Alumni Spotlight: Monica Luo


Monica is a 5th year Bachelor of Commerce/Bachelor of Laws student at the University of Sydney. When she was 19, at the end of her second year, she decided to embark on a Global Citizen program in Malaysia to challenge herself and discover her potential.

What made this experience unique and special?

This experience has been one that has made a fundamental difference to my life. It has helped me to find what my passions are, to truly become a ‘Global Citizen’, to be globally aware and to be a leader that can help address issues the world is currently facing.

Ever since the program has ended, I’ve taken numerous small steps towards becoming a better person for the world. Why travel or be a ‘voluntourist’ when you can do a program that actually contributes to making an impact on the world?

Describe your program socially and academically.

The program is designed to be a leadership development program – enhancing your global awareness, self-awareness and communication skills to become a responsible ‘Global Citizen’ that understands their responsibility towards global issues.

As a result, the program is distinctly different from other ‘voluntourism’ programs, but one where a position is created for a person with an important set of skills required by a school, NGO, organization etc. For the Global Citizen program, the types of projects are vast and each require their own set of skills.

However, generally they would like someone who can bring their experience to enhance the global awareness of those in the projects. For example, you could have a culture-sharing project, or teaching English, or running informative workshops on HIV/AIDs. My particular project was providing education (basic English, maths and science) at a shelter for disadvantaged youth.

I ran classes and workshops with four other people (all from different countries) on my project, learning from their different backgrounds as well as learning to work in a team to deliver our tasks. Many of the children were unable to attend school, and the role of the volunteers was to give them access to the world beyond what they knew. We helped the children learn about the world, our home countries, increased their confidence in writing and speaking English, and much more.

Therefore, while making an impact on their lives through education, I was also learning so much on an academic level. It was a practical leadership experience, complementing and enhancing my academic learning by challenging me in a foreign environment. I was able to navigate through working in a cross-cultural team, practicing my soft skills in communicating and presenting, and learning to do so effectively when English was hardly spoken.

What did your provider do for you and what did you need to do on your own?

At AIESEC, each exchange participant is partnered with a ‘buddy’ (called an Exchange Participant Manager) that keeps in contact with you throughout the process to ensure everything is going smoothly. Aside from the $700 administration fee, all participants need to find and pay for their own flights, visa costs and travel insurance.Depending on the program, food and accommodation can be provided free or at a small fee. For my project, accommodation and food was included (I lived with the children in the home).

AIESEC provided workshops and preparation classes before and after departure, access to previous volunteers and helpful tips regarding flights, visas and travel insurance. Their service continues throughout the entire exchange with constant communication from start to finish, with a welcome back event afterwards as well.

How has this experience impacted your future?

Working first-hand with such an issue (access to education) really opened my eyes to not take what I had back in Australia for granted.I felt a deep sense of responsibility to ensure that I use what I was lucky to have, to make a positive impact on the world. The experience challenged me to discover what I was passionate about, and where I wanted to make my mark on the world.

Understanding my purpose allowed me to excel at other endeavors following from my Global Citizen program, including securing a part-time casual job at the University of Sydney to balance with my study. I also became the Director of International Exchange at AIESEC in Sydney and was in charge of running the Global Citizen program on the University of Sydney campus.

I then became the President and Managing Director at AIESEC in Sydney, operating the social enterprise and business to develop entrepreneurial and responsible leaders in young people. My life goal is ‘to empower businesses to be sustainable and commit to making a positive impact on the world.’ Going forward, I am continuing to explore avenues where I can make this happen.