Rhea Pandey from the second year went to Egypt as a part of an AIESEC program and contributed significantly to the program there. It was a great experience for her and she got to learn and explore a lot through the program. For all those who love to travel and learn at the same time, AIESEC is the right fit for you. Rhea’s story is very inspiring and it makes me want to pack my bags and take a long vacation already. Here we are stuck in college, but this is one hell of a summer plan!
Q: Tell us about your experience in Egypt. What all did you do there?
A: I was working with an organization called Wildlife Masry (Masry means ‘being Egyptian’, just like ‘desi’ means being Indian). I got tons of exposure as I got to work on some exciting projects like the Red Sea Dolphin Project where I was organizing tours for domestic travelers to be up-close and personal with the dolphins in the Red Sea. I also worked with Nile Kayaking Club, which organizes bird watching while kayaking in the Nile! I was the official photographer and the point of contact for all queries and bookings. Other than that, I traveled extensively and saw quite a bit of Egypt. It is a highly underrated country, I must say.
Q: What did you learn in the program and how did you contribute?
A: Other than how to survive in a country where only a handful of people understand your language, I learnt so much in terms of photography while working with Watter Albahry, a wildlife photographer with Nat Geo. I also developed an interest for bird-watching as well as kayaking because these were absolutely new things for me and I was surprised at how much I enjoyed these activities.
Q: Why did you choose AIESEC over summer school?
A: Having been involved in volunteer work for several years combined with my love for traveling, I thought it would be a great opportunity. Furthermore, having seen ‘The Mummy’ a million times I had always been extremely fascinated with Egypt. I, in fact, did want to go to a summer school but I had to forego it because I wanted to work for a cause that had always interested me, which is wildlife.
Q: What are three things about Egypt that you like the most?
A: 1. The pristine red seaside. If you want to go to Egypt, now is the right time because the sea-side is untouched by civilization.
2. The diversity in geography spread across Egypt-hills, deserts, coastal areas.
3. The rich culture, both Christianity and Islam coexisting together
Q: What is the best memory you have of Egypt?
A: The best memory has to be going to Dahab, which is located in Sinai and seeing Saudi Arabia across the sea and receiving messages on your network, welcoming you to Saudi. Being in two countries at the same time was a very thrilling experience.
Q: Describe the local culture to us. Did you have a problem fitting in?
A: The local culture is very rich and it came out even more beautiful because I happened to be there during Ramadan. I had the opportunity to eat suhoor, the food eaten before beginning your fast again, all throughout Ramadan. The roads would be alive with life even till 4am because people would be sitting in cafes eating rich Egyptian food and doing sheesha. Something that is exceptionally fun is a boat ride in the Nile called Faluka, which can accommodate upto 50 people and on it plays upbeat music with people dancing on it! I went on the faluka at least a million times in my 6 weeks in Egypt. I tried a lot of delicacies ranging from pigeon to koshary. Language was a little problematic, but we learned quite a few words and phrases that we frequently used. Egypt is relatively safe for women and we did not encounter any issues particularly. There is a lot of security otherwise due to the internal conflicts but it did not hinder our trip in any way.
Q: What advice do you have for Ashoka students going for AIESEC programs?
A: You must go! I didn’t’t go to summer school, so I can’t be unfair and say which is better. But if you want to travel and volunteer abroad, AIESEC is a very exciting opportunity. The kind of local culture and everyday life you will get to experience through AIESEC will be very different from hostel life. Also, I realized that traveling shouldn’t be limited to first world countries and places such as Egypt, Croatia, Ukraine etc have so much to offer. Of course, for education, the US and UK make more sense. But if you want to have a wholesome cultural experience and want to get involved in volunteering, at half the costs, these are the places you should consider.
Q: How did Ashoka contribute towards your interests and learning there?
A: I was really iffy about Egypt earlier because it was under the state of emergency at that time. I had to choose between King’s College, London or going to Egypt. The latter was working out much cheaper and I could spend 6 weeks there, as opposed to 3 weeks in London. The internship, at the point, was much more inviting and I am glad I took that leap of faith. Anuja really helped me make this decision. She helped me get some scholarship amount for King’s, and left the choice to me.
Q: Do you think that Ashoka is a bubble? Why?
A: Ashoka is a bubble only if you want it to be. One can make the most of any opportunity even here, but one should be willing to do it. For me Ashoka is a runway for bigger things to come because you are constantly interacting with people who have done so many things and you can actually learn from them. If I want to learn about wildlife photography, I am sure I can find someone on campus or if i am interested in mountain climbing, I can ask someone else. The bubble is in our minds not in Ashoka per say.
Edited by – Nayanika Guha
All images are curated by Sanjna Misra