October 31, 2019

Crossing Generational Divides

In Turkey, exchange alumni want to build professional relationships with each other. Ayşegül Çerçi and Kumru Selenge Özdemir, two alumnae who participated in exchange programs a decade apart from each other, are making that happen. They built a mentorship program to bring together alumni of two unique programs: the Hubert Humphrey Fellowship Program for mid-career professionals and the Kennedy-Lugar Youth Exchange and Study (YES) Program for secondary students.

Together, Ayşegül and Selenge played foundational roles in the creation of the alumni mentorship program. After Ayşegül, an alumna of the Hubert Humprey Fellowship Program in 2004, listened closely to the needs of the younger YES alumni and the ideas of the more experienced Humphrey alumni, she recognized the vast potential of bringing members of these two groups together to support the next generation of young leaders. Together with Selenge, she designed a three-month mentorship program, sponsored by the U.S. Embassy in Ankara, where Humphrey alumni would share their experiences with young YES alumni. After two years of careful planning, the program has proved to be a successful model of engaging and interacting with alumni across Turkey.

To strengthen the mentorship relationships, Ayşegül and Selenge developed a training program for the mentors and mentees, which outlined their respective roles and responsibilities. They recruited mentors and mentees from their respective programs, and currently there are 15 Humphrey alumni mentoring 15 YES alumni. “With the mentorship project, I had a chance to get to know Humphrey alumni closely and immensely benefited from their valuable professional experiences. I acknowledged that they are a very closely attached and highly accomplished alumni group as we, YES alumni, are” Selenge says. The results are already rolling in and some YES alumni have had conversations with their Humphrey mentors that have changed the course of their futures.

Their efforts are having an exponential impact. Based on the success and impact of the Humphrey and YES mentorship program, other exchange alumni communities, for example the Fulbright Program, the Professional Fellows Program, and the Community Solutions Program have started to build mentorship programs of their own.

In addition to her role establishing the mentorship program, Ayşegül has volunteered her time and expertise to other initiatives and served as the president of the Turkish Humphrey Alumni Association in 2014. She supports newly selected Turkish Humphrey Fellows throughout their entire exchange journey. She then advises and mentors returning fellows for their adjustment to work in Turkey and helps them share their U.S. exchange experience with a larger community.

Selenge is proud to build on and share the positive impact of the 2013 YES high school experience in Toledo, Ohio: “I enjoyed and learned so much during my exchange year. I have not only met many nice people from Toledo, the city where I spent my exchange year; but also had a chance to travel to different places around the U.S.; I still maintain my connection with other fellow exchange students. No doubt that my time in the U.S. left undeletable footprints on my entire life. All the skills gained during my exchange year still help me today and will be very useful as I undertake new social or academic initiatives.”

Upon her return to Turkey, Selenge became an active member of the YES Alumni Association, attending nearly every event. One event she worked on was a hike and clean-up of Ankara's only local reservoir to promote Earth Day. Because of her initiative, nearly 60 U.S. exchange alumni gathered at the reservoir and picked up nearly 1,000 pounds of trash. Additionally, Selenge promotes the YES program to potential applicants through outreach initiatives to government officials, principals, and high school students.

Thanks to the efforts of Selenge and Ayşegül, Humphrey and YES alumni are crossing generational divides to inspire and be inspired by each other.

Each month, the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs’ (ECA) Office of Alumni Affairs recognizes one outstanding alumnus or alumna. Congratulations to Ms. Ayşegül Çerçi and Kumru Selenge Özdemir on being named October’s 2019’s Exchange Alumni Members of the Month! We look forward to seeing what they will do next.