The Beginning; Part 1

Back in October, I received an interesting email that caught my eye.  It was a chilly fall day; I was dozing away in the comfort of my grandma’s house.  Out of the blue I began to scroll through my email, an attempt at a productive afternoon.  It was my first time back in a while and I was enjoying my fall break immensely. The subject header of the email stated in unapologetic bold Helvetica, “Opportunities Abroad”.

This was how I first learned of the Kennedy-Lugar YES Abroad Program.  Yes was started 10 years ago after 9/11 to rehabilitate dialogue between the US and counties with prominent Muslim populations.

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I had not heard of student exchange much before. Growing up in my small New England town, which strays little from tradition, my perspective of the world has been primarily limited to the interactions with my town of 15,600. Though I’ve met truly wonderful and inspiring people, I am beginning to wonder of the many cultures and peoples unrepresented in my community at large.  So, this is why, against my better judgment, I decided to open the email, and that was the beginning of my obsession.

My grandma was reading the newspaper next to me. Without any inhibitions, I yelled enthusiastically, “I’m going to go abroad!” There was a moment of silence, followed by a befuddled blank face. You see, her initial reaction was not exactly affirmative.

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Talya, she said, “Are you INSANE? (For the record, I am only slightly insane.) I tried to forget about it. Moments later I felt an impulsive urge to call my mom at work. How do you feel about me going away for a little while?

“How long is a while…?”

So for the time being it was best to suppress these feelings until another time in my life.  At the end of fall break, I went back to school excited to begin another term and really immerse myself in my classes. That is until one forsaken afternoon I suddenly remembered the application. To my surprise the submissions were not due for some time.

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Without any further delay, I clicked the download form and proceeded to start the application. When I called my family once again, I think they realized how hard it would be to deter me at this point. After all, my chances of receiving this scholarship were pretty slim.

Later, my grandma told me about my great grandfather’s travels, though his route was quite different.  At 16, he bid farewell to the Pale of Settlement of Eastern Europe and left his family on a large steam-liner, never to return again. Humans have always paved migration streams through this earth and for better or worse, I think we always have some desire to explore the world outside of our comfort zone. Maybe the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree for me.

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Traveling has always been something I’m really passionate about. Since I was little I have always looked at my identity in a more global perspective. I was never much good at compartmentalizing parts of my self and conforming, so rather, I tried to embrace my entire identity and develop a more unifying rather than polarizing out look of the world.  I love my culture very much and have always been fascinated by religion itself. Many people often carry prejudices or assumptions of major cultures and religions, but I would like to lay this hate to rest through love and understanding.

I finished my application for YES in great haste. Semi-finalist notifications were to come out at the end of February. I went on with my daily routine. By that I mean running from classes, to theater, (maybe even shoveling a little cow manure in between.) *Oh yes, my school is on the premises of a working dairy farm. Mooooo!!

Finally, on February 29, I received an email informing me of my semi finalist status and the In Person Selection Event (IPSE) notification. You should have seen my face; I was EXUBERANT, running up and down the hallways of my dorm singing at the top of my lungs.

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As March came around, I was left to wonder what the IPSE would be like. About a week before the program, I received my ticket to Chevy Chase, Maryland, perhaps one of the most nerve-racking weeks of my life.  Though the interview was intimidating to say the least, the experience as a whole was incredible. The students I talked to were some of the most compassionate and thoughtful human beings.  All of these people were so open about themselves and just generally very spirited individuals. It truly was a wonderful weekend and I made so many genuine friendships that I really hope to pursue onward.

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