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Diplomacy in Action

International Education Week Digital Video Conference Between Turkish Students Studying in the U.S. and American Students Studying in Turkey

Consul General M. Levent Bilgen, Turkish Consulate, NY; and Scott Kilner, U.S. Consul General, Istanbul, Turkey
New York, NY
November 15, 2012

State Dept Image/Nov 15, 2012/New York, NY
Date: 11/15/2012 Location: New York, NY Description: International Education Week Digital Video Conference Between Turkish Students Studying in the U.S. and American Students Studying in Turkey. - State Dept Image

MS. GRUNDER: I’m Alyson Grunder, the director of the New York Foreign Press Center. Welcome to this video conference dialogue between Turkish students who are studying here in the United States, and American students studying in Turkey. It’s my great pleasure to introduce Consul General M. Levent Bilgen of the Turkish Consulate here in New York, with whom we have been working closely on this program.

MR. BILGEN: Yes. Good afternoon to you and good afternoon to our colleagues at the U.S. Consulate in Istanbul. Thank you for accommodating us and hosting us via this DVC event. And I also thank the U.S. Mission and Ms. Grunder and your office for all this preparation. We’re elated, actually, to be able to celebrate International Education Week with such an opportunity and event.

We have a number of Turkish students here. Concentration is mostly Columbia University and another young student, young colleague, from New School. And so we’ll take it from there. And I appreciate this cooperation extended to us by the U.S. Mission and the Consulate in Istanbul. Thank you.

MR. KILNER: Well, thank you very much. (In Turkish.) And welcome to all of you. My name is Scott Kilner. I’m the U.S. Consul General here in Istanbul. There is a little echo on this. We found through experience if you mute on your end it eliminates the echo on this end, if that’s possible to do. Better? Okay.

I’ve been asked to say and to take two, three minutes just to say a few words. So if that would be agreeable, I’d be happy to do that. And then if there are any more introductory words you’d like to say on your side, that would be fine, and then we can really get into the purpose of this and a discussion among the students on both sides here.

But I would really like to underline a couple of points. The first is that educational exchange really lies right at the heart of what the U.S. Mission to Turkey is trying to accomplish. President Obama has given us – in his first Administration, and I think it will very much carry forward to the second – given us very direct marching orders that one of the things that he would like us to work on is improving the ties between our peoples, the people-to-people ties, for a whole variety of reasons, but to strengthen, to broaden, to diversify the bilateral relationship that we have.

We have a number of programs to do this, but in my experience, the most meaningful, the most durable, and the most long-lasting is through educational and other in-depth, person-to-person exchanges – above all, through educational exchange.

This is not just – for me, not just abstract policy, but something very personal. I received my introduction to the world of international affairs through a year in Vienna, Austria that I spent way back as the last glaciers were receding at the last ice age back in the early 1970s. But it really just took root and sparked an interest in the world of international affairs that has never left me. It also, coincidentally, in February of 1972, was the occasion for my first visit to Istanbul, and to be back here now literally 40 years later as Consul General is a lot of fun, to put it mildly.

I also, over the years, have seen so many people influenced by this kind of an experience. Our two children, who did three years of education in Ankara, among many other foreign assignments, have deeply absorbed this through their growing up in a Foreign Service, diplomatic existence. In the world that I work, so many people have gotten their start through educational exchanges, triggering an interest, an expertise, a language facility that just stays with them their whole life.

Here in my current responsibilities, among the many things I do in this area, among the most important is serving on the executive board of the U.S.-Turkey Fulbright Commission. We do a number of things with that board, but one that I would like to highlight is the strengthening of the English teaching assistance program, which brings, at the current rate, more than 65 young Americans to help teach English throughout Turkey.

And I’m not only talking about Istanbul and Ankara, but really extending to far eastern Turkey, the newer universities. We like to think that they are spreading and familiarizing students with the knowledge of English, those who are eager to learn it. At the same time, they are learning a great deal about Turkey, which then they bring back to the United States when they return after one or two years. There’s a counterpart program of Turkish teachers who go to the United States to teach Turkish at American universities, and the process works in reverse there.

In both of these cases, it triggers what I see as a virtuous circle of learning about another culture, bringing that knowledge back to your home country, getting more people interested in the foreign country in which you spent time, and it just perpetuates itself in that way.

And the last thing I would say is what is so satisfying about this is, one, that this kind of exchange really is a deep, life-changing experience in many cases, and it gets you beyond the almost comic book caricature stereotypes of foreign cultures, which too many of us have. Certainly Americans oftentimes, if they haven’t spent time overseas, have too superficial a view of foreign countries. But the same holds true in the other direction. There are so many cardboard cutout images of the United States that we would like to get beyond, and the way you do that is by spending time, as you are, really getting to know through firsthand experience another country.

