March 19, 2023

Attending ICYF volunteering forum in Antalya: why pursuing exchange opportunities matters

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alsu_abroad from Russia 🇷🇺

Attending ICYF volunteering forum in Antalya: why pursuing exchange opportunities matters

ICYF is an international organization that aims to bring together and empower young people through various programs and forums. I participated in the ICYF forum in October 2022 and will share my experience in this post!

First time abroad - Year Program

I began my journey abroad as a participant in the YEAR program for 2021-2022. Through this program, I spent 10 months in the United States, where I studied at Cowley College in Kansas State. The program allowed me not only to learn about the American culture but more importantly, to do volunteer work. For example, I completed 25 hours of community service, which included making emergency boxes for those affected by COVID-19 unable to leave the house. I also spent about 20 hours working at a store for people in need, and 5 hours helping with their social media and PR strategy.

I believe that it's crucial to always look forward and consider how we can get future opportunities. Many people might think that completing a YEAR Program is the end of the journey (since you are required to return home), but in reality, it's just the beginning. We now have international experience and international friends!

In the US for YEAR program
In the US for YEAR program

Searching for programs abroad

When I returned to Russia in May 2022, I felt like a different person. I had grown so much during my time in the United States, so I took an academic leave from my university to find new programs and opportunities.

During the summer, I applied to over 20 forums and exchange programs. I got tons of rejections but eventually received two acceptance letters. One of those opportunities was an international forum in Turkey that offered about 30 fully-funded spots. I was offered only a partial scholarship, which I couldn't afford, but the idea of going to Turkey to explore their culture and lifestyle stayed with me. I visited Turkey as a tourist before, but it was never enough to fully immerse myself in local life. I even applied for a Bachelor's program in Istanbul, and got in, but decided to complete my degree at my university in Kazan first.

How I found and applied to ICYF

I continued to search for opportunities in Turkey and eventually stumbled upon the Islamic Cooperation Youth Forum (ICYF) program on one of the Telegram channels. They provide lots of opportunities for young volunteers and ambitious students, one of them being a forum in Antalya, Turkey, in October 2022. I got very excited but had only two or three days left before the deadline to apply. I remember sitting in my grandma’s village, rushing to submit my application just two hours before the deadline. Having applied to many programs before, I had created templates for myself, which I used to piece together my application.

After submitting it, I eventually forgot about the program. During a vacation in Turkey with my mom, I checked my email and discovered I had been shortlisted. However, I still had to submit three more essays on topics related to volunteering, such as innovative ideas to help those in need and handling emergency situations. Given my history of rejections, I didn't set my expectations too high, but to my surprise, at the end of August, I received an email confirming my selection as a participant in the forum!

At the forum
At the forum

Advice on looking for opportunities

First of all, there are many websites like Erasmus for European exchange programs that post about new programs and forums. But for me, the easiest way to find these opportunities was through social media like Instagram accounts or Telegram channels. Here are a few that I use (some are in Russian):

Once you find such channels, you can create a list on your Telegram to separate your personal chats and opportunities. I have a separate Telegram account specifically for these channels, so it's easier to keep track of all the opportunities that come up.

You can also find some people or mentors who went abroad on the internet and ask for their recommendations about programs.

Application Process for ICYF

The application for ICYF was in English and required basic personal information, along with specific questions about volunteering. We needed to include our experience in volunteering, discuss key factors in modern-day volunteering, and explain how we can contribute. When I was shortlisted, I had to write more essays, and my questions became more in-depth, asking about volunteering in emergency situations and further improvement strategies.

In my responses, I included my experience from the YEAR exchange program, emphasizing that I didn't only volunteer in my home country, but also in the United States. I mentioned the challenges of volunteering in a foreign country, such as language barriers, accents, and instances where people were hesitant to accept help from an international student. I believe my international experience was a key factor in my successful application.

Funding

I had to cover the cost of my airfare, as it was the only expense not included in the program. They provided medical insurance, accommodation, airport transfers, and meals, but I was responsible for my flight tickets.

What happens at the forum

The forum took place from October 26th to October 30th, and over the course of four days, we participated in various activities. For the first three days, we attended lectures and sessions led by professionals from Turkey, including representatives from local municipalities. We also had cultural nights, where participants from various countries showcased their national dances, foods, and other aspects of their cultures.

One day of the forum was dedicated to a tour of Antalya. We went sightseeing in the city center, taking pictures and enjoying local food. We also visited the Yas Center, a sports and youth facility in Antalya.

What I liked about the forum

The forum was organized by an Islamic organization, which meant that participants came from countries with a predominantly Islamic populations. There were girls from Pakistan, Turkey, Lebanon, African countries, Palestine, and many others facing their own struggles and challenges. These volunteers had extensive experience, which was very valuable to me.

Although I already did volunteering in my own country, the forum provided an opportunity to discuss and learn about working with international organizations like the Red Cross. I’ve also listed to girls sharing their experiences with crises and challenges in volunteering within their countries. This prompted me to think about how I could contribute to my own country and help those in need. I am very grateful to have made new friends who are ambitious, talented, and dedicated to contributing to their communities.

Future plans to study abroad

Right now, I'm in my second year of studying for my bachelor's degree in Oriental Studies, focusing on the Chinese language and China in general. I had to take an academic leave for the YEAR program, so I still have two more years left at my university in Russia.

I really love traveling and experiencing new things, especially when I can learn something and participate in international programs. So, I keep applying to any opportunities I come across. Everything I do is to build my personal brand and enhance my CV, as I plan to pursue my master's degree outside of Russia. I'm not sure where I'll study yet, but I'm working towards it by preparing for international exams like TOEFL for English and HSK for Chinese.

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alsu_abroad
from Russia 🇷🇺

Duration

Oct 2022 — Oct 2022

General

Forum Participant

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ICYF

ICYF

Antalya, Turkey🇹🇷

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