Emma Dunlap

On a trip to Azerbaijan I met the three students below. During a global journalism conference this summer, I decided to ask them to write articles about their experiences both living in Azerbaijan and traveling around the world.

Javahir Ahmedova, 17 years old

From Baku, Azerbaijan

Summer of 2012 exchange student to Seattle, Washington

I have had the chance to visit the U.S. twice in my life and currently live in Sydney, Australia. The U.S. and Australia are very similar in many ways, especially because they are both young countries in comparison with Azerbaijan. The U.S. as well as Australia is very diverse and the people are very easygoing and open-minded. When comparing Azerbaijan to these two countries, there is a huge contrast between them. Differences arise firstly because Azerbaijan is an ancient country, which has always been inhabited by Turks (who are ancestors of modern Azerbaijanis) while America has welcomed many foreigners since its’ founding. The U.S. is very diverse while Azerbaijan is mostly populated by just Azerbaijani people with the same heritage. Azerbaijani people follow their traditions, appreciate their culture, and are very conservative in their views. It is not common for Azerbaijanis to marry people who were born outside Azerbaijan, which may not be accepted by some people in our society. Nonetheless, I think it is a good “tradition” as we need to preserve our culture and enhance the unity of our nation. Azerbaijani people are very tolerant and appreciate and accept any newcomers. In U.S., I noticed there is no such separation and people don`t try to identify people with the same background and roots.

I started appreciating my culture and traditions after returning from the U.S., which should not be forgotten during the movement towards the modern world. It would be a huge loss to forget our heritage and values. Azerbaijani people are very attached to their families and have a huge respect for their parents. In Azerbaijan, adults don`t just come to visit their parents on holidays but try to spend as much time as possible with them. Americans love their families but they move out at very young age and often don`t have such a strong attachment to their parents. But this is neither bad nor good, just very different from our cultural norms.

What I appreciated about Americans is their ability to their reserve judgments of other people and not form prejudices based on the appearance and social status of a person. Most of all, learning how to reserve judgment of others is what I think our people need to do. Furthermore, Americans don`t fuss about how they look compared to Azerbaijanis. Unfortunately people in Azerbaijan, especially in its capital, Baku, take a lot of time and effort to present themselves in the “best way” and therefore hide who they really are.

The experience of living in the U.S. and Australia has showed me how to appreciate my culture, traditions and values. Understanding these things are crucial to learning how understand and be yourself.

Tima Mzh, 17 years old

From Baku, Azerbaijan

Summer of 2012 exchange student to Mesa, Arizona

There are a lot of differences between the U.S. and Azerbaijan in terms of both social and political norms. Azerbaijan is a Muslim country. Even though our country is very modern and advanced alike to any other European country, we still have a lot of Asian traditions and manners. That is because Azerbaijan is a country where the east and west come together. Our land is very prospective and our nation has a great future. We are improving day by day. On the other hand the U.S. is one of the most developed counties in the world. The way of life in the U.S. is much more comfortable because the economy is way more developed than in Azerbaijan.

But despite the fact that our countries are so different, we still have a lot in common. Meeting a lot of American teenagers and getting to know them helped me understand how many similarities we have. We listened and liked same music. We watched movies that we all connected to. In these situations it’s really easy to understand that even if we live in different parts of the world and practice different cultures, we still can easily find a way to communicate with each other. Language may be a barrier sometimes, but even just a smile or a simple “Hello” can show all the feelings that people want to express.

Being an exchange student gave me a new perspective. I started to see the world differently. The first couple of months I was comparing everything between our two countries. Then I decided to use all the knowledge and experience from traveling to improve my country. I have participated in a lot of different volunteering projects. I have tried to use the leadership skills we learned during our exchange to encourage and collect others to take part in these projects. I told a lot of stories about my adventures in U.S. to other people, sharing how different peoples’ lives can be. Being an exchange student helped me realize that it’s really important to learn how to see the world differently.

Siara Yusifova, 18 years old

From Baku, Azerbaijan

Summer of 2012 exchange student to Seattle, Washington

People in America and in Azerbaijan are very different from each other. Americans love simplicity and seem to enjoy every second of life and will easily show their emotions. However, in Azerbaijan, people are much more discreet; they sometimes don’t show their real feelings. For that reason, at some moments it may be difficult to really understand or get to know that person. Something that I truly loved about the U.S. during my stay was that strangers would start talking to me while I was walking on the street or just sitting in the park. In Azerbaijan, people never talk to each other if they are not acquaintances.

After visiting the U.S., I realized that exchange programs should be more available in Azerbaijan because we have so many talented youth who can make the future of Azerbaijan bright. Unfortunately, many of these families of these children are of low income, so they cannot improve their child’s abilities by sending them abroad to learn and experience other cultures and nations. For this reason, after becoming an exchange student I understood that youth are the future and our country needs to invest more in these kinds of opportunities for them.

My experience as an exchange student has helped me realize that I want to travel a lot in order to meet people from different societies, share my culture, and learn about theirs.

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