enschede, "the greatest student party in Benelux" as it was advertised - party as any other just in five halls at once. Every week there is also an AIESEC meeting where presentations and various announcements are made. Afterwards, as always, is the socializing part - you know, drinking, talking, chit-chat and simply relaxing. Sometimes we go to the city for a drink or just have a cozy dinner.
The city itself is criss-crossed by numerous canals matched with swarm of bridges, each and every one possible to open. Interestingly, one can see an open bridge very seldom, usually only if you are in real hurry to cross it. Yet the snail speed boat passing by doesn't really care. The shores of canals are full of boats and small ships so the captains have to be really alert when moving. There are no skyscrapers in this town, my 8th floor building is one of the highest. The common practice is that even in central city, people have living quarters above the shops or just rent a room in a bigger house.

Transportation is organized very well. There are separate roads or lanes for bicyclists everywhere so that sometimes there is even less space for pedestrians. The number of bikes is accordingly huge which effectively helps to promote the national sport: bike-theft. Getting your bike stolen is just so common in here, therefore I try to avoid letting my ride outside for a night. So far so good. The railroad connection between cities is just superb: you can get almost anywhere by train. By now I have used the services of local railroad quite many times and I have no complaints.

Despite the number of outside differences, I consider Netherlands and Estonia quite quite similar countries. That is, taking account the nature, location and history, there are no major barriers. What I realized is that the main difference is in people themselves. It is a huge difference whether you live your everyday life at home day after day or whether you experience true multi-cultural environment on your very own skin.


Monday, June 8, 2009

Bangladesh Dialogues

It’s around 16 degrees outside now and I am watching over Aarhus`s carefully planned profile. Returning here has been like visiting an old friend, I’ve had a great time in DK for 1,5 years before the traineeship. However, being away for 5 months in Bangladesh has been an interesting experience and left an impressive mark in me for years to come.

Bangladesh Dialogues is a summary of my experience in one of the most tensely populated countries in the world.

The standard questions for me included “Your country, sir?” “Are you a tourist, sir?” “Are you married, sir?” “What is your religion, sir?” and “What do you think of Bangladesh, sir?” I probably answered these questions more times than I wanted to, but for you, it`s a pleasure to do it once again.

“Your country, sir?”

“I come from Estonia – a small country North-East Europe”

I guess Estonians who has been abroad for a while, has discovered that actually very few or mostly nobody knows where Estonia is or how you eat it. I’ve been accused of coming from Africa, Latin- America and all sorts of places. Although, being not well known has sometimes also its bright sides. Nobody is accusing you for the war on terror or the cartoons on Mohammed for example.

“Are you a tourist, sir?”

“Well not exactly, I am doing a traineeship here”

Doing a traineeship in Dhansiri Communication – a 360 degree ad agency in Dhaka, was awesome. Honestly said, the company was at times missing a clear direction and systems where chaotic, but it was exactly those factors what let me take so much responsibility and use my entrepreneurial spirit to the fullest. I had more opportunities that I could’ve use and I loved it. I had the unique chance to work for UNICEF, the World Food Programme and several commercial giants.

“Are you married, sir?”



“Well…I guess I haven’t found the right girl yet”

“I will pray for you so you can get married soon”

“I appreciate it”

“But, what is your religion, sir?”

“Mhm (rethinking my answer as the asker is a rickshaw puller), I am actually not religious at all. My God has no name and for praying I go jogging, swimming or meditate”

Hardly ever, people grasped the concept of not being religious. Even if some younger folks made a smart face as if they would get it, the reality showed, that it is a very far concept for most Bangladeshi. Religion is still very much on top of the agenda in. The Imam is hardly questioned about his sources. Interestingly, I met also people who are afraid to admit, that they are not pro all the guidelines by the Quran, as it is a taboo. I am not here to prosecute anybody or force my views on, but I do believe that the all the major religions (and I mean all) are actually demoralizing God than paying respects.

“What do you think of Bangladesh, sir?”

“It’s very diverse, crazy and interesting. I like it!”

