INSIDE BINGHAMTON UNIVERSITY
Turkish students begin journey through partnership’s second stage
By : Stephen P. Jensen
Binghamton University’s role in two dual-diploma bachelor’s degree programs with four partner universities in Turkey, announced in May 2003, is now corporeal: the Turks have landed.
Last week 28 students - who completed the first year of their programs at participating universities in their home country - set foot on the BU campus for the first time.
Amid the usual swirl of back-to-school disarray, these students were immediately immersed not only into their program of choice, but into American culture.
Less on their minds last week were impending studies in Global and International Affairs and Information Systems, the two majors offered in this unique bi-national format. More impacting were the unfamiliar scenes of the campus and the surrounding Southern Tier.
“I’m living next to a nature preserve,” said 22-year-old Cem (pronounced like the English word “gem”) Bagdatli, who moved into Mountainview College. “It’s greater than I expected, also. The campus is very much greater than I expected.”
In his perspective, and referring to Binghamton’s recent ranking as the No. 32 public university in the United States, Bagdati added: “If I didn’t know this was (the) No. 32 school in the country, I’d still say it belongs with the Ivy League universities.”
Bagdatli also mentioned that his experience has revealed more surprises than he’d anticipated, making special mention of the food variety in the states.
“The food is different than what we eat in Turkey,” he said. “You eat donuts and such for breakfast. We don’t do that in Turkey. Also the size of the meals here really big.”
Other students noted the general impression of what they called “the consumer’s pump working, working.” Amid beautiful surrounding nature and classic homes, they seemed most struck by shopping malls and restaurant chains.
Burcu (pronounced “boor-choo”) Turkay, 20, said her greatest shock so far has been living in a setting far removed from Istanbul, where her Turkish school, Bogazici University, is situated.
“In Turkey we have an image of the American university,” she said. “Big campus, green areas, international students everywhere. There’s a lot of diversity here. In Turkey there’s not much of that.
“And there are squirrels here, just everywhere,” said Turkay, who recently moved into College-in-the-Woods. “On the campus in Istanbul, it’s in a city, so there’s no opportunity to see animals, really. I’m in the environment here. I’m in a good atmosphere.”
And she said the level of acceptance has been overwhelming.
“People here care about us,” she said. “It’s more than I expected after 9-11 because I’m a Muslim and I’m Turkish, so I thought maybe this would be a bad idea. But I haven’t experienced that anywhere, and I hope I don’t. All people seem to care about is that I’m here to study with them, and that’s it.”
Bagdatli said he’s also noted a difference in attitude since arriving at Binghamton. “I’m surprised because people here are very warm and friendly,” he said. “I didn’t know many Americans before and they’re different than I thought. You say hi to people and not know them. It’s not like that in Turkey. People try to help you here, all the time.”
And so far, his immersion has been punctuated by a new passion: American movies.
“I like a lot, but ‘The Godfather’ is my favorite,” Bagdatli said.
Meanwhile, and no surprise given the local weather patterns, Turkay has been puzzled by the ever-changing Binghamton climate.
“It’s very different here. It could be sunny in the morning, but by afternoon,” she said, “it will be raining. That’s very strange to me.”
Also mystifying will be heavy snows, she said. In Istanbul, a light dusting shuts down the city.
“It’s not usual to get a lot of snow,” Turkay said, disappointed to learn it’s a rare occasion to have classes canceled here. “How much snow here? How cold? This will be interesting.”
DOWN TO BUSINESS
But once things become more familiar, there is, after all, business at hand. Enter H. Stephen Straight, vice provost for undergraduate education and international affairs, who last week led a handful of orientation sessions for the Turkish newcomers.
“We’ve completed the first year of instruction (at partner Turkish universities),” said Straight, “and we have our 28 students here this year. Next year the current group will return to Turkey for the third year of the program and we’ll have somewhere between 150 and 180 new sophomores here from Turkey, in part because we’re introducing a dual-diploma program in management as well.”
Straight said that people may wonder why as few as 28 arrived this year. It’s simple, he said.
“In order to participate in the program, students must be fluent in English. Several first-year students (about 120 of the first group of 150) spent their freshman year in English remediation and are now taking the first year of classes in the Turkey-BU program,” said Straight. Those students, he said, will need five years to complete the program.
“When the program is at steady-state,” said Straight, “we could have as many as 360 students from Turkey here at a time - half of them sophomores, the other half seniors.”