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American Exchange Students in the Capital of Turkey Compare Turkey and the US PDF Print E-mail
2011-07-18 00:39:59
Image Julia Elaine Robertson and Shira Rachel Babow are exchange students at Bilkent University, located in the country’s capital city Ankara. After completing their studies, they will return to University of California. At Bilkent, international faculty and instructors make up more than a quarter of all academic staff, representing 40 different countries. There is a growing body of full-time international students, as well as exchange students visiting from more than 250 partner institutions.
 
“I tried not to have any expectation about Turkey before I came, but I did think that it would be more conservative socially and less developed than it is,” Robertson says.

Babow indicates the students in Turkey do not compete for grades the same way students do in the US, and do not engage with course material the same way.  She adds, “Turkey is certainly not an underdeveloped country, nor are the people stuck in the past, as some might believe. Turkey is progressing quite rapidly toward the future.”

Both say they want to come back to Turkey after completing their education in the U.S. Robertson and Babow answered TURKOFAMERICA’s questions.

TOA: How would you describe the experiences of living in Turkey? What are the social, cultural, and educational differences between the two countries?

Shira Rachel Babow: First of all, it's much cheaper to live in Turkey than it is in the States. Food costs much less, and is much more readily available (lots of free samples, free courses that come with dinners, etc.). I am a food-centric person--to me it is one of the most important aspects of culture--so I tend to make friends through food experiences. I love the neighborhood culture here. Every neighborhood has its hangout spot, and you can see the same people every day. In general, people are more friendly and hospitable than in the States. They are eager to let you into their lives. One of the biggest differences is the existence of widespread nationalism. Being from California, I was not entirely prepared for the overwhelming sense of Turkish solidarity. Collective culture was not something I had experienced before coming to Turkey, and it took some getting used to. Finally, the attitude toward education is radically different from my experience at home. The students here do not compete for grades the same way they do at home, and do not engage with course material the same way. Trying to understand my fellow students' attitude toward education has been the biggest challenge for me.

TOA: What did you think about Turkey before coming to Turkey? What is your opinion about Turkey now?

Shira Rachel Babow: I tried to wipe all expectations from my mind before coming to Turkey, but I had been primed by my university's orientation for the massive urban population and the hospitality. I was hoping that more people might know English in Ankara, which sounds horribly American, but it's unfortunately true. Knowing the history of the country helped. I believed Turkey to be a place of intense politics and proud citizens. I can't say that I was far off. Now, I can say that I love the social life of Turkey, and I respect the political system that has been put in place. It is certainly not an underdeveloped country, nor are the people stuck in the past, as some might believe. Turkey is progressing quite rapidly toward the future.


TOA: How would you describe Turkey to your friends who don't have any knowledge about Turkey?
Shira Rachel Babow: I would start by stating that it's a huge country, with a fairly diverse population. Then I would describe the delicious food as best I can, because food and food culture tell a lot about the country as a whole. Turkey is a stable democracy, and it straddles the border between Europe and the Middle East. It is a very safe country with hard-working citizens. Turkey as a country is looking to the future, with a booming economy and rapid modernization. But Turkey also has a fantastic history, spanning thousands of years and including several prominent empires. I would encourage those who don't know to learn a little about Turkey's history.

TOA: What is the most difficult thing about living in Turkey?
Shira Rachel Babow: One of the biggest problems is the language barrier. Most Americans have little to no experience hearing or seeing Turkish, so learning vocabulary is a bit difficult. However, the people here genuinely want to help you understand, and will go to great lengths to get their message across. The most difficult thing for me, though, has been adjusting to the different attitude towards education. It continues to frustrate me, the way students behave in class, and the way professors interact with their students. This is a big change from the traditional American university structure.

TOA: What do you think about Turkish universities and the educational system?
Shira Rachel Babow: I can't speak about universities in general, since I've only been to one, but as I stated above, it's quite different from the States. I think the education at Bilkent has the potential to be fantastic, but is hampered by a lack of commitment by the students. It is not at all at the level that I am used to at home, but the small class format has allowed me to polish my presentation skills. Most classes are attendance and participation based, so I have gotten the chance to interact more with my professors that I do at home. It is just different, and everyone will have a different experience with the system.

TOA: After completing your education, would you consider living in Turkey?
Shira Rachel Babow: Yes, I would consider living in Turkey, either after I earn my Bachelor's degree or after my Master's or PhD. It is easy to feel comfortable here, and the pace of life suits me. There is no way to get bored with all of the historical sites to see, and the people are wonderful. While I may not make Turkey my permanent home, I would love to come back as a working adult.

TOA: Would you like to add anything?
Shira Rachel Babow: This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, as cliche as that sounds. Very few people can say that they studied abroad in Turkey for a  semester or a year. The insight you gain is invaluable, and the interactions you have will change your perspective on the world. Considering that Turkey is becoming both an economic juggernaut and a political force in the international arena, it is an especially relevant place in which to live and study. I would recommend it to anyone.


''TURKISH HOSPITALITY AND MODERNITY HAVE BEEN WELCOME SURPRISES''


TOA: How would you describe the experiences of living in Turkey? What are the social, cultural, and educational differences between the two countries?

Julia Elaine Robertson: Living in Turkey has not been different in some ways but familiar in others to living in the US. Despite the language barrier, I have found the people to be very friendly and patient trying to understand my broken Turkish. The plethora of relaxed cafes and restaurants make Turkey seem familiar and homey. However, things like aggressive Turkish driving or the male-dominance of society reminds me that Turkey still has significant differences from America. In terms of the education that I have experienced, the classroom environment is similar but relations between teacher and student have been more casual, and school work has been less time consuming than in my university in the US.

TOA: What did you think about Turkey before coming to Turkey? What is your opinion about Turkey now?

Julia Elaine Robertson: I tried not to have any expectation about Turkey before I came, but I did think that it would be more conservative socially and less developed than it is. Turkish hospitality and modernity, along with its great food, have been welcome surprises that I didn't necessarily expect to find. I love Turkey now.

TOA: How would you describe Turkey to your friends who don't have any knowledge about Turkey?

Julia Elaine Robertson: Turkey is a country with a long history, a rich cultural heritage, and friendly, welcoming people. Also, Turkish tea is delicious.

TOA: What is the most difficult thing about living in Turkey?
Julia Elaine Robertson: The hardest thing about living in Turkey is that my poor Turkish skills makes it hard to communicate with others. Also, the huge difference in time zones makes it hard to talk with my family and friends back home on a regular basis.

TOA: What do you think about Turkish universities and the educational system?

Julia Elaine Robertson: I have learned so much about Turkish history and politics from my classes at Bilkent, but they have been less rigorous than classes I have taken at my home university.

TOA: After completing your education, would you consider living in Turkey?

Julia Elaine Robertson: Yes, I would love to come back to live in Turkey at some point in my life and improve my Turkish.


(Thank to Ms. Ayşegül Basol, International Students and Exchange Programs Coordinator at Bilkent University Office of International Exchange Programs Registrar's Office, and B. Yasemin Ozbek, Office of International Students and Exchange Programs, Student Advisor for helping with this interview.) 
Last Updated ( 2011-07-18 00:40:20 )
 
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