So I’m delighted to participate in this. It’s great that we have this collection of students on both sides. And now that I’ve sung for my supper here – or sung for my Oreos that are – (laughter) – sitting in front of me, I look forward to hearing the exchanges among the students on both sides of the screen, and thank you.

Over to you.

MR. BILGEN: My dear colleague, thank you for those opening remarks. I couldn’t agree with you more. I am actually a product of that cycle. I got my education, undergrad and graduate, in the U.S., worked in the private sector here before joining the Foreign Service, and what a value that has added to my vision in that regard and to my work.

The program – exchange programs between Turkey and U.S. at many levels, and including the student exchange programs, have been going on since the late ‘50s at an accelerated pace. And we see the benefits of that in our ties as it becomes more widened and deepened in that sense. And there is no better way to establish these pillars of – fundamental pillars of this bridge between the two countries. It’s a win-win, in short.

And like you said, those who have that experience understand, wherever they may be, do have an access to U.S. thinking, U.S. understanding, and the network that carries along and is built throughout the years.

On the Turkish side, of course, I always say seeing is believing. Reading and studying is something else. But once you set foot on the ground in Turkey, then you are able to digest and appreciate what we are all about.

But I’d rather leave the discussion to our young peers, and then we’ll take it up further. Thank you.

MS. GRUNDER: So we’re also very pleased to have two representatives of the Institute of International Education here, and Rajika Bhandari has agreed to provide just some brief overview facts about the state of exchange between Turkey and the U.S. So, Rajika, thank you.

MS. BHANDARI: Thank you, Alyson, and good morning and good afternoon and (in Turkish), everybody. I’m Rajika Bhandari with IIE, and I think we all have wonderful personal stories to share, and before I share the facts and figures with you, I want to also share my own personal story, which really helps these numbers come alive.

I came to the U.S. a couple of decades ago as an international student from India, and I arrived at North Carolina State University, which actually has many, many Turkish students, and it just so happened that I was very drawn to a group of Turkish students there, as they were to me. And for the next six years, we ended up – I ended up with a series of Turkish roommates, and they were, in fact, my closest friends, where many others would think I was Turkish instead of Indian. And my roommate and I would often battle over whether on any given day we were going to have Indian chai or Turkish chai, and I think I ultimately converted her to Indian-style tea.

But for me, what was really valuable about that was that, not only was I coming to a country that hosted and continues to host the largest number of international students from around the world – the U.S. is still the number-one host – but that I was really surrounded not just by American students, but by students from over 200 other countries, and that I had the opportunity to not just learn about American culture, but also learn about the very rich culture that all of you come from.

So on that note, I want to share with you what our most recent findings are from the Open Doors Project. Just a word about what this project is. We’ve carried out this project for close to 60 years, where we collect data and we’re the only source of data on international or foreign students from as many as 200 countries that come to U.S. campuses to study. And many of them are present here today and at the Turkey end. But we also gather data on the numbers of American students who go on study abroad, so certainly Turkey figures very importantly in that, looking both at the Turkish students here in the U.S. but also how many Americans are going to Turkey for a study abroad experience.

And what we found was that for the 2011-12 academic year in the U.S., there were about 765,000 international students from all over the world who were studying in the U.S. This was quite a bit of an increase over the prior year. It was about a 6 percent increase. So what that means is that the U.S. still draws a lot of international students from all around the world.

Now, with regards to Turkey – and I’m going to give you the overall picture but also, of course, talk about Turkey where relevant – although Turkish students have come to the U.S. in large numbers for many years, and in fact it’s one of the top sending countries among the top 25 countries, we have seen for the past couple of years that there’s been a small decline in the numbers of Turkish students coming to the U.S. Currently, there are about 12,000 Turkish students studying on a variety of U.S. campuses, but this was a small drop of about 2 percent from the prior year.

In general, most international students in the U.S. are studying either at the undergraduate level or the graduate level, and we found for the first time in 12 years that there are actually now more undergraduate international students in the U.S. And a lot of the growth at the undergraduate level has been driven by the number of undergraduate Chinese students, who’ve been coming to the U.S. in very large numbers over just the past few years.

Most foreign students in the U.S. continue to study business and management and engineering. We know that amongst Turkish students, engineering is a very popular field. And in terms of the level of study, most Turkish students in the U.S. are studying at the graduate level, which means that they’re getting either their master’s or their doctoral degrees.

Let me now switch quickly to the opposite side of this picture, which is the number of American students who are going to Turkey for a study abroad experience. And there actually the news is good. We’ve seen a steady increase over the past several years. The numbers are not very large. It’s about 2,000 students in 2011 who went to Turkey. But the good news is that that number has been rising very steadily, and in fact, this last year we saw a 34 percent increase. So clearly, Turkey is now a very attractive – increasingly attractive destination for American students. And I’m really not surprised, given what it offers in terms of learning about history and culture.

