I always appreciated the way being a WorldChicago host offered endless opportunities to bring the world into my home, but it was even more exciting to have doors opened to me that I never would have imagined in Erbil, Iraq.
I hosted Ali and spent time with Aamr in summer 2010 while they were adult mentors for the Iraqi Young Leaders Exchange Program (IYLEP). We explored Chicago together and I enjoyed new views of the city through their fresh perspectives. One of the best parts of our visit was the chance to break stereotypes about our cultures and appreciate fun moments of friendship. When leaving, we said goodbye, imagining that it would be some time until we would see each other again.
Then, last year, I took a leave of absence from my work as a teacher to travel around the world. After realizing I would spend a month in Turkey and that Erbil was just a quick flight away, I was in. Aamr was an excellent host from my first minutes in Erbil, even picking me up at the airport at 3:00 AM! He met me every day and showed me Erbil through the eyes of a local, including food, shopping, and fun.
During our visit, Erbil celebrated Newroz — the Kurdish New Year. On my first night, I enjoyed the Annual Dance Party around The Citadel, which is said to be the world’s oldest inhabited town. The beautiful area was packed with tons of people. The government of Erbil hosted a huge party in a local park with live music, a few speeches, lighting of a ceremonial fire, and a great firework display! People were having a great time celebrating Kurdish pride. On this night, everyone felt great pride and appreciated the resilience of their culture and region.
During my stay, I had other great opportunities through my WorldChicago connection, including lunch with another IYLEP participant and a visit to the United States Consulate.
— Nancy Bartosz, WorldChicago Homestay Host