By Jacquelyn Harms

Two years ago, I traveled to the beautiful country of Turkey to be an intern for a non-profit that worked with children with disabilities.

When people asked me why I chose Turkey as opposed to places like France or Italy, my answer was easy. I wanted to be immersed in a culture completely different than my own. I wanted to engage with the unfamiliar. I had never been to a place with a religion predominantly different than my own or a place that wasn’t westernized. I was excited to experience a new place with completely different values than what I was used to.

I stayed with a host family in Turkey. My days were bookmarked with sharing our experiences and stories over meals cooked by my host mother. I grew especially close with my host sister-she taught me all about growing up in Turkey, as well as the political landscape in Turkey. As an international affairs and political science major, it was very interesting to me to hear this from a Turkish citizen as opposed to pages of a textbook. I gained a perspective I never thought I would have.

She would also ask me questions about American culture and politics. We learned a lot from each other. However, I still remember those sweet moments when we would simply bond over small things. We would watch Turkish television and American television-we would laugh at the Kardashians and dance to Beyonce.

We still message each other to this day. During the Turkish coup last summer, she and her mother were the first thing that crossed my mind. Luckily, they were and still are safe. She would message me asking me questions about the 2016 election and Black Lives Matter, while I would ask her about President Erdogan. I truly have made a connection that is thousands of miles away from me, and I full intend to keep that connection.

During my time in Turkey I was in environments I had never experienced before. There were beautiful mosques on every corner, and I had happened to visit during Ramadan. It was interesting experiencing this religion and holiday in a way a book could never could show me. I’ll always remember standing outside on my host sister’s porch. Her apartment perched on the top of a hill, so I could easily see all the apartments on the street below me. When the sun set and the mosques began calling out their prayers, I saw children that were playing on the streets drop their toys and run inside to eat. I saw families gather around tables, sing, and join together in a cooked meal. It was wonderful seeing all that unfold before me. It is something I will never forget.

By experiencing the unfamiliar, I have come across the familiar. Even though my host sister and I led very different lives in very different cultures, we still bonded together as human beings. This has only reinforced a lesson to me: that our similarities brings humans together more than our differences drive us apart.