The World Came Full Circle
When I was 15 years old I have the privileged opportunity to take part in an exchange student program to Adana, Turkey. This experience has defiantly had one of the greatest effects on my life. I learned more than I ever thought possible and my eyes were so open that at times it felt exhausting, taking in all this new found information. My journey to this adventure was not an easy one.
I grew up in a predominately white and Christian community. There was no diversity, no interracial interactions of any kind. My mother and father did not raise me in this environment on purpose it was just where they were born and raised and so they stayed close to be by family and community support. My mother is a very open and loving individual, she welcomes anyone into her home. So I was not raised to be a racist or have certain basis but I realized in my time in Turkey that my society had pre-conditioned me to be afraid of people with different color skin, to be skeptical of them. Again, no one had ever told me to be uncomfortable or reserved with people of color it was just the way my world was with no diversity and no conversations of diversity either.
The reason I mention this is to paint a picture of how almost crazy it sounded to my friends and community that as a 15 year old white very religious girl I was going off to a strange land. I was not even going to the capitol of the country which was known to be a bit more liberal and open minded. I was going to the south, just an hours drive from the Syrian border.
However, I needed an escape. My dad has high functioning autism which has never been treated due to his age- he was born a few generations too late for the knowledge to help him. Due to his he cannot function in society without the aid of others. My whole life he was in and out of jail due to theft mostly and work fraud. At the age of seven my parents divorced and I took on the role of the husband and father for my mother. She was a single mom who worked four different jobs at once and I was left at home to take care of my little brother who himself has diagnosed high functioning autism. My mom did the best she could to help him live the best independent life possible but they were like fire and gasoline, never got along. This created an environment for me that for years was totally unbearable. At age 14 I knew that I needed to get out of this chaos.
So I applied for the year abroad. I did all the paper work myself, set up the interview to meet the liaison who meets with me to help find a good host family that would fit my style. I also applied for the scholarships and raised money for the remaining amounts not covered in the scholarship funds.
I was lucky enough to be able to go to Adana, Turkey. It changed my life, make me realize that I am a strong women and I can do very hard things. I learned that no matter what color our skin is, what gender we identify with, what our social- economical class is we all want the same things. We want to be loved, have purpose and have our basic needs (food, shelter) meet. I was able to talk and interact with such a variety of individuals and was able to easily come to this conclusion. This helped me to see the individual and not the society or culture as a whole. Everyone interprets their traditions, culture, religion and countries values in a different way.
I also learned that I am very small in this big world and there is so much to learn. There is no way we can judge or make assumptions because we have no way to see the big picture. There is no way to actually walk in another shoes. Therefore we must reserve judgment and know that everyone has their own story and I can do my best to be educated, read books, take classes, live with a variety of people but I can never really know it all. There is so much knowledge in this world and it is beautifully overwhelming.
My biggest take away from this wonderful experience is that, it is not good, not bad just different. This has stuck with me as I have been away from this adventure for ten years. When I encounter a situation or a person who I have a hard time connecting to, who I make snap judgments about, when I hear about a group of people doing certain things I do my best to reserve judgment because I cannot possibly know their story and for me if I can approach it as just different I can have a more open mind stive to understand instead of reacting and judging. I thank Turkey for my strength, knowledge and love for this wonderfully diverse world.