How Northwestern's Turkish community grew

    President Schapiro “likes Turkish people.”

    Or so he supposedly told a number of Turkish students and their parents at an event held at the Rampa Art Gallery in Istanbul last winter.

    Northwestern is always trying to increase its global engagement, as evidenced by Roberta Buffett Elliott's recent $101 million donation, but there seems to be an especially focused effort in Turkey. It's still a small group of students, and they rely on each other a lot as they make the move from Turkey to the U.S., but over the past two years it has grown significantly.

    “We help each other with classes and other stuff,” McCormick freshman Nida Kesoglu said. “This is really difficult transition for us. All the Turkish people are going to eat dinner this week: 17 sophomores, 14 freshman, three juniors and two seniors.”

    That’s 31 underclassmen from Turkey, but only five upperclassmen – a trend that does not mirror Northwestern’s general increase in international students.

    A flourishing community

    Maybe it's an increase in Turkish applicants. Maybe it was starting the Keyman Turkish Studies program in 2005. Maybe it was adding Turkish businessman Melih Keyman to the Board of Trustees in 2011. Regardless of the cause, the Turkish community on campus is growing significantly.

    “Having a Turkish member on the board is very important. It is a big deal,” McCormick junior Mert Yavuz said. “I also really think that the reputation of Northwestern is on the rise in Turkey and people want to apply.”

    McCormick freshman Erkan Kiliç said that Keyman "is the first person in the Turkish community to work on the Northwestern name."

    He continued, “He is taking the lead for the Turkish community.”

    While Northwestern’s reputation is generally improving across the globe, having the Keyman Turkish program – a program that specifically focuses on the scholarship of Turkey – has a big impact for prospective Turkish students. McCormick sophomore Osman Sarman said "it makes sense," though, arguing that if a prominent Ohio figure had a program named after him at Northwestern, there would naturally be more Ohio students at the University.

    And the University in general is also extending its outreach to the Turkish community. Sarman said “the advertising is really good as well, because while I was applying, the admissions officer came to Turkey like three times maybe, and I was able to see him.”

    Forming a family away from home

    The Turkish students here at Northwestern have formed, in the words of Yavuz, “a closely knit community.”

    “When you come here, you don’t know anyone. You just have your Turkish friends to talk with, so we hung out a lot we had Turkish dinners, Turkish breakfast. We still do,” Dobrucali says. “I mean whenever you go somewhere and you see someone who is Turkish you will say ‘hey,’ if I hear even one Turkish thing, even if I don’t know the person I will go over and start chatting.”

    Additionally, some Northwestern Turkish students live together. Senior Mert Salur lives with Sarman and one other Turkish student.

    “It is fun being able to speak Turkish everyday, it’s really great otherwise you really do get alienated from your own culture,” Salur says. “We are already so far.”

    Although Kiliç says that it isn’t as if it is all Turks, all the time, he still is often surrounded by at least a couple of Turkish students and multiple live in Bobb with him.

    “I have three Turkish friends on my floor, two on the first floor and several on other floors so only in Bobb we have like six or seven Turkish students, it is impossible to get away from,” Kilic says.

    A part of Zeta Beta Tau fraternity, Yavuz has close friends who are in his fraternity, and most of his closer friends are from other parts of the world. That being said, he “would never ignore his Turkish background.”

    “We look out for each other a lot. If something happens to one of the Turkish guys I know I’ll be there to help out,” Yavuz said. “I’m sure they would be there to help out for me as well.”

    Many Turkish students rely on the community when they’re first adjusting to Northwestern. Kesoglu said Turkish students are “so close and very helpful.”

    “When you come here you don’t know anyone, you just have your Turkish friends to talk with, so we hung out a lot. We had Turkish dinners, Turkish breakfast, we still do,” Weinberg sophomore Piril Dobrucali said. “I mean, whenever you go somewhere and you see someone who is Turkish you will say ‘hey.’ If I hear even one Turkish thing, even if I don’t know the person I will go over and start chatting.”

    A skewed view

    From Schapiro's visit to Istanbul's Rampa Art Gallery last winter, students remembered his comments about Turkish involvement at Northwestern.

    “He talked about how Turkish people had sort of the warmth of Midwest culture and how Turkish people acted more diversely than other international student groups,” Weinberg sophomore Yoni Pinto said.

    Schapiro then reportedly continued by going one step further with his comparison.

    “He said socially, Turkish students were in more social circles more than, like, Chinese and Korean people who stick to their own social circles more and he liked the fact that Turkish people went out more and had more interactions with different people,” Pinto said.

    McCormick freshman Nida Kesoglu attended Schapiro's speech as Pinto after being admitted early and is from Saint Joseph High School, a French high school in Istanbul.

    Kiliç, who was one of two to come from his high school, Robert College, an American school in Istanbul, met both Schapiro and Keyman at an event hosted by the Keyman family.

    “President Schapiro mentioned the strong alumni number in Turkey, how many graduates we have in Turkey, he wanted to have a better reputation for NU’s name,” Kiliç said.

    Due to heavy traveling, President Schapiro was only able to comment via email. The full text of his email read:

    “I don't recall making that comparison a year ago,” Schapiro said. “But it is certainly the case that not all international students equally immerse themselves into the NU community.

    “In fact, at the sendoff in Seoul a couple of months before the Istanbul event, we had a panel of students cautioning the incoming Korean students not to room with each other, and to take full advantage of the complete collegiate experience.

    “Similar advice was given by current students from China at the Shanghai send off a bit earlier.  Of course, our Turkish students don't have the same language challenges so it tends to be easier for them to acclimate than many students from China and Korea. The same can be said for international students from India and many other countries.”

    Pinto agreed with the idea that Turkish students may immerse themselves better but doesn’t think it is “as great as Morty makes it out to be” – he said Turks on campus tend to both “stick to each other as well as going out of their Turkish bubble.” But Pinto does have experiences that seem to support what many remember President Schapiro saying in Istanbul. He said he’s observed other groups communicate with only people from the same country and in their native language, while of the Turkish people he knows, they “seem to be better [immersed] than the other international student groups.”


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