Turkey on the 4th of July

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Students learn about themselves on trip abroad – and Nebraska’s importance in the world

Four University of Nebraska students had studied Turkey more than almost anyone else in the world their age. But then they spent a few weeks in that country last summer, and their textbooks opened wide.

They walked inside.

They sipped tea with people they met – the Turkish always seemed to make time for tea with friends.… They haggled with vendors in Istanbul’s grand Bazaar.… They stood in the Hagia Sophia – a huge domed basilica far older than a thousand years, and passed through a doorway where once only emperors could go.… They visited ancient mosques and climbed to a monastery on a mountaintop.… They saw big, Nebraska-like farms with modern equipment. But they also saw farms with stone homes and thatched roofs and people cutting down crops with scythes.…

They spent the Fourth of July in turkey.

“There are no patriotic American things going on in Turkey that day,” said Shelby Andersen-Holt, a Middle East Studies major at UNO who grew up in Kearney.

She smiled.

“So we went to Burger King.”

As they traveled across Turkey and talked to people, the four students gained a perspective that no textbook in the world could have taught them.

They traveled there on scholarships to help renew a historic relationship between the University of Nebraska and Ataturk University in Turkey. “They were ‘new pioneers,'” according to Tom Farrell, vice provost for global engagement at the University of Nebraska.

Few people in Nebraska have heard of Ataturk University, which lies in eastern Turkey in an ancient city called Erzurum. Few people know that the University of Nebraska played a major hand in building that university decades ago, during the Cold War.

But Ataturk University is a big deal in Turkey. It’s named after Mustafa Ataturk, the man who founded modern-day Turkey. According to the main page of the university’s website, Ataturk University was established in 1957 as “the realization of one of the most significant dreams of the Turkish Republic.”

Ataturk’s website mentions the relationship with the University of Nebraska prominently.

Its campus was designed after UNL’s East Campus.

The relationship between the two schools dates to 1957 when Cliff Hardin, who then was the chancellor of the University of Nebraska, was asked by the U.S. State Department to help the Turkish government create the University of Ataturk – the country’s first U.S.-style land-grant university. Since then Ataturk has contributed significantly to the strong economic growth in Turkey, which is now a world leader.

A year ago in Turkey, University of Nebraska President James B. Milliken signed an agreement with Ataturk’s president that strengthened this long-term partnership and laid the groundwork for expanding faculty collaborations and student exchanges. Ataturk’s president then invited four University of Nebraska students to come study there for free for two weeks. Milliken’s office paid for the travel expenses for the students, who were chosen for the interest they had shown in Turkey and for the essays they were asked to write.

Two of the students attend UNO – Shelby and political science major Cory Ruzicka. Two attend UNL – finance major John Glassman and Kevin Adler, who’s studying political science, economics and global studies.

One day after their trip, the four sat around a table in the University of Nebraska Regents conference room in Varner Hall, near UNL’s East Campus. They ate sandwiches and chips and debriefed Tom Farrell about their experience. Farrell said he hoped to use their observations to shape further student exchanges with Turkey.

The four told him of all the “a-ha” moments.

“I went into this from a business perspective,” John said. “Turkey and the United States, especially in the last decade, are much more of trading partners. It’s doubled since 2006. So then to actually go to Turkey, which really is like this crosspoint of so many cultures – that was just incredible for usto see.”

Its location is strategic, he said. That really hit home, too. Turkey borders eight countries as it straddles Europe and Asia. Two of the countries are Syria and Iraq. Yet the students all felt very safe. They told Farrell that. They felt safe even though they were in Istanbul during anti-governmentprotests at Taksim Square, when police blasted tear gas and water at protesters.

The students’ tour guide for the day in Istanbul was a young woman about their age named Selen who’d actually participated in the protests. She told them that the violence had surprised and traumatized her. She showed them photos of the protest that were on her cell phone, with shocking “before” and “after” photos taken of her.

Said Cory: “It was interesting to be there during that time. It was really awesome to get a firsthand account.”

Kevin, one of the UNL students, had studied Turkey’s ruling party – the Justice and Development Party – before going over because it was the subject of an undergraduate UCARE [http://www.unl.edu/ucare/] grant he’d earned. While in Turkey, he listened to Selen’s perspective. He also listened to the perspective of pro-government people like the shopkeeper he met in the Grand Bazaar while haggling for a trinket.

That man told Kevin of all the great things he felt the ruling party had done for the country.

“It showed me that if I really wanted to understand Turkish politics, and write these big papers, well, I need to go over there and learn and suck up the culture and politics.”

Kevin, who’s now back in Turkey doing research and taking classes in Ankara at Bilkent University, wants to work in the foreign service. He and the other students all told Farrell that they felt their time in Turkey would help them in their careers someday.

Shelby saw how weird it could be to be a young American woman in the Middle East. One day at a hotel, when she was the last student to bring her suitcase outside, the concierge – a friendly man – made a comment about how, of course, the woman would be the last.

Her eyes opened wide.

The man had meant no offense. But that just wasn’t the kind of comment she would have heard back home. And by the end of the trip, her pride in her own Nebraska home had grown higher than the mountains and minarets of Turkey.

“I went with the mindset that I was from a part of the U.S. no one had heard of, and I came home with the realization that Nebraska is an important actor in the world theater,” she said. “I realized that I would never trade an American passport for any other passport.

“And I’ve never felt so patriotic as I did in Turkey on the Fourth of July.”

Global Engagement is one of the top priorities of the Campaign for Nebraska, now in its final year. If you would like to help students like Shelby, Kevin, John and Cory see the world and bring what they’ve learned back to Nebraska, please consider giving online or contact the foundation at 800-432-3216.

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