Bangladeshi are probably the most hospitable people I have had the chance to meet. I got mostly even more attention than I wished for, but it’s very nice to feel that I am cared about. The experience also showed me such diversity that I’ve never seen before – rich with 10 maids in the house versus poor on the street with a carton to live in. Unfortunately a lot of people`s lives are driven by personal gain, but there is also a countermovement (like AIESECars), people who are really eager to change the country. I hope the caring will win.

“Take care Bangladesh, well see you again, I am sure.”

Siim Sainas,
Internship in Bangladesh

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Chocking China

Which do you like a chicken toes or roasted caterpillars?” asked the local teacher when we had our first welcoming dinner. “Or do you prefer some duck blood for appetizer,” she continued, “very delicious!. What a hell? It can’t be anything than a bad dream! But that was the reality. I can tell you now that I have been eating all of them, but on a very first week I just rejected. I had just plain rice. 

Here in the middle of China are very few foreigners, so my appearance is really a chock for many. And it was a big chock for me, in terms of the culture, food and living in general (no showers, no toilets as we know this etc). 

Countryside in China is very different from the big cities in the East. Here you can see and hear how they are killing pigs for making a dinner or meet people on a rice fields, meet oxen on a streets or say hello to a goose family living just across from your door way. 

But most importantly the people here are extremely kind. They are treating you as you would be a king (queen), they will take you every now and then to some new and cool places where you would never ever come by yourself. And here in Sichuan, here are a lot places to visit, we just don’t know it. Here starts the Himalaya.

I’m here to teach English for students in rural school in a village called Songhua. That’s a big challenge – both the students and teachers have never been outside of their home province, so I’m kind of ambassador or a window to the world. My goal is truly not to teach them English but to show that there are different kinds of people in the world; you just need to work hard and be interested in about places, cultures far away. 

For many – there will be no chance at all to leave their hometowns or if then to some bigger cities next to their homes. But that’s about it. It’s very sad to say but I might be for some the very first and very last foreigner he or she can ever talk or meet. Hopefully most of them can see the world in a broader way as their parents or teachers. 

When I’ll leave the land of rice after several months, I’ll take with me a bunch of memories, lots of good emotions, new friends and a life time experience (like eating a duck blood).

Greetings from China,


Monday, April 13, 2009

My African adventure

Spending some time abroad is never the same; everyone’s experience is different and very personal. The way and outcome depend on the place and people around You, but mostly it depends on You. Everyone who decides to live and work abroad for some time, should be ready to abandon the old ways of looking and seeing things for some time. To get the maximum out of the experience, it’s no good to only go and show the Estonian way of living, it’s useful for everybody to also try to understand the way and reasons behind the behavior of others.

My last living abroad experience was a 7-months AIESEC internship in the capital city of Nigeria – in Abuja. I was doing my marketing internship in an IT company and in the end was basically responsible for everything that happened to our brand new product. I believe that I could never have found that kind of opportunity in Estonia. I had just graduated from university and didn’t have too big of working experience, but the next thing I was helping to manage the sales and marketing department in a totally unknown environment. I could test my academic knowledge and challenge myself daily. Suddenly living and working in a culture so different from mine, I constantly had to challenge my ability to adapt, understand and accept. It was making me see new sides of myself, my home country and the whole world around me.

First month I felt dependant of my bosses and AIESEC members, because I didn’t know too many people and I couldn’t find my way around. But after some time I had created a network of new friends, I knew exactly where to go out partying, where to do my groceries, how to decline every day marriage proposals, how to find a taxi and how to bargain over the price. Being the only Estonian I just had to be open minded, eager to learn and ready to adapt. My roommate was from Colombia, so luckily I was not alone really. It was cool to not only learn about Nigerian culture, but also about Colombian. We were helping each other to get used to the totally new situation and in a way we started a whole new life together. We were both keeping in touch with our friends and relatives from back home, but the way we were living our new lives was a lot different from the ones we both had had before.

