It all happened so fast that I fail to recall how I prepared for my trip to Turkey. Yes, I was on my way to Turkey, the land once home to several empires in different time periods and known to be amongst the most promising and emerging economies of the world today.
Ever felt like taking a tour of the world, travelling country after country, exploring new places and cultures, and not to mention, interacting with people of different backgrounds? Well, I did all of the aforementioned tasks at one fell swoop! You might be wondering how I was able to achieve such a thing. Simple! I went on an international traineeship programme through the world’s largest student-run organisation, also known to young individuals all around the globe as AIESEC.
Getting to know AIESEC
Established by a group of European students after World War II, in the year 1948, AIESEC is the largest student-run organisation in the world today, and its vision is the ‘peace and fulfilment of humankind’s potential’. Currently, it is present in over 111 countries and territories, and 2100 universities, with a base of 60,000 active members around the globe. Focused on providing a platform for youth leadership development, AIESEC offers young people the opportunity to participate in international internships, experience leadership and participate in a global learning environment. What makes AIESEC unique is the youth driven impactful experience that it offers to its members. AIESEC is run by young people for the young people, enabling a strong experience to all its stakeholders. Furthermore, there are approximately 950,000 alumni members of AIESEC around the world, among which are well-renowned individuals like the former Presidents of the United States of America, Bill Clinton and John F. Kennedy. AIESEC was family to several other famous people like Mick Jagger (lead singer of the Rolling Stones), Kofi Annan (Former UN Secretary General), Janez Drnovsek (Former President of Slovenia), Joseph Deiss (Former Swiss Minister of Economy), and Martti Ahtisaari (Former Finnish President and Nobel-laureate).
AIESEC in Pakistan was founded in 2005, and is operating in the most accredited universities of the country, most of which are present in Islamabad, Karachi and Lahore. It aims to eliminate the negative perception people across the globe have developed against us, through its ‘Experience Pakistan’ campaign. This year, I was one of the lucky ones to get into AIESEC.
AIESEC – Of pluralism and tolerance
I was, thus, on my way to Denizli, a small city in Turkey, for a Development Traineeship Programme for a span of two months. I basically had to teach English to students, enrolled in universities and high schools. Elaborating further, it was more of a topic-specified programme, which included areas like ‘Understanding Body Language’, ‘Cultural Integration’, ‘Professional Goal Setting’, ‘Time Management’ and so on. The project was called ‘My Self – My World’. (An interesting point to note is that it was during teaching in Turkey that I discovered that Pakistan was the 6th largest English-speaking nation in the world! Surprising, isn’t it?)
On board were young individuals just like me, from 25 to 30 countries, covering China, Mexico, Slovakia, Hungary, Ghana, USA, Morocco, Serbia, India, Ukraine, Russia, Poland, France … and the list goes on! Getting to know these people in one place was an enriching as well as an exciting experience. It was an honour and a privilege for me to represent Pakistan, and being the face of my country as I got the opportunity to address all types of misconceptions and ideas that were present in their minds. I met fellow trainees who even thought that Pakistan was a total war zone with bombings after every square mile. To top it all, I also came across an individual who thought our country had no roads! And, addressing these people, telling them the truth gave me immense satisfaction.
Not only was I successful in changing peoples’ perception about Pakistan, but also engaged and contributed in discussions concerning our religion. People were often fascinated with the rich history and practices Islam holds. One of my good friends from China, who had no religion, so to speak, was eager to learn why Muslims fast (‘Oruc’ – pronounced ‘aur-ooch’ – in the Turkish language) for a whole month from sunrise till sunset. It was his first time ever that he gave it a try, and fasted for three consecutive days! Eventually, however, he gave in. Although I felt that he already possessed some of the qualities, he later on told me what he had learned during fasting: exercising patience, refraining from using inappropriate language, not having a drop of water or a bite to eat, and his personal favourite… the practice of family and friends gathering for a delicious iftaar meal. I even took him to a mosque and taught him how to perform ablution (wuzu) and offer prayers (Salat).
Living in Turkey, which was an immense learning experience altogether, was amongst the best challenges I have had to face in my entire life. I love Turkey and everything about it! I call it my second home. Also, today it is amongst the very few countries whose people still consider Pakistan as a brother country. People, in most cases, face culture shocks, feel alienated in a totally different environment and what eats them up most of all, is the homesickness. Surprisingly, I initially felt none of these!
It was a week or two later that I started feeling a little too far away from home, since I missed the desi food. Don’t get me wrong – it’s not that I didn’t enjoy the Turkish food. The shawarma there is delicious, I tell you! But, my desi food craving got to rest, thanks to my Indian friends and their packet masalas.
Zaban e yaraan mun Turki
Another heart warming experience was interacting with the parents of my Turkish students. Every family or friend I dined with made me feel as if I had been a part of their family since ever. We often engaged in discussions where I told them about how guests are given a warm treatment in our homes and are treated whole heartedly. While having these conversations, I soon realised that some of the words used in the Turkish language were very much similar in pronunciation and meaning to our Urdu, which is a blend of about five or so languages, founded to keep the regiments united with respect to the medium of communication. In a couple of weeks, I also got the hang of Turkish and spoke in it with my host family, my students and people at random.
We had days where we had to give a brief presentation about our country. This is the part where I used to ‘chill’. It was a piece of cake presenting about Pakistan. Thank God we have so much to talk about! As I was well aware of such activities being scheduled, I has taken two pairs of shalwar kameez and a flag for the presentation. On several occasions my presentations were regarding our history, way of life, our economy, famous individuals and popular sports and music, of which the most entertaining segment for the audience was the wedding culture of Pakistan. They were all highly fascinated by the gorgeous dresses, the bhangra dances, the mehndi and the other festivities that came along with a wedding.
I had a thrilling and fabulous time in Turkey. A summer I would never forget for as long as I live! During the two months I spent in Turkey, I met people from countless backgrounds, made friends I call family now, travelled and seen places brimming with rich and ancient history, attended an international conference where I was an ambassador representing Pakistan among approximately 500 delegates from 40 different countries, and I returned home creating a positive impression of my nation on the minds of hundreds of individuals around the world!
In my opinion, it is always better to be firm regarding your ideals and values but one should also be open to different points of view. We should understand and respect people belonging to backgrounds and realities that are different from ours. As Pakistanis, we should be proud of our nation, and make it a point to represent it with our hearts and souls, wherever we go. For, in the present trying times, where our country’s reputation is consistently being played with and abused due to the negative perception that the media is so eager to portray, the youth - which makes the majority of our country’s population - can really make a difference! So … what are YOU doing this summer?