Hosting with Academic Year in America (AYA) helps break stereotypes – not just for Americans, but also among international exchange students.
Living with host families in North Carolina, exchange students Mikayel from Armenia and Aslihan from Turkey (pictured above) were initially blinded by their home countries’ history of turmoil. However, they eventually saw past their differences and formed an unexpected friendship – paving a path towards a more peaceful future.
AYA Local Coordinator Melissa shares the exchange students’ story below:
Mikayel and Aslihan first met at my home during our student orientation. I like to have my entire student cluster over to build community and get to know one another. I often tell my students to pretend I’m a stereotypical ignorant American (okay, maybe it’s not that much of a long shot) and not judge me as I ask questions. I would like to think I’ve gained a lot of knowledge over the last few years as a Local Coordinator, but truth be told, I had a lot of ground to make up. It wasn’t until I began this journey as a Local Coordinator that I realized how little I knew about history, culture and the world at large.
Mikayel was a Christian scholarship student from Armenia, and Aslihan, a Muslim scholarship student from Turkey. Many of you already know where this may be headed if you know your history – but sadly, in my ignorance, I did not have the sense to know these two were already pitted against one another due to a history of genocide, hatred and war.
As the evening went on, I heard a tense conversation coming from my kitchen, and as I entered, I realized these two students were discussing who would and would not be welcome in their countries, how someone crossing the border would or would not be accepted and their thoughts on the matter.
As I handed out giant flags that evening for each of their countries and took photos, I noticed the disdain they had for one another and the way the other flags made their bodies tense. As the students took turns sharing about their cultures, they could not help but defend their country when the history of the others reflected poorly on their own. Their love, pride and respect for their own country ran deep – and to cross the bridge to accept the other felt deceitful to their own people.
In January, five months after their initial meeting, I had the opportunity to venture with Mikayel and Aslihan to California for an Academic Year in America orientation, and I could not help watching the two of them interact. Aslihan came up to me in the airport and said, “He’s changed – he’s so different than when he got here.” Throughout the weekend they spent time with 100 other students from all around the world, but when we got back on the airplane to head home to North Carolina, they sat next to one another sharing stories and laughing about adventures of their weekend.
To care about someone different than you does not mean you have to give up your allegiance to who you are – it means finding the spaces where you share similarity. These two young students have done the hard work to choose friendship over hatred and respect over spite. This is what it means to break down stereotypes. This is why we choose to host people from around the world who have different cultural backgrounds – because sometimes you make unexpected friends.
Help build bridges towards a more peaceful world – host an exchange student with AYA. Learn more about hosting today!