I believe I am still the same person who I was, I have the same values and many dreams and I still love humor, but I also know that now I have in many ways more experience. Some of my dreams have come true and some of them have grown bigger. I don’t only understand what I have read about the world, but also what I have seen in the world. I have many new friends, many great memories and lots of cool stories to tell. In a way the world has become smaller and I can see more connections between people and things. I have tested myself and my limits. I have become to appreciate and accept myself and others more than I did before.

Many things that irritated me about Nigerian culture in the beginning are now the things that I like the most. The first couple of months I was often upset when people were late or seemed to be too slow. Now I like the way how some people can just take things easy, not always stressing around and nervously striving for more and bigger. I like how Nigerian people appreciate their family and are not too individualistic. The food, customs, clothes, weather.. There are many things that took some time to get used to. The pepprish food made me cry for many months, but now I enjoy spicy dishes a lot. I never fully got used to the hot weather, but I do enjoy the sun and at the same time I like the snow more than I did before. I never became as religious as people around me, but I am more spiritual than I used to be. I guess I can’t even see and evaluate all the changes or influences just yet, but I do see more opportunities in the world already now.

I warmly recommend this kind of experience to everybody who is ambitious, adventurous and willing to challenge oneself and discover the world. No matter how much working experience You have, how many self development seminars You have attended or how much You have read about different countries, living and working in a totally different environment makes You discover and use even more new abilities in Yourself; it makes You understand and develop even bigger picture; it makes You appreciate what You already have and accept some more things just the way they are. 

Sincerely yours,


Monday, March 30, 2009

Minu välispraktika Saksamaal

Naudin juba 5. kuud AIESECi praktikandi elu Saksamaa väikelinnas Halles. Sellest, kuidas see kõik toimuma sai, kirjutangi järgnevalt.

AIESECi praktikale kandideerisin suhteliselt impulsiivselt – õde oli just tulnud Kanadast ja vist see andiski esimese tõuke. Läbisingi proovilepanekud ja intervjuu edukalt ning sain võimaluse praktikabaasis sobrama hakata. Alguses oli suur isu minna Aasiasse sealse kultuuri ja eluolu erilisuse pärast, samas soovisin ennast siiski ka erialaselt täiendada ning mitte võtta praktikaperioodi kui puhkust. Nii kujuneski, et sobivat kohta otsisin ligi aasta. Kuna ma õpin rõivatootmist, siis arvestasin juba alguses võimalusega, et päris erialast tööd ma ei leia, sest AIESECi baasis ei ole just liiga palju tekstiili- või moeettevõtteid. No on, aga need asuvad Türgis ja Indias, mille tööstiili ja arenemisvõimalusi ma natuke pelgasin :) Viimaks leidsin oma praeguse firma ning kuna minu profiil sobis neile ideaalselt, siis oli asi päris kiirelt otsustatud. Konarliku saksa keele praktiseerimine ja parandamine tundus ka vastupandamatu võimalusena.

Ettevalmistusperiood kulges kiiresti, leping sai sõlmitud juunis, septembri alguses pidin juba olema Halles. AIESEC määrab uutele praktikantidele alati buddy ehk sõbra, kes sul uues keskkonnas kohaneda ning asjaajamises aitab. Korteri leidsin endale läbi interneti ise, buddy vaatas üle ning vormistas lepingu. Pangas ja linnavalitsuses käisime aga koos, sest sealsed inimesed väga inglise keelt ei mõista ja minu saksa keel ei olnud alguses nii hea, et bürokraatiast aru saada. Tulles Eestist, kus ma bürokraatiaga väga harjunud ei ole ning alati saab asju ajada kuidagi lihtsamalt (ehk peaaegu alati interneti või vähemalt meili teel), siis Saksamaal on suhteliselt kindlad reeglid ning dokumendid, mida sa pead omama ja mida tulles tegema. Aga EU-liikmetele kehtivad reeglid ei ole midagi ülejõukäivat, seega kulgesid toimingud võrdlemisi kiiresti ja valutult ning ma sain täisverelise praktikandi elu alustada.

