Some university students travel during their summers. Some work. Dimitra Kufudi did both.
The Memorial University student, in her third year of international business studies, wanted something to put her Spanish minor to use while helping to fill the four months of summer.
That’s when her friend told her about an internship exchange program through AIESEC Memorial. AIESEC (the acronym stems from the now unused “Association internationale des étudiants en sciences économiques et commerciales,” or “International Economic and Commercial Sciences Students Association”) is a student-run internship organization with chapters in more than 100 countries around the world, including at 28 Canadian universities.
“I said, that sounds like something I’d be interested in,” she said.
Once accepted, she started looking for jobs in Spanish-speaking countries, landing one as a soccer coach in Tandil, Argentina following a Skype interview.
“They said ‘you can come as soon as you’re ready.’ So I got up after my exams and I left,” she said.
It was Kufudi’s first time in South America, she said, leading to some culture shock.
“But I was welcomed perfectly by the AIESEC chapter there and they provided me with a place to stay in exchange for me coaching,” she said.
“I didn’t speak very good Spanish and I quickly realized that down in Argentina not a whole lot of people speak English, so it was a bit of a challenge at first. I just had to really step out of my comfort zone and realize that I’m going to make mistakes. After the initial shock, after a week or two, it was really, really amazing.”
It was amazing enough that Kufudi is planning a return visit in a couple of months. Her international business studies includes four months studying abroad, and she was accepted at the University of Chile.
Kufudi said part of her cultural education was in getting used to a more relaxed outlook on life, typified by appointments in which a person she was due to meet would show up 30 or 45 minutes late.
“It’s very relaxed, no pressure to be on time. I was very surprised by that,” she said. “I got used to that after a while.” Suppers are very late — 9:30 to 10:30 p.m., she said — and cooking together and family time is emphasized.
Kufudi coached youth from five to 15 years old in soccer for a non-governmental organization.
“They’re trying to get kids to have some more activities, stay out of trouble,” she said. “A lot of the kids that I coached didn’t have very stable families or anything.”
The kids were patient with her initially poor Spanish, which improved — just as she taught some English to friends and players — providing memories that she said will last forever.
“I ran to work every day, and this one time I ran, I went to work and came up to the soccer field, and one of the kids said to me, ‘You’ve gotten so good at Spanish, you used to not be able to talk to us,’” she said.
“He said, ‘Today I ran to work because I know that you ran to work, so I’m trying to be more like you.’ And he said, ‘I don’t think you should go back to Canada, you should stay here.’ I started to well up, emotionally.”