Ayusa isn't just about academic learning, as Hande HalilibrahimoÄŸlu (Turkey, YES program) will be happy to tell you.
Growing up in Istanbul, her encounters with animals in general and especially with dogs were not at all positive. After being chased by an ill-tempered mutt on her way to school, she began to look for alternative ways to get her bus and became very nearly phobic about animals of any kind. When she first arrived at her host family's home in rural northwestern New Jersey, she confessed that she'd never even petted a cat.
Not encountering animals in rural northwestern New Jersey is not an option. Her host family has a cat and two goats. Her second day in Sussex County had her visiting the Sussex County Farm and Horse Show (The New Jersey State Fair), where she was personally escorted through several of the animal barns by Queen of the Fair, Sharon Kleindienst (niece of Hande's host parents). Hande nervously held her first rabbit and petted her first alpaca. Sooner or later, everyone has to take a turn feeding the goats and the cat at home.
Most importantly, however, has been the development of a relationship between Hande and Maggie, a young black lab mix rescued by Hande's host grandmother (mother of Hande's host mother). Hande was truly terrified of dogs, but was determined to overcome her fear. Hande has learned that dogs can be gentle, friendly, affectionate and even comforting. During the extended power outage caused by Sandy, Hande could be found sitting on the floor snuggling with Maggie. Not all dogs are like Maggie. And being a star student isn't necessarily about making the best grades (although Hande's grades have been stellar). Sometimes being a star student is about facing down challenges that truly strike terror in your heart.