Töötajaid on meie ettevõttes minuga kokku neli, seega tunneme üksteist ning meist on saanud hea meeskond. Iga nädal algab koosolekuga, kus viiakse ennast kurssi vana ja uuega, jagatakse ülesandeid, arutatakse läbi probleeme. Töökeeleks on meil saksa keel ning aeg-ajalt pean kõvasti pingutama, et kõigest aru saada, sest kohalik dialekt oli minu jaoks alguses päris ehmatav, no vähemalt 70% jutust jäi ikka väga arusaamatuks. Nüüdseks on mu kolleegid mõistnud, et minuga tasub pigem seda “õiget” saksa keelt rääkida. Alguses arvasin, et tööl suhtlen pigem inglise keeles (kogu eelnev kirjavahetus oli olnud inglise keeles), aga selgus, et pooled kolleegidest seda ei mõista. Olen saksa keelt koolis mõned aastad õppinud, mistõttu ei olnud kohanemine väga raske ning tegelikult ongi keele selgeks saamisel oluline pidevalt harjutada, vigu teha ja lihtsalt keskkonnas viibida. Kolleegid on mul suurepärased ning ei tee mu tobedatest vigadest väljagi, ühele neist andsin kohustuse mind kogu aeg korrigeerida. Kehakeelt olen samuti kõvasti arendanud ja nagu ma kuulnud olen, siis 90% meie kommunikatsioonist toimubki läbi mitteverbaalsete kanalite.

Meie firma valmistab luksuslikke tekstiili- ja pabertapeete ning kotte trükitud kangastest. Tehnoloogia, mida me kasutame, on välja töötatud meie disaineri poolt ning on väga põnev ja uudne. Kangas metalliseeritakse ning töödeldakse seejärel oksiididega, mis metalliosakestega reageerides jätavad kangale rooste/patina efekti. Kindlasti olete näinud kujusid, mis aja jooksul muutuvad ilmastikutingimuste tõttu roheliseks või hakkavad roostetama – no midagi sarnast üritame me teha kanga ja paberiga protsessi lihtsalt kiirendades. Tooted valmivad käsitööna meie töökojas ning on pika eksperimenteerimise tulemus. Ühe tapeedipaani (5m) valmistamisele erinevate protsesside tõttu kulub tunde ning see põhjustab ka toote kõrge hinna. Olen kogu protsessi tundma õppinud ja saanud töökojas ka ise trükivärvidega katsetada.

Mina töötan peamiselt loovülesannete kallal – disainin kangaid ja tapeete, brošüüre ja flaiereid. Seejuures on mul palju vabadust ning võin alati teha ettepanekuid ja anda nõu, kui leian midagi muutmist vajavat. Töökoormus on väga erinev, mõni päev tuleb mitu kiiret projekti korraga ja siis võib olla jälle paar nädalat rahulikku aega, kus tegelen uue kollektsiooniga. Ma tunnen, et mind usaldatakse palju ning sellega kaasneb ka kohustus olla oma töös väga hea. Keegi mind otseselt ei kontrolli, mistõttu ei saa ma kuskil silma kinni pigistada vaid pean jälgima, et minu töös vigu ei tekiks, sest vastasel juhul läheks ma ettevõttele palju maksma. Ma tunnen, et mind võetakse pigem kui täiskohaga töötajat mitte kui algajat, kellele antaks tavaliselt vähem tähtsaid ning pigem rutiinseid ülesandeid. Siin mängib suurt rolli ka praktikandi iseloom ja oskused, sest kui oled ise aktiivne, küsid ja teed tööd hästi, siis tuleb usaldus ja suuremad kohustused. 

Lisaks disainimisele ja katsetamisele kangaste ja tehnoloogiatega, kuulub minu ülesannete hulka potentsiaalsete klientide leidmine ning andmebaaside koostamine ning turundusalase nõu andmine. Kuna firma on vaid aasta tegutsenud, siis näen ma kogu ettevõtte kasvamise protsessi, nii apse kui õnnestumisi. Oleme käinud messidel Viinis ja Leipzigis, märtsis ootab ees sõit Stuttgarti. Messidel on minu ülesandeks meie tegevuse tutvustamine ning tekitada klientides vastupandamatut soovi meie tooteid endale soetada. Ma armastan oma tööd ning hetkel juba kaalun, kas ei peaks siia kauemaks jääma, sest mitu projekti on käimas ja kuidagi poolik tunne jääks lahkuda ilma nägemata käega katsutavaid tulemusi.

