Arzu Geybullayeva ’00
Baku, Azerbaijan / Petaluma, CA

It is a little over a decade for me now since my dream-come-true experience. I was 16 and that year was life changing – in every sense of this expression. Eleven years later, I look back on my year spent in sunny California, and I am thankful for the opportunity I was given.

I was a sophomore during my exchange year. And so after a rich, fulfilling and full of great memories of some eleven months it was time to return home. I returned, graduated from my school a year later and got accepted to a university in Ankara, Turkey. My dream was to study International Relations, and so I did. Another amazing four years. Then came a Masters. A year spent in a city of dreams, professional experiences and rain, oh yes, I was in London for a year and a half getting my degree in Global Politics from the London School of Economics and Political Science.

In my last months prior to graduation I was looking for possible internship opportunities. After all, it was time to say good-bye to the comforts of student life,  as hard as it was to say goodbye to our library, computer labs and beloved professors and supervisors. I wanted to stay in London and get experience working at local civil society institutions – London was the hub for that kind of work. However, it was very hard. Being an international student placed me at the very bottom of the human resources ladder at most of these organizations.

In order not to get lost in job and internship applications I prepared a paperboard where I pinned up every single application.. And then crossed it off as soon as I would hear from them. The discouraging part was seeing how many places you would found interesting and worthwhile, while none of them would find you so – you know what I mean. It resembled in a way a one- sided infatuation.

And just when I was about to give up, a friend, also from LSE told me about a business consultancy/research company based out of Istanbul, Turkey. I didn’t hesitate, another opportunity- if I was to get the job, I was going to live in one of the most mesmerizing cities of the world not to mention start a proper job and finally earn the title of being a “grown- up.” And so, I applied for the job. I won’t lie: the whole period of  looking for jobs, internships, waiting for responses, going to interview after interview were not the best moments of my life. My visa was about to expire and the stress of it all – of not being able to find anything, failing and returning back home- were stressing me out to put it all gently.

After celebrating 2007 in London, my new year’s resolution was to stay positive and reassure myself of plenty of other opportunities if I was to return back to Azerbaijan. But once again, my life took a new turn. I got two internship offers from London and a job offer from Istanbul. I have to confess, this was no easy decision. I chose Istanbul.

My life continued to change after that decision. In fact, one decision, led to another bringing me to the present day. I now work as a freelance analyst and correspondent, co-directing a small NGO doing conflict resolution work. It’s called the Imagine Center for Conflict Transformation

I think one thing you learn going through all these difficulties of post- college, “grown- up” life is that no matter what happens, your ability and drive to move on must come from you. Of course, having the support of your friends and family is important. I think having other activities that would distract you would also help – waking, doing sports, reading a book. Basically, locking yourself up in a room going through application after application is not enough. I was doing volunteer work at the time. It made me feel useful.

At the end of the day, everything comes from within you. It’s tough and at moments like that it is easy to give up when you feel like there is nowhere to go or there is no light at the end of the tunnel. What you have to do is basically find (or dig out) new tunnels with new lights. In my case, my motivation came from friends, and endless activities in London, which are offered within a student budget, but most importantly from within. I knew that I couldn’t simply give up in the face of one job refusal, or two, or three. I also knew, staying home wasn’t going to make me feel any better either. And yes, it was hard, but think of the times when you first learned walking. It is not like you never felt right? That’s how I thought of the whole experience. After every fall there is a step that needs to be taken, and no one is going to make that step for you other than you.

Have I achieved everything I hoped for eleven years ago as I returned from the US? I don’t think I have. There is still a long way to go, but I am happy of where I am today. I am proud of my decisions. I am pretty sure, was it not for that one year spent as a FLEX student I would not have made those decisions. That year taught me to be independent, responsible and above all make my own decisions.  I always remember that experience as an educational year by all means.

I would definitely do it again if I  was 16 years old today.