Just a couple thoughts to add to the list of replies on this very interesting, and very important, question:
First, given the structure and function of AIESEC, management of exchange is central to the taking responsibility and leadership roles, in that exchange - as a complex and challenging process - provides the work for our people to do while going through other elements of their AIESEC Experience. As I work on exchange, I go through the challenges of generating increasing quantity and quality, and so learn in the process.
There are a number of levels of learning that take place while on exchange. At the most basic level, a person learns about another country and culture. At a bit more of an advanced level, a person begins to see the underlying differences in ways of interpreting and valuing the world that result from the culture one is in. And at its most advanced, the individual on their exchange experience starts to challenge their own ways of seeing the world, and by assuming a fundamentally different worldview, they also gain a much deeper perspective on themself and on the world.
In fact, in studies of human growth, one of the properties of the growth process is that of being able to see from an increasing number of perspectives. It's like looking at a beatiful sculpture. If you look at it from one side, you see a bit, but to really see the whole sculpture, it requires walking around - or changing your perspective.
Being immersed in a different culture and environment for an extended period of time - such as what happens on an AIESEC internship - is one of the most powerful tools for 'walking around the sculpture.' Except in this time, the sculpture is one's self, and the world. There's a difference between gaining new knowledge (reading books, looking on the internet, or travelling to a place), and learning how to see things differently (being able to see through different cultural 'glasses'). This, to me, is why exchange is such a fundamentally important element of the AIESEC Experience.
And this is why we need to continue to work like crazy to create more internships for our people, and more people for our internships. It is a crucial part of the AIESEC learning experience, and working on exchange is a part of our own learning process.
I remember some of the most exciting times I had in AIESEC was when I was raising TNs back in my LC in Calgary. It was incredibly challenging, and that's why I learned so much.
Thanks for the question...
It very well articulates elements of the process I went through while thinking about, going, then coming back from Egypt. I'm beginning to wonder what my second adventure shall entail.