Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Orientation Day 13: Survey & Final Words

Saturday, September 12, 2015

Today is the last day of orientation! Woo!

I enjoyed the my last breakfast at the Niza Park Otel, knowing that this luxury would soon be taken from me. Everyone hurried to the final 9am call—the waiters actually rang a bell every day at 9am sharp to remind us to go downstairs to the conference room. Some waiters were more effective than others.

There was already a sad tone to the day. Something was coming to an end. As exhausting as orientation was, it was a really great bonding activity for all of us, and in many ways, brought us closer together. We are the 2015-2016 Fulbright Turkey cohort, and there’s something special about affiliation to a common experience. Everyone’s experience in their host city will be unique, but we will all leave a mark in Turkey during these next 9 months as the 2015-2016 Fulbright Turkey cohort.

Mevlude Hanim ("Hanim" means "Ms." while "Bey" means "Mr."), the woman behind the entire orientation program, and our beloved “Mama”, kicked off the last day of orientation with a “Past Experiences: Things You Should Do and Not Do”. The presentation was quite entertaining. There were anecdotes of real stories, good and bad, that happened to Fulbrighters in the past. The anecdotes were written out like a story on a slide, followed by another slide with a Do and Do Not commentary. Mevlude Hanim showcased that the Fulbright experience has brought out the best and the worst in grantees. While some have taken advantage of the program by organizing theatrical plays at their schools, becoming fluent in Turkish, getting involved in the community, and breaking down stereotypes about America, others spoiled their experience by not following school rules and Commission regulations especially regarding travel, skipping classes to travel, conducting malicious acts towards their roommates, and getting involved with the legal system.

After our last coffee break, we took a survey and provided feedback on speakers and the presentations. They wanted honest feedback to improve the program for future years. There was Turkish folk music playing so as grantees completed their survey, they joined the crowd in the front and participated in celebratory dancing.

With Prof. Dr. Ersel and Ms. Seher
My favorite part of the last day was “Final Words” by Professor Dr. Ersel Aydini. Dr. Ersel’s academic background combined with his life experiences make him a wise and humble human being. This was apparent in his speech.

Dr. Ersel wore his executive director of the Turkish Fulbright Commission hat for the first of the speech, noting that preparation was critical for our experiences and that the Commission has given us that through the intense orientation program. Orientation was critical to help connect all the actors behind the program—Turkish Fulbright Commission, U.S. State Department, ETAs, participating universities—so that there is a network of support always there for us. “Now it’s up to you,” he said, “to make or break your experiences.” He reminded us that this is “development program”, that the universities where we will be teaching are developing state/public schools. “You’ll see imperfections,” he said. The Fulbright program is giving a little push to the large Turkish government initiative to build universities across the country. Be gentle with your criticism and propose constructive feedback, he said.

Dr. Ersel, who has taught at the Harvard Kennedy School, then wore his academic hat and advised us to keep in perspective that Turkey is undergoing a huge transformation, that it’s a huge opportunity for us to be here during this critical time. “Most things are in metamorphosis,” he said. “Everything is in hybrid form—civil society, education system, democratic process.” Turkey’s rich history makes it an interesting place to be, and we should make real observations about what’s happening around us. In that sense, “don’t waste your year,” he advised. “Don’t go back the way you came in. Because maybe in 20-35 years, you won’t be able to find this type of country, not even in Turkey.”

He warned us against a small trap: The White Man’s Burden. “It’s fake and looks ridiculous,” he said. Don’t fall victim to the trap that it is your job to come in and “save Turkey” because people will notice it. This is not a place for that type of colonialism. “Problems are universal,” he said, “but they come in different clothes and faces.” They look different because of the different geography and culture. We are all familiar with radicalism, racism, police brutality—we have seen these things in the United States and we shouldn’t be shocked if we see them in Turkey.

Dr. Ersel ended his speech by saying that we should view our experience as a supermarket in which we are entering as a shopper. “Make the most of it, and don’t waste it,” he said. All actors are ready to help and support us 24/7. We should leave Turkey by experiencing to the common values of humanity. “Add to the bucket, fill it with your pebble, so that when the pebbles are dropped in an ocean, the ripple effect is larger,” he said. “Be a part of something bigger.”

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