Try to Create that Place Wherever I Go for Others and Myself — Can Erbilgin
NAME Can Erbilgin
ROLE President at Rotary Club of New York
BIRTH CITY Samsun
CITIES LIVED IN New York, Samsun
Why did you decide to move to the U.S.?
I never decided to move to United States. I still haven’t. To me the journey itself was a decision but not the destination. United States is part of my journey and it has allowed me to have an access to the rest of the world. It is easier to reach the rest of the world through United States especially through New York. New York has immense diversity and large international organizations like the United Nations. I have been working with all of them as a member of the Rotary Club of New York and this has given me the leap I was looking for.
Tackling different challenges excites me, keeps me alive, keeps me going and keeps me motivated. I want to stay in this state of mind. And the only way that I know how to stay in this state of mind is to be on the road, not on a physical road, but on the road moving ahead, doing different things with different people.
What motivated you to join the Rotary Club of New York?
The Rotary Club is a vehicle for me to do service for humanity. I want to spend my life making a difference not making a living. You don’t need much to live. You need a good support system around you, your family, a few friends, and you don’t have to eat too much. How much is it, 1500 calories a day? If I am creating change, making an impact, that’s real living for me.
Did you live anywhere else before coming here?
I am originally from Turkey. I left my home when I was 14 years old. I went to Austria to climb mountains. They were a calm couple of months. Then I came back and went to Spain to climb again when I was 15 years old. It was a long journey to just get there. I am from the North of Turkey, from a city called Samsun, just like the phone company without the ‘G’. I spent two to three weeks climbing and then went back home. The third time I left home was to come to the United States. I came here as a Rotary Club Exchange Student. I met so many other exchange students from all across the world. I was the only one from Turkey.
I was supposed to be here only for a year. But after the first year, I went to college and during college I started working and got more involved with the Rotary Club of New York. The next thing you know, life kind of takes a hold of you and gives a shape to where you will be. Only the luckiest people make decisions in their life. Most decisions we make are already made for us. We pretend that we made them or we pretend that we are ok with them.
If you are to actually make those decisions for yourself, you become a little different than the rest of the society. But as soon as you realize it’s the only place to be and there are other people like you throughout the way and you connect with them, it’s a beautiful feeling.
What gives you a feeling of home?
It’s the people around me. If I feel like I belong, I am appreciated, and I can trust, it becomes a home for me. It’s so easy to be around a lot of people and not be home. And at the same time it’s so easy to be by yourself and feel like you are complete. It’s not a physical place to be but it’s an emotional place to stay and feel comfortable in. I’ve lived in a tent, a five star hotel, a big apartment, a small apartment and some of those places were very comfortable physically but they never felt like home.
You may see someone everyday, spend five hours, ten hours and never have a connection. The people with whom you feel like you understand each other are the ones who make it feel like home. We live in New York City. We pass by thousands of people. How many of them recognize you. How many of those you recognize? And then how many do you have a real connection and conversation with? Those are the ones you build a home with. That’s home. It could be a ten minute ride on a subway with someone you just met but you have a real connection with that person. That subway car is your home for those ten minutes. You go home and there is nobody there, nobody to connect with. That’s not home.
Imagine you are talking to an astronaut right now, someone who spends six months in space every year. If an alien were to ask him the same question, What is home to you? What do you think his answer would be?
There are imaginary lines all around us. People cross an imaginary line to reach a new place. The people who are already at the other end look at the new people as “them”. But in reality it is just “us”. Wherever you go, wherever you are, you are “us” with the people that are around you.
How do you curate your space?
By creating. Constantly creating extraordinary things, things that make a positive change on peoples’ lives. I like to work with people who think that way too. If what we do leads to a positive change in other’s lives, that’s perfect. I don’t wake up and think I am going to help someone.
My parents were doing the same thing but in a different way. So I had good role models. Both my mom and dad were very much involved with the Rotary Club as well. They worked on many local and regional projects.
Did you carry anything from Turkey with you that you remember?
I did. I found a poolball no. 13 in a mountain when I was camping years ago. I don’t know how it got there, in the middle of the mountain. I just thought to myself that it doesn’t belong here. So I carried it with me for a very long time and I still have it. That’s the only thing I brought with me which has no use. I thought it was unique.
Do you have memories of your childhood home?
I remember myself as a little kid in my bedroom playing with my train toys or little soldiers. We had this red drape and as the sunlight would come in and hit the drape it would flicker in the room and make things a little different. As the day went by, the angle of the sunlight would change so everything would start looking a little different too. My toys would have different shades and colors as well.