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April 14, 2010

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Social responsibility urged for students

FACING an intensely competitive job market, university students could be forgiven for feeling pessimistic. But such thoughts were far from the agenda at Shape Your Future 2010, a recent three-day conference about leadership, dreams and social responsibility.

The conference in Shanghai, which attracted more than 150 young people, was organized by AIESEC, the world's largest student-run organization dedicated to providing students with real-world experience through internships, exchange programs and other activities. AIESEC stands for Association Internationale des Etudiants e Sciences Economiques et Commerciales.

It has more than 35,000 members in a network coverings more than 100 countries. Members are encouraged to make positive contributions to society.

The event from April 9 to 11 drew mostly Chinese students from across the country, for a weekend of "reflecting on the past," "capturing the day" and "dreaming the future."

Delegates hurried through an intensive schedule of networking events, high-profile speakers and interactive sessions designed to help them share and digest their experiences and look to the future.

AIESEC exchanges at home and abroad had a profound impact on many participants. Cherry Cheng, who studies law at Fudan University, spent two months in Malaysia working with HIV/AIDS patients. Since returning to China, she has used her experience to change misconceptions about the disease and its transmission.


Dan, who is English and in his early 20s, was enthusiastic about his leadership development within AIESEC.

"What's the largest group of people you've ever managed?" he asked rhetorically. "I've led a team of over 250" on a mission in Colombia.

In one ongoing project started last year, AIESEC members, 12 international and six Chinese, went to Sichuan Province to teach a variety of subjects. It was lead by 22-year-old Jerry Zhu from Shanghai Jiao Tong University, who was president of the Shape Your Future conference.

Zhu says that in order to capitalize on their experience and talent, Chinese undergraduates should spend more time planning ahead. He observed that many fresh graduates lack hands-on experience and many lack drive.

And while AIESEC projects may give young people a competitive advantage over others, the conference didn't let delegates rest on their laurels.

"I was under pressure to make the second day of the conference all about industry experts and discussions of the job market," says Zhu, "but we were determined to place a real emphasis on social responsibility."

Keynote speakers questioned the relationship between wealth and success, while many delegates observed that there's more to happiness than a hefty pay packet.

Clara Shi and Ethel Wei said they were inspired by the speeches and Ethel summed up the mood.

"I've realized, really realized, that being happy will mean believing what I'm doing has real value," she says, and Clara agrees.

AIESEC is still establishing itself in Chinese universities, some of which remain tentative about its activities. Though the organization in China has expanded rapidly since joining the global network in 2002, a relatively small membership of just over 1,400 suggests a work in progress.


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