I met Anıl one year ago, while I was participating in my first international project in Ankara, Turkey. I was really surprised to hear him say Romanian words and it was not long before I discovered his personal connection with Romania. Since I began studying, I felt an impulse to look for youngsters who promote volunteering, who want to make this world a better place, who are not afraid of taking risks, who really want to change something. Anıl is one of them. Together, we can make things happen 🙂
You are currently studying in Great Britain with a scolarship. Why Great Britain? I imagine it was something totally different from Turkey. Did you experience culture shock?
First of all, I am glad to be involved in this project, which gives me the chance to share my ideas and experiences with you. My story, how I decided to move to UK to pursue another master’s program at the University of Essex, starts with being awarded a grant called “Jean Monnet Scholarship”. It is a scholarship program which allowed more than 1