So I’m now going to just give you the overall trend for Americans going on study abroad beyond just Turkey. In general, we found that there was a small increase in the numbers of students, American students, going to a number of different countries. And currently, there are about 274,000 American students who are studying abroad. And of those, just over 2,000 study abroad in Turkey. We saw pretty large drops in the numbers of American students going to Mexico and to Japan, and that was not surprising given safety concerns in Mexico and the natural disaster in Japan.

Now, in general, while we find that – although we find that most Americans continue to go to Europe, the good news is that there are many other destinations that are becoming popular. And for example, we saw very large increases in the numbers of American students who are choosing to go to China, to Costa Rica, to India, and Brazil.

So I’m going to stop there – I think I’ve taken up my five minutes – and turn it back over to Alyson.

MS. GRUNDER: Thank you very, very much, Rajika. We really appreciate that. So now we’re going to move to the students, and maybe we’ll start on the Istanbul side. If you could each give your name and your sending institution and the institution that you’re studying at and your field of study, and perhaps what you’re gaining from this experience, that would be great.

PARTICIPANT: Hi. My name’s Jillian Donfro. I am coming from Syracuse University, where I’m a senior studying magazine journalism and information management and technology. And here in Istanbul I’m studying at Bahcesehir University. And so far what I’m gaining, it’s hard to sum up in a quick little sound bite, but pretty much just shaking up my whole understanding of what Turkey is like and what the people here are like, because I had previously known almost nothing about the country when I decided to come here, and also I just never really traveled abroad at all, so it’s great, because the school where I’m studying, Bahcesehir, not only has a lot of Turkish students but a lot of students from all over the world. So just through my interactions with them, I’ve just broadened my whole knowledge about the world, I’d say.

PARTICIPANT: All right. My name is Rajisa Omar. I go to Macalester College. I’m a junior. I’m studying political science and international studies. I’m also with the Syracuse program at Bahcesehir University. So, so far, I mean, I came into Turkey kind of – I’m an international studies major, so just knowing a little bit more about Turkey than most of the students coming in, but I’ve definitely had a lot of surprises in terms of – I’m taking a Turkish foreign policy class, so just learning about Turkish foreign policy from the perspective of Turkey versus taking a foreign policy class in the States and learning it from an American perspective. So just like getting a different look from just the Turkish perspective in American politics and Turkish politics. And Turkey is a big player in today’s contemporary politics, which is good to have that perspective going forward.

PARTICIPANT: Hi. My name is Benjamin Lin. I’ve studied at Amherst College in Massachusetts. I actually graduated, so I’m here with the Fulbright Program, and I am doing a research project on earthquake preparedness in Istanbul, which is a kind of hot topic now, I guess. The thing I think I’m learning the most or gaining the most about being here is I think picking up a lot of intangible things that are hard to understand when you read about them. I mean, there are things that you could learn about Turkey in books, like, I don’t know, Turkish history, for instance, but there are things that you don’t really notice are different until you’re here, like what the sidewalks look like or conventions about getting on and off a bus or – I mean, these are tiny things that are actually – they pile up in your day-to-day experience, and you really can’t identify these things and how used to things you are at home until you’ve been in another place where everything is kind of done a little bit differently. So I think I’m gaining a lot about, like, broadening my perspective on what kind of things I take for granted that aren’t actually a given.

PARTICIPANT: Hi, my name is Sarah Neel Smith. Like Benjamin, I’m also a grad student on a Fulbright Program. So I did my undergrad at Smith College in Massachusetts, and I’m now at University of California in Los Angeles in art history. I am researching the immediate postwar period, the 1950s, and cultural diplomacy here, so I’m spending a lot of time talking to octogenarians about early galleries, early art criticism, early – again, student exchanges but during the 1950s.

PARTICIPANT: Hello guys. My name is Miguel. I am from San Francisco State University. I go to Koc University. I’m here to do a double major. I finished international relations back home and I actually did my thesis on Turkish foreign policy. I wrote more than 70 pages, and being here is totally – has nothing to do with my research. I mean, it has a lot to do with it, but I’ve learned so much being here, like in person. And ever since the New Republic of Turkey started and modernity, being here, I can see the old and the new mixed together and how it can be so unique.

Like my colleague here was saying, little things add up when you’re here learning. You have to be – in international relations you have to be dependent among others around your community. And here when you go about, you depend on other people, regardless whether they speak your language or not. That makes it very unique for me to be here in Turkey. And what fascinates me the most is when I’m walking on the street, the call to prayer. That, for me, is the best because it literally makes me feel, like, I’m, like, in another part of the world, literally. So it has been great. Thank you.

