Guven Elvan is a Spirit alum who came on our program in 2007. Upon his return to Turkey, he began working at a Summer Work Travel agency and after seeing the impact his work had on students he decided to start his own. Guven is the co-founder of Success International, one of Spirit’s partner agencies. Read more here about his SWT travel experience and about his journey to start his own business.
Can you tell us about your experience working at Murdick’s Fudge on Mackinac Island?
Living on the island is a different experience because I had never lived on an island before. Whenever you turned your head you see a lake. You don’t see any cars; there are only bicycles for transportation. It was a really good experience for me.
I was making fudge and I was almost a fudge expert. Even some Americans don’t know what fudge is so I was giving information to the customers. I know the traditional foods more than the local people. I think it is a good example of what cultural exchange programs mean.
Could you tell us about a specific experience or a person you met in the US that made an impression on you?
It was “Hi” and “Thank you” and I will tell you why. When I was walking on the road, everybody was saying to me “Hi, How are you?” It was very interesting because in my culture we don’t say hi to someone we don’t know. When I was living in the US, I started saying hi to people that I didn’t know and it was a really good start to communicate with people. And then I realized you don’t need any reason to say hi to someone.
Now I’m telling these experiences to my students during our orientation about American culture. I know this helps my students make connections with the people. It was a good experience that impressed me about the American culture.
Did your experience change your perspective on the US and its people? Why or why not?
Actually my perspective did not change. I already distinguished my criticism of US politics and diplomacy from American people. In Turkey, we have different regions and ethnicities, so I was used to separating people from politics and not judging others. Maybe that is why I already had an open mind when I came to the US. When I was in the US I met many wonderful people and some bad people as well. I still keep in touch with some Americans and some of them have come to Turkey to stay at my home.
Can you give us some background on what happened after you finished your final Work and Travel program?
I started working at an agency as a work and travel counselor. I was sharing my experiences with perspective participants. I worked there two years and then graduated from my university. Just before my graduation, I founded my company, Success International in 2009.
Can you tell us more about what inspired you to start Success in Turkey?
The Work and Travel program has changed my life…the things that make me upset, the things that make me happy, and it has changed my limits and expectations from life. Then I decided to help my people to change their life and expand their horizons by starting my own company. Everyone wants to work at a job they love and I do love cultural exchange programs. This is my inspiration.
What have you learned since starting your company?
We are sending students abroad not just by the cultural exchange program, we are sending students from all over the world. I know academic programs from all over the world. I have many good connections between universities as well. I have many colleagues from all over the world so I still keep learning from their cultures. I still keep learning with this industry.
What are some of the challenges that you’ve faced in growing your company and running your business?
I’ve faced just one big challenge and it is politics that we are facing with the US. Otherwise, we didn’t have any big challenge. We are good with our sponsors, our partners, and with our embassies.
Can you tell us why you think cross-cultural exchange is important to students?
The cultural exchange program creates an opportunity for cultural communication which is very important for the whole world. If two cultures had the chance to make connections between them in the past, I don’t believe we would see the big wars in the world. The cultural exchange program helps promote peace on the earth.
What impact do your students have on you?
The generation is changing and the newest generation is searching. I always learn something about my students as well. I’ve seen more than 1,000 students. I speak directly face-to-face with them and I still keep learning from them. And they affect me in a positive way!
What advice do you have for other people when they consider coming onto the Work and Travel program?
I can advise them to be rejoiced for everything. All the places they will go, and the jobs they will work. Particularly for the Work and Travel program, this is not a holiday for them. They are going to go and have responsibility to their employer. Also they should keep in mind to forget everything they learned from the television. This is not a TV series or a movie. These are only a small part of the US. They should be open-minded and they will have time to visit L.A., Miami, and NYC. There are more interesting places in the US that they can explore.
I always say to my students if you would like to explore any country, the holiday or vacation visit is not enough. Cultural exchange programs take you and put you in the heart of the culture. If you would like to explore any culture they should participate in a cultural exchange program. They should participate in at least one to make their world bigger.
What would you do if you could go back in time and tell yourself something before you went on your first Work and Travel program?
Meet more people, speak more, taste different food, and travel more.
Thank you for your partnership, Guven! We appreciate your commitment towards making the world a better place through cultural exchange.