In honor of our 15th anniversary in 2017, Spirit Cultural Exchange launched its first Alumni Awards contest in August. Our goal was to identify and publicize former participants who have gone on to do significant things in their home countries and are/were particularly motivated by their SWT experience.
We received over 90 applications from past participants that have done great things since returning to their home countries. We got a variety of applicants… we heard from participants that now work for the government in their home country, some who became entrepreneurs and others who use their language skills to teach others English. But the one thing they all had in common was the impact the Summer Work and Travel experience had on their future.
After much consideration, we narrowed down our search and selected 11 finalists that we thought best exemplified the impact that the SWT program could have on an individual.
Our finalist, Soner Alayurt, is from Turkey who came on Spirit’s program in 2013. He discovered the carpet recycling industry while in the US and decided to use his engineering skills to start his own company in Turkey. Read more about his Work and Travel experience and his successful business, Hagelson, below!
Can you tell us more about your experience at Grand Canyon and your time on the program?
I went to Grand Canyon to work in the kitchen. The last month I worked as a line cook because one chef left so our Executive Chef asked if I could do this job. I made some Turkish food for them and they liked it. This was a very good experience for me.
Can you tell us about an experience you had or a person you met in the US that made an impression on you?
I meet with a lot of people from different cultures and this is a very different thing for me. In the US, there are many people from different cultures and you can learn many different things from them. This was very impressive. I learned a lot of things from their culture and life. I expanded my vision and I looked at the world from different windows.
How do you think your work and travel experiences changed your perspective of the US and Americans?
This was my first time abroad and it was exciting. Before I wondered how their life is. When I go over, there are many multicultural people living life together.
They know how to enjoy their life and that is very important for people. I took this opinion from them: “Life is too short and we need to get much enjoyment out of life”.
Can you tell us about Hagelson, the carpet recycling company you started?
Hagelson was established in March 2016 with support from the Scientific and Technological Research Council of Turkey ( TUBİTAK ). I won a financial fund for this project. Hagelson Works with carpet recycling, which I first learned about in during my time in the USA. As an engineer, this is something I was interested in so I researched how to do it in Turkey. After three years of hard work Hagelson was started. We collect old carpets from hotels our business buildings and we converted them to plastic raw materials.
We collect post-consumer carpets from hotels and business buildings, sort them according to base polymer types, extract polymer material from the waste carpets and produce recycled polymer raw materials from these extracts. These raw materials have a 99% purity ratio, and are used for new carpet production and automotive parts production.
It has a big impact on our environment as 400,000 pounds of carpet goes to the landfill in the USA and 200,000 pounds in Turkey. We need to grow as we are the ones that started this wave in Turkey and since it has a big impact on the environment.
This company is for the future of our environment, the future of our children and gives us happiness.
Why do you think cross-cultural exchange is important?
People doing the J1 program for the first time only know about their culture at home. In the US they can learn a lot of different cultures. They take a lot of things from the US back home with them.
It’s been 4 years since you’ve been in the US. What would you tell yourself if you could go back in time and give yourself some advice?
You need to practice English. If you speak good English in the US, you will make more friends.
You should also make good travel plans. America has a lot of good places and if you travel to more cities, you can see really different things.
I went to the US and I worked, traveled, and researched, and I did my research which is recycling in Turkey. I saw lots of things over there, experienced their culture and I implemented my vision.
I changed my life.