PARTICIPANT: Okay. My name is August Thomas. I’m another grad student on a Fulbright, and I graduated from the University of Massachusetts at Amherst in the U.S. and I’m studying at Bogazici University here. I am actually also studying cultural exchanges but really, really old ones and looking at cultural and artistic exchange between the Ottoman Empire in Venice and how they culturally enriched both of those.

And in terms of – I don’t know even know where to start with how much I feel I’m gaining and learning by being here. First of all, as someone studying art history, to actually be able to see the monuments and see the artifacts is enormously enriching. To be able to work with the people I work with, who have – in a department where an Ottomanist is not one curiosity but most of them are, actually.

But beyond just my academic studies, the conversations – especially as my Turkish hopefully gets a little better – that one can have with the other students getting. I had studied in Turkey previously with the Critical Language Scholarship Program and with the American Research Institute in Turkey. And what is wonderful this time, having the chance to be here for an entire year, is watching Turkey come into – like focusing a camera, and suddenly I had a blurry broad picture, a snapshot of how things might be, and now I’m learning special things about different regions, perspectives, tensions. I talk to students at Bogazici and they’re not just Turkish, they’re from Zonguldak or they’re from Kilis and they have all of these backgrounds that feed into the way they perceive not only their studies but everything else. It’s marvelous.

MR. DICKER (PUBLIC AFFAIRS OFFICER, U.S. CONSULATE ISTANBUL): So maybe at this point, should we turn it back to New York then?

PARTICIPANT: Hi, my name’s Melike. I’m a grad student here. I study sociology. I am doing my masters in sociology at the New School for Social Research. I did my undergrad in sociology as well in Ankara, Middle East Technical University. This is not my first time U.S. experience. I did exchange when I was doing my undergrad at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, also again in sociology.

What I like about this country is that it’s so multicultural. Like, when I’m studying here, I not only see Americans but lots of people from around the world. Like, my courses for – we’re 15 people in my department, and three of them actually like pure Americans, but the rest is all over the world, which I really like. Because since I’m studying sociology, it’s like it’s about people, it’s about society, how people get interaction with others. And seeing different varieties, it’s so exciting. And I’m really, really happy to be here.

I’m thinking of doing my PhD also here, but we’ll see what’s going to happen in two years. So yeah, that’s basically me.

PARTICIPANT: Hi everyone. My name is Canberk Dayan. Right now I’m a senior undergraduate studying industrial engineering at Columbia University. Before coming to Columbia last year, I studied in Wisconsin in Boyd College – it’s a very small liberal arts college. I studied there for three years (inaudible) economics, and then transferred to Columbia University last year. Right now this – at the end of this year, I’m going to be graduating from both schools.

So what I’ve done was very different and interesting because I had the chance to see the perspective of liberal arts college as well as an Ivy League school. I think that experience was just very significant in my opinion. Because the culture you have in a small college where the population is 1,300 is very different than a school with 30,000 people. So the relationships as – what was your name, I’m sorry --


PARTICIPANT: As Rajika was saying, my closest friends were Indian there. And then we had all those little discussions and arguments and we had – like we cried together, we laughed together. So those people over there actually became a part of my family. So a liberal arts experience is very different than a big university. Whereas in Columbia University, the professor like doesn’t know your face or your name, nothing, whereas in liberal arts college, your professor invites you over for a dinner.

So what I learned most about studying the United States is I learned so much about people and different cultures. And the experience that I got, I think it’s just invaluable. You cannot just set a value to it, and I’m very lucky – I feel very lucky about myself studying in the United States. And thank you very much actually making this opportunity come true. And I feel very lucky to be here as well, so thank you very much for everything. And I’m looking forward to hearing your experiences. I think it’s going to come up in a little bit. Thank you.

PARTICIPANT: Hi, my name is Melis Duyar. I am a masters/PhD student in Columbia University in the earth and environmental engineering department. I did my undergrad at Koc University in Istanbul, and now my work is related to hydrogen production for sustainable energy technologies. I’m really excited to be here.

And I feel like there’s a constant exchange of cultures when one is studying abroad. And I see that because as soon as I got here, I made some American friends, and one of them asked me to teach her Turkish, and now she’s constantly showing off to my Turkish friends that she can do small talk in Turkish. And likewise, they have taken me to camping for Fourth of July and I, like, learned so much about their backgrounds, and now I see that they made me feel very much at home, and it makes the whole PhD experience much easier and very enjoyable. Thank you.

PARTICIPANT: Hi, my name is Ecem Senyuva. I’m a freshman undergrad at Columbia University. I’m in the Columbia College, so I’m studying psychology and economics. What I found fascinating about this experience – I’m here like only for three months now – it’s fascinating how you are able to become friends or just get to know people that you would never had a chance to meet otherwise. Like, I feel, like, every person I meet has something to contribute to me as much as I feel like I have something to contribute to them.