Tööpäevad veedan mõnusas Halle linnas, nädalavahetused on ringireisimiseks. Halle on Leipzigist 20-minutilise rongisõidu kaugusel ning parajalt suur, et igav ei hakkaks, ja samas parajalt väike, et rattaga ringi liigelda. Elan koos kahe disainitudengiga boheemlikus kunstiinimeste linnaosas 3-toalises korteris. Rohkem suhtleme nädalavahetustel ja õhtuti, kui valmistame koos õhtusööki ja vaatame saksa kriminaalsarju. Enne tulekut polnud mul aimugi, kellega koos elama hakkan, kuid oma korterikaaslastega on mul väga vedanud – puuduvad igasugused reeglid ning kord, kuid kõik laabub iseenesest. Mõnikord tuleb küll ette, et köök on natuke segasummasuvila, aga meie sõbralik ja vaba olek kaalub selle igati üle ning üks minu lemmikütlustest ongi – korras maja on märk raisatud elust! Lisaks teeb üks neist suurepäraseid küpsiseid, mis on mulle eluliselt vajalikum kui võitlemine meie loomingulise korralagedusega :) 

Sakslased, kellega ma peamiselt lävin, on mõnusalt pingevabad ning sõbralikud, vahel küll liiga tagasihoidlikud ja oma arvamust mitte valjult välja ütlevad. Lisaks minule on Halles selle aja jooksul olnud viis erinevat praktikanti, kellega on hea muljeid vahetada ning aega veeta, jagame ju samu emotsioone ning kogemusi. Koos oleme käinud Oktoberfestil, Berliinis, Dresdeni jõuluturul, Poolas Auschwitzi vangilaagris. Kohalik AIESECi grupp hoolitseb praktikantide eest hästi, meid kaasatakse alati üritustesse ja tegemistesse. Samas olen veendunud, et praktikale suunduv inimene peaks olema piisavalt iseseisev ja algatusvõimeline ning mitte lootma igas olukorras teiste abile. Initsiatiivi tuleb näidata sageli, sest mina olen see, kes oma kohalolekut siin tõestama ja õigustama ning Saksa elu, tavade ja erinevustega kohanema peab. 

Ma naudin oma praktikat väga – töö on huvitav, kolleegid ja sõbrad on suurepärased ning Halle on just sobiv paik elamiseks. Palju räägitud kultuurišokki ei ole ma veel kogenud ehk seetõttu, et olen oma tudengiaastatest poole veetnud välismaal õppides/töötades ning kiiret kohanemist vajavate olukordadega harjunud. Soovitan kindlasti kõigil, kellel huvi kuskil mujal oma võimeid proovile panna, seda ka teha. Kogemus, mille annab võõral maal endaga hakkama saamine, tuleb tulevikus kasuks nii tööalaselt kui eraelus. Mind on see muutnud enesekindlamaks, avatumaks, otsustusvõimelisemaks, andnud hulga kontakte ja ideid, mida lähiajal korda võiks saata. 

Nii et nüüd on aeg hakata mõtlema, millisesse riiki sina minna tahaksid!

Piret Mellik

Sunday, March 1, 2009

International internship producing entrepreneurs

Just thought that here in the middle of those shiny and adventurous living-abroad stories, would be great to give an example where this journey could take you - how to use your personal network of contacts to establish your own business.

Three young guys (two former and one current AIESEC member) established a community-based ecotourism company that is offering unique trips in small groups to Kazakstan and Croatia. Those trips are built on the personal relations that they have managed to get during their international experience. 

Living and working through AIESEC experience a year in Kazakstan and around half a year in Croatia gives a good opportunity to establish relations and find useful contacts in order to start your own business based on that. Those trips are so authentic only because they are created together with local partners in hosting countries. Large tourism companies that doesn`t have this kind of close touch to hosting community cannot offer anything like that.

If you are interested what is it more about then visit the web-page Reisid Vabadusse