by Imge Ciftci (YES '22, Turkey, placed by Greenheart in Lakeville, MN)
Not knowing what I wanted to do with my life, I applied to the YES program. Getting my finalist email still remains one of the happiest moments of my life.
The very first thing that the YES program has taught me was patience. From the selection process itself to the program being delayed due to COVID, I learned that good things take time.
As everyone’s experience is unique, mine was about finding my true “home.” I think home is not just a piece of soil. It’s a piece of our soul so that we can find a sense of belonging in places, people, activities or even in situations. My host family, my host school, friends, things that I enjoyed doing, and my host community – all were a piece of my soul by the end of my stay.
A couple of months into my exchange year, I realized that home could be a new town, a new city, or a new country where you feel like you are nobody and yet somehow this is the most connected you’ve felt with the world. I felt deeply rooted to the newness of this space almost like I was breathing for the first time.
I found my second home with people that opened their home to me and called me their daughter. They taught me what it meant to be a family. I now know that it’s not just about coming from the same blood, but about love and affection. It is about feeling safe in their presence, knowing that they will support you, protect you wherever you are, even if that means you’re 6000 miles away. I will always be grateful for them.
Then there were challenging times that brought “home” to a completely different perspective. I’ve faced the harsh truth that not everyone in the world has positive opinions about my country. I’ve dealt with situations that required me to be diplomatic and respectful towards others’ opinions. Those experiences taught me to be a good observer and listener, and to always look at both sides of a situation to make the best decisions. I’ve done my best in being an ambassador of my country.
Attending Civic Education Week and meeting State Department officials was the highlight of my exchange year. Until then I didn’t know what I wanted to do in the future. I was inspired to become a diplomat by the challenges I went through, the people I met (especially exchange students from other countries) and the wonderful experience I had.
When I returned to Turkey, I realized that home could also be simply an act of doing something that you love, and in doing so you find your own tiny home. I often found myself advocating for people of other cultures. For me meeting them was a little bit like being in love because suddenly all your senses are turned on. Suddenly you’re alert to the secret patterns of the world and realize that no matter what we look like, what we believe, or what languages we speak, we all want a place where we can be free to be who we are. This was what made me want to work on breaking stereotypes and contributing to peace in the world.
The real voyage of discovery, as Marcel Proust famously said, consists not in seeing new sights, but of looking with different eyes. And of course, once you have new eyes, the old sights, even your home become something different. Thanks to the YES program I feel like I’m not just a citizen of my country, but someone who is responsible for making the world a better place. I’m so excited to work with the YES alumni to do so.