I’m really glad that I’m able to impose my culture – like I’m in the belly dancing troupe in Columbia University. And I feel like I’m becoming a global citizens and a global scholar. It’s really amazing how New York is full of opportunities – not academic-wise but also, like, social-wise. You get to go to a lot of, like, concerts, museums, while taking Ivy-standard classes, and it’s really amazing.

And I really enjoyed hearing about your experiences. Like, I remembered the prayer. I also like – yeah. Thank you.

PARTICIPANT: Hello, everyone. My name is Yigit Canay. I’m a graduate student in Columbia University’s school of international and public affairs. I’m also a member of Turkish Foreign Service who is currently on leave from job. My research area is mainly focusing on management of humanitarian aid and disaster management at public level, so like my colleague on the other side of the microphone, I’m perhaps focusing on disaster management and earthquake management in general and observing how America responded to such a big natural disaster in the recent days. It was a remarkable thing to observe.

My experience as an international relations student maybe is – America in general, but New York in particular, enables the Turkish student perhaps to engage their peers from Latin America and Asia and Africa greatly. Because in Turkey, I think we are lacking that continental perspective in a lot of senses. And the United States I think enables one Turkish student to engage the international community in a very broader sense.

I spent a study abroad year in California before in 2007, and when I – back in the past see that how remarkable the perception of American social science students particularly change towards Turkey, I mean Turkey, I think, is not any more that exotic place just to go to study abroad, but it’s someplace that people want to engage more and do business, explore, and maybe even work in the future. So it’s quite interesting to see that change coming from 2007, and I think it’s being reflected on the numbers as well. Thank you.

MR. DICKER (PUBLIC AFFAIRS OFFICER, U.S. CONSULATE ISTANBUL): One of the things we wanted to ask you, and this is not going to go around, but one of the things we wanted to ask you is: In your studies, what have you found surprising? What have you – what has struck you in the actual educational realm as different and surprising?

PARTICIPANT: Well, I would say just the amount that we have gone back since we came to Turkey. We went back to the Byzantine Empire and then the Ottoman Empire and just now learning about more modern Turkey. And the way there’s so much influence from each of these cultures, both in modern day and in each other, I thought was really striking. Because U.S. history, comparatively, is so short, I just never experienced learning about a place that had so much history. And so that’s just been really fascinating to see how you can have influence from so long ago in an area.

PARTICIPANT: I notice my perspective about, like, youth and education here, coming and seeing that everywhere I go or places or parties, events, dinners, everyone is very interested about foreign policy and about America and about how Turkey and them are relating. And of course, they have their own ideas, and I try to explain to my best knowledge what I know.

But that’s what I’ve learned educational wise. The education level here is going to be a good standard educational level for Turkey. And in the future, like my colleague in New York was saying, this is the gateway to many countries in the Middle East and Europe. And European – being the candidate for the European Union, I see that it’s becoming stronger, and it will become stronger in the years to come, to be a better – to create better foreign policies within the international community. And I think the youth will be the generation making it happen, so --

PARTICIPANT: Maybe I’ll – I kind of want to add something which is a little weird. What surprised me the most, actually, was how similar, like, the day-to-day concerns of a Turkish student were to, like, when I was in college. Like, the things that we complained about on a regular basis are actually pretty similar. Like, oh, I have to go to the library, plop down, go in and listen to music and don’t bother me, I’m reading. I mean, a lot of these things – I didn’t know, like, how – were they very different, were they very similar? But a lot of Turkish students have very similar concerns. It’s like one in the morning and somebody will be like, “Are you hungry? Because it’s, like, Yemek Sepeti time,” or something. (Laughter.)

And like, these are things that I remember in college exactly the same thing. One in the morning it’s like, “Oh my gosh, I’m so hungry and I know I shouldn’t eat right now but I’m so hungry. I’m going to call and I’ll regret this in the morning.” And everybody kind of has this same student experience, which I thought was really surprising. There’s, like, a lot of shared experiences we have, even though we’ve never, like, met before or exchanged these ideas. Somehow, like, as students we have these experiences.

PARTICIPANT: I go to the same university as Ben, and I have to say that one thing I was also surprised by is I had actually studied at Bogazici before in a program that was only for foreigners, so a Turkish for foreigners program. And I had wondered before I came what it would be like to be the only foreigner in my year in my master’s program at Bogazici. And I was sort of bracing myself to have to navigate possible challenges. And really what I’ve been very pleasantly surprised by is, as Ben was saying, that it’s very compatible. It’s very – I mean, their reaction to any kind of cultural mismatch is always to find it absolutely hilarious. And sometimes I have to backtrack and find out why they’re laughing, but – (laughter) – basically, this wonderful openness, which I knew about Turkey, but to see it when you are absolutely in the same boat as the Turkish students – we have the same required classes and we approach them all in really comparable ways.

PARTICIPANT: It’s kind of similar to Miguel’s comment. But I was just really surprised at how knowledgeable, like, Turkish students in my year were about, like, American politics, like, inner dynamics in American politics, like things that would happen in the House or the Senate, like, maybe two or three days before, and they would, like, come to class and they would, like, be prepared to discuss it and stuff. And it kind of just made me and the other American kids kind of a little bit more aware of the fact that we didn’t really know that much about Turkish politics and – like as much as we should. And I was just really impressed by not just, like – they just didn’t have these vague ideas about America as a hegemonic power as they just actually knew – just, like, really – they were on top of their American politics, which – I don’t know. It was very – I was really impressed by that.

I don’t know if anybody else wanted to –

MR. DICKER: Maybe we can hear from our colleagues in New York.

PARTICIPANT: What surprised me here when I came here was – I’ve been a teaching assistant since January for the undergraduate seniors, and what surprised me often was that I would be having discussions about events that have been happening in Turkey and discussing Turkish politics with my American students just as I would back in Turkey, actually. And it surprised me to see how much they actually knew about Turkey, and most of them had been to Turkey. And it was just very pleasant to hear their responses to a lot that was going on back home.

PARTICIPANT: My sister actually went to college in the United States, and when I visited her I would just go to the classes with her. So I kind of knew what to expect. But I always went to, like, big classes with her. But in here, one of my core classes, literature and humanities, were like 15 people in the class. We’re very diverse and we’re reading Greek mythologies, and it’s really interesting to hear about the people, like how they think, how they analyze. It really fascinates me to be able to exchange our thoughts not, like, on an international level but, like, on a literature basis. So it’s – it was really interesting for me.

PARTICIPANT: I think what still surprises me, although I spent a couple of years here in the academic sphere, is the fact that how American political culture but also the education system is based on this critical – how it values the individual’s own opinion on the issues. Like, whenever I receive an assignment on writing a critical review of an article, I always say, “Oh, this respected scholar wrote this article after reading 50 books. How can I criticize that?” Because I think we don’t have that culture that much in Turkey. But – so here, the fact that everyone can criticize and have an opinion and everything, it’s a very fascinating thing.

And second thing is I think when we back from – when we look from Turkey, we always tend to say, “Hey, American, what’s American culture? There is no culture.” I mean, the United States is such a young country. How can – it doesn’t – have only a single culture. But I think when you go to a U.S. college level football game, you really grasp that there is a great culture going on here. (Laughter.) Thanks.

PARTICIPANT: Well, one of the things, since I’m in a grad school, I’ve realized that I work much harder than I used to work my undergrad. And I like how people are – all have their backgrounds and when they’re discussing an issue, like – well, for example, an issue of family, how a family institution is constructed and everything, each and every person has difference – different opinion about that. And I like the fact that people can represent their own countries in this country without having any pressure or, like, any thought of, like, thinking, “Oh my god, what should I say? What are they going to think about me?” Everyone is open, and that kind of, like, fascinates me. Because in classroom discussions, things are, like, starting from A and we end up in Z talking each and every perspective. “Oh, yes, in your country it’s like that. In my country it’s like that.”

And then the other thing which fascinated me: In my department, most of the people knows about Turkey and they, like, after what happened in Turkey about the Syria, they were, like, all asking me questions. “Are you okay?” Like, “What’s going on with the Turkish policy?” and everything. And I was like, “Oh my god, people actually, like, do know about Turkey more than I assumed,” which kind of, like, fascinated me as well.

PARTICIPANT: I’m going to add a little bit more to those, and I agree with all of them. Well, first, since I studied in the liberal arts – a liberal arts college, and then came to an Ivy League school, so I had different stages of surprises. So the first stage of surprise was when I first actually came to the United States as an exchange student when I was in high school. I saw that my friend that was in my math class, he was also playing soccer, football, baseball, and he also did musicals, and he also did that and this. And he was, like, a straight-A student. I’m like, “How do you even do that?” And then I actually started participating in other organizations. I did the musical as well. I was in the tennis team. I was in the math team. And I was like, “I can do all of this at the same time and still do well in my classes. How is this possible?” Then I was like, okay, this is the difference of the United States. And that was the time when I decided to come to the United States for college.

And I went to Boyd College. I created two clubs in my second year and was the president of three clubs at the end of my third year. And right now, I’m here in the executive board of Columbia Turkey Students. And there’s just like so much endless opportunity. And if you know how to act on them, you can just, like, pretty much do as much as your physical body lets you do. Like there are no restrictions, it’s so free, it’s so opportunistic. I love it here, I love it here.

And my second surprise in terms of academia was this: In Turkey what we were forced to do is solve multiple choice questions in less than a minute. So that’s called the university entrance exam, 180 questions, three hours. And when I came here, I was like this question, I can do this in less than 10 seconds, but the professor gives us six minutes to answer this question. And then in higher level math classes and physics classes, I have never written essays in my life before. Everything was like based on proofs and essays. Like we didn’t – we barely wrote numbers. It was all either A, B, C letters or – I’m like what is this? And I had so much – like so hard time to grasp the idea, the proofs, all that, and I feel like that added me so much in – like in terms of prospective – in terms of like social life or like academic life. And that’s why I love it, and it was surprising in, like, very different in a lot of aspects. So yeah, thank you.

MS. GRUNDER: Well, we have some journalists on both sides, and we were going to open the program up to questions from journalists.

(Question and answer exchange in Turkish.)

QUESTION: Gulveda Ozgur, Habertuk, New York. I would like to actually start by thanking the person who is sitting behind the General Consul [in Istanbul], even though it wasn’t an educational exchange, but when I was with CNN Turk, she actually contributed and initiated a training session at Harvard University, for which I’m very thankful, and I would like to use this opportunity to thank her and to tell the students here in this room that the exchange does not stop when they’re in academia. It continues after when they start working, so they should take advantage of it whenever they can.

My question would be this: Turkey is placed in a very unique geographical place, and I would like to ask them if they got that gist during their stay. For example, Turkey is placed in the Middle East and Europe at the same time, so I would like to hear if they actually got that sense whether – I mean, I know Istanbul is very cosmopolite, but since it’s also very multicultural. So which one is more? Do they feel more like they are in Europe or do they feel more like they are in the Middle East? Thank you.

PARTICIPANT: I’ll share something. I – so I think it really actually – you can kind of see this dichotomy, because not everyone in whatever place you are will kind of fit one of those molds. For instance, like, when I’m at Bogazici, for instance, it feels very European in terms of like just the norms that people have on a day-to-day basis. But for Bayram, I went traveling, like hitchhiking in, like, in Karadeniz, like, near – like Inebolu and Amasra, and to these villages along this area. And it feels very different from Istanbul for many reasons, one of which is it does feel more like eastern, the kinds of things you think of when you think of the east. And even people’s attitudes are quite different.

Things like hospitality are different and things that people ask you, for instance, like the most – what everyone’s interested in about you is very different. Like, for instance – I don’t know if this is true for anyone else here, but, like, in Istanbul, if I – when people ask me where I’m from and I say the U.S., I don’t always get the follow up question like (in Turkish). (Laughter.) But in, like, the Karadeniz area, everybody would ask that. And I think these are, like, subtle ways in which this kind of more cosmopolitan, more rural kind of split manifests itself. So I definitely feel you see this a lot amongst people and even within, like, people. They have some habits you think are more European, some habits you think are more Eastern. It’s kind of cool to see.

PARTICIPANT: I totally agree with him. I also have done some traveling in Turkey. I’m actually going to Izmir tomorrow for the weekend, and I’ve done Cappadocia. We did the bus tour. And it’s the way you see people. You see, for example, very, like, oh, this is like the Middle East, or – and then here in Istanbul, even in my university, at Koc, people dress even better than people in America actually, like super cool.

And when I go out to the store, to a restaurant, and I try to do the basics, they, like – they look at me weird like, “What are you doing? You’re Turkish,” because I look Turkish when, in fact, I’m Mexican, right. And, like, when they don’t ask me where I’m from, like, I’m not going to like jump into like, “Oh, I’m Mexican.” But when they do, I say, “I’m Mexican.” And they go crazy. They love me. They help me. They want to do everything for me. They’re very hospitable and friendly.

But I’ve gotten, like, a couple of situations that people get upset because, once again, they think I’m a Turk, and – like what is he doing not speaking Turkish and English only. And that’s – the funny (inaudible). But in Istanbul itself, in downtown and everywhere, you see a lot of (inaudible) even the way – the style of people. You can see difference. And that’s what I like about it. It’s very unique. So want to add? Or anyone else?

PARTICIPANT: Yes. I agree with both of you, unsurprisingly. And again, living here in Istanbul, I feel like every day you navigate both – even if I don’t literally have to commute between both sides, you do navigate. At school, I’ll have a conversation about French art history theory in English, and then that weekend – I remember also Kurban Bayrami seems to be a catalyst for this. I go to another neighborhood, still in Istanbul, and a friend of mine, who is also a Fulbrighter, a Turkish Fulbrighter, her family sacrifices a bull in their front yard and, like, the little kids want me to hold them up so they can get a really good look. And that – and at moments like that I think, “Wow, not in Kansas anymore,” – (laughter) – although, for the record, I never have been to Kansas.

QUESTION: Thank you, Gulveda. It’s great to see you over there.

MR. DICKER: Are there other questions from New York?

MS. GRUNDER: Do you have any more questions, journalist questions there?

MS. GRUNDER: We do have one more question from Gulveda.

QUESTION: This is a very simple one, I promise. Now, since we have our Turkish fellow students here that miss yemek the most, I would like to ask what’s your favorite food in Istanbul? Each one of you please. (Laughter.)

PARTICIPANT: Bay tea (ph).

PARTICIPANT: (Inaudible) kebab.


PARTICIPANT: Doner (inaudible) on a day, every day, so it helps me go through my day, so doner. And it’s very cheap too. (Laughter.)

MR. KILNER: One observation I would make, though, is that both of these groups, I think we’re – they’re experiencing the other country in the most cosmopolitan environment of that country. So – and I think everybody is aware of this and I think it – it’s a very close parallel experience, but just as Istanbul is certainly a part of Turkey – a very important part of Turkey – it’s not the whole thing, and equally so New York. New York is equally atypical of the rest of the United States, so I’d just offer, from my own experience, and I suspect everyone would agree, to get as full a picture as you can on both sides. You need to get out and experience other places as well.

I don’t need another round of questions, but I – the United States is a big country, as is Turkey, and I’m curious whether, with all the demanding studies at Columbia and all the attractions in New York, whether you all have an opportunity to travel around other parts of the United States.

PARTICIPANT: Well, I kind of – when I did exchange to Michigan, I had the month before I go back to Turkey. So I did like a couple of weeks of traveling. I started with Chicago and then went to Buffalo and then Indianapolis, then Phoenix, then Los Angeles, Las Vegas – well yeah, end up in Las Vegas. So I pretty – (laughter) – saw the East Coast and the West Coast, and like – well, I – when I was doing this traveling, it was January where I saw Niagara Falls basically on ice, where I was like freezing for the first time in my entire life.

But well different part – like yeah, I stayed with families where they were really what you can say American, when they like actually stare at you and think that you’re from another universe and they just want to be polite to you because they don’t know how open you can be, or they don’t just want to offend you with your religion or with your identity, with your nationalism, or any other thing. So they just like try to keep a little distant and avoid that kind of, like, conversations. Basically I was having these – “Like, so what do you like about America? What kind of, like, food do you like? Or do you eat pork or not?” But that was it.

But basically I enjoyed traveling. Like, I don’t know, it was a really interesting and different experience, I might say.

PARTICIPANT: Well, before talking about Columbia specifically, I traveled to Orlando, Miami, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Chicago, New York. But that was when I was in the liberal arts college. And now I’m at Columbia, things are very different. We used to have this fall break in the first semester and we don’t have that anymore. So that’s one week is gone. So I cannot travel that time. And second semester comes spring break. Spring break – right after spring break, I always have midterms, so I cannot really travel on spring break as well. So I feel like I’ll get the chance to travel after I graduate hopefully. Yeah.

PARTICIPANT: I feel like if you do traveling and academics combined, you are able to travel. Like, I went to an international conference in U Penn, and that’s how I was able to travel. But like doing them separately is kind of difficult when you have all this rigorous academic curriculum. Like you have your friends inviting you to places. You’re like, “Oh no, I have a midterm. Oh no, I have to study.” So, yeah, if just are able to combine them, you are able to travel.

PARTICIPANT: I traveled in California and west coast a bit, but I think this time, in a very unacademic setting, I do really want to go to Texas, because I feel like without seeing Texas, it will be an incomplete U.S. experience. So – (laughter).

PARTICIPANT: Yeah, before it secedes from the rest of the country. (Laughter.)

(Question and answer exchange in Turkish.)

MR. DICKER: Okay. I think it’s time for us to wrap this up, and I think a big round of applause for our Turkish and American student friends. (Applause.) And for the CGs for having hosted and moderated this. (Applause.) We should do this again sometime. It was fun.

MR. KILNER: It’s really great to see what a positive experience everyone on both sides is having. I can’t say I’m surprised, but it just confirms my view on the value of this, and I wish you all the very best, and continue to have fun and be two-way ambassadors after you return to your country.

MR. BILGEN: Thank you, Mr. Consul General and thank you to our young American friends over there for participating. (In Turkish.)

Just wanted to add that I think we just witnessed the value of both countries’ investment in their – in the young generation, in the human capital, and this is the way to tap that potential. A young, kind lady mentioned that in this time around, I’ll be able to more zoom in. After this experience, you will have the assets to zoom out, and in and out, whenever you please, based on this experience. It becomes more relative in that sense, and that’s where the intangibles lie in, in this exchange, and a give-and-take. We both take and we both give on both sides of the ocean.

Thank you again.

MR. KILNER: Well put.

MR. BILGEN: Thank you. (Applause.)