Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Orientation Day 2: Briefings & Turkish Lessons

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

On day 2 of Orientation, we were welcomed by special guests from the Turkish Fulbright Commission, U.S. Embassy in Ankara, and the Turkish Council of Higher Education. But the day mainly consisted of briefings from State Department officials. During the "Turkish and U.S. General Overview," it was interesting to learn that there was a 73% unfavorable view of US among Turks in 2014, and that number has been pretty consistent over the past decade. Despite this, however, NATO member Turkey is a strong ally of the United States especially for its strategic geographic location to Afghanistan, the Balkans, Libya, Somali (piracy issue), Iran, and Syria. We were also encouraged to learn more about the party system as the Turkish presidential election approaches in November. One party in particular, the PKK (Kurdish Workers Party), an insurgent group demanding separation from Turkey to form Kurdistan, was called out as a terrorist organization. This drew lots of questions from the audience, and I quickly realized that the minority Kurds were a contentious topic in Turkish politics.

One brave Fulbright student sincerely asked an interesting question for which he apologized but said he was genuinely curious to know. It caught everyone off guard. "You said that the United States defines terrorists as those who use violence to achieve political ends, but doesn't the United States  also use violence or enable organizations/rebel groups that support such means?" The State Department officials answered very diplomatically and said it was a complicated question because there are many definitions of terrorism and multiple schools of thought on how to define the word/concept. The room became silent and the topic later became a dinner conversation.

During the "Security Briefing", perhaps the most engaging of the presentations, we were advised about taking general precautions about our safety when interacting with locals (watch out for pick-picketers), being outside (carry a copy of passport at all times), (not) participating in political rallies, and regional travel (avoid southeast). The terror threat level in Turkey, as ranked by the U.S. State Department, is critical because of transnational and indigenous terrorists while crime threat is low. Everyone scribbled the emergency phone numbers at the end of that presentation.

During the "Health Briefing," they cautioned us to drink only bottled water, be careful of bugs outside, and to always keep an emergency and insurance cards on us at all times. The "911" version of Turkey is 155 for police and 112 for medical emergencies.

The "American Citizen Services" was dry and simply told us about what the U.S. embassy can do for us while we are abroad such as passport renewals, etc. One cool thing to note is that after January 1, 2016, they are no longer adding additional pages to passport books for anyone; you are required to get a new one. I think it would be wise to add a few more pages to my passport...

The 12-member Turkish Fulbright Commission then had a 30-minute panel about who they are and what they do; they manage and coordinate various the exchange programs. After a lovely coffee/tea break, we had three hours of Turkish language instruction! I was placed in a beginner class and my teacher only spoke in Turkish, forcing us to figure out what she was saying. We learned how to say the following phrases:

  • Hello, my name is __, what is your name?
  • How are you doing? I'm doing well.
  • How old are you? I am ___ years old.
Here is a short video of me practicing my very first Turkish phrase later that night.


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