Blog post by Maggie Broderick, NGC’s Program Coordinator
In July, 2013, I traveled to Azerbaijan as an adult participant in an American Councils’ Youth Leadership Program (YLP). Before I began the application process, I wasn’t even able to locate this country on a map, which was what made me determined to go in the first place. I consider myself a globally aware person, and yet, I had no idea this rich culture even existed. For three weeks, I fully immersed myself in Azerbaijani life and pushed myself out of my comfortably padded box.
During college, I was able to travel to countries around the world including El Salvador, Costa Rica, Mexico and England, but Azerbaijan is by far the most culturally rich melting pot of them all.
Situated south of Russia and north of Iran on the Caspian Sea, Azerbaijan is a land of countless influences. Nine million people and 70 different ethnic groups inhabit Azerbaijan, which is about the size of Maine. Depending on who you ask, Azerbaijanis identify their cultural heritage as Eastern European, Asian or Middle Eastern. From my very first day, I was in awe of the diversity in Azerbaijan.
What I will remember most about my YLP experience is not the balmy weather or even delicious cuisine, but the hospitable, intelligent and inspiring hosts.
In Azerbaijan, I saw firsthand how quickly people can connect when they make the conscious effort to accept one another despite cultural differences and language barriers. As a result, lifelong bonds were formed between individuals from around the world who would never have crossed paths otherwise.
In a few weeks, Azerbaijani high school students will come to Washington and Arizona for a month. I cannot wait for the opportunity to welcome our foreign guests and continue our partnership to develop social entrepreneurship and volunteerism in both of our countries.
For more information:
Read the YLP participants’ blog here
Learn more about Azerbaijan here
Explore exchange opportunities here