On a different post I both criticised and praised volunteering tourism. I still stand by the opinion that often volunteering created harmful results rather than positive. Yet, from my experience I believe that volunteering can teach people of love, understanding, respect, and hope. This post is of how I came to learn that love always makes everything better.
Hurtful actions harm people deeply and generate a long-lasting hatred. Similarly, often nations, because of historical reasons, can easily teach their people to hate certain nationalities.
My country has been through many wars and was colonised for hundreds of years. Because of this, I was taught to hate my country’s offenders without even a hesitation. Undoubtedly, I cannot fault my state or my parents about this. Because for instance, my father has fought during the war in 1974 when the Turkish troops invaded Cyprus and lost many of his comrades, as well as, his sister-in-law and niece.
But at some point, you think to yourself should I really hate a five-year-old kid that never did anything to me merely because of their nationality.
By the age of eighteen, I was living abroad and had friends from all over the world. But it was at the age of twenty-one that I realised I was still not open and comfortable with everyone.
In the summer of 2015, I participated in an international volunteering project in South Korea. One of the other participants was from Turkey. The hateful nationality that I learned to despise since I could remember myself. It was the first time I felt uncomfortable and had no idea how to react.
When we had our first meeting, I realised that similar to myself, he also felt unconfident and unsure of himself. That gave me the push to smile and simply introduce myself like any other regular person. It might sound simple and ridiculous that I am emphasising this, but our nations’ issues are not in the past. They still exist hence the uncomfortable atmosphere.
During the first day, we probably didn’t talk much and only gave affirmative replies and nods when needed. But then gradually, we started communicating more and became more relaxed around each other to the point of discussing all kinds of topics and even our countries’ issues.
As we were on an international workcamp, one of our primary tasks and purposes was intercultural exchange. By discussing our cultural attributes, we came to realise how similar we were. From food to behavioural habits such as celebrations and weddings. Although that was not surprising. Even though our history might be painful and bloody, our nations have been side by side for hundreds of years, hence the similarities. And undoubtedly, when in a different environment, you come to be closer to the one who is more like yourself. And indeed, we came to become good friends.
The most significant memory from our time in South Korea was the international dinner organised by the village we were staying at. We were tasked to make traditional food from our respective countries. Again, somehow, by coincidence, we managed to think of the same food and decided to go for it.
Cooking together allowed us to feel the weight of cultural understanding and togetherness. I remember both of us calling our moms for the recipes and how both, although surprised that we were going to cook together, they mostly found it amusing. Furthermore, we prepared a delicious dish that everyone loved, and that made us happy. We were thrilled and satisfied because the people there had no idea how, in the beginning, both of us were hesitant in even talking. But here we were cooperating and making people happy with our traditional food.
After the workcamp, I got to discuss my experience with my family. I told them how I made friends with a supposed enemy, and frankly, I was stunned by my parents’ response. Both were positively acceptant and understanding of how easily we became friends. They could understand that children should not be affected by the past. In fact, they were proud that I was openminded and did not let myself feel discomfort by being close to this person. But the same goes for my friend. I am thankful that I met someone who was also thoughtful.
Indeed, the history and the pain of my people cannot be forgotten, but that doesn’t mean I should not move forward. Hate already created hurtful situations, and clearly, it cannot solve anything. Hate will only bring more pain and fear. Therefore, undoubtedly, it is time for love to prevail. We certainly should teach younger generations the painful past but also point out the mistakes of hatred, discrimination, and war. And let them have opportunities to learn about other cultures before creating their own views.
I will always be thankful for this experience because it made me realise my mistake of distrust and discomfort of others simply because of stereotypes. Stereotypes are indeed lethal and can easily bring forward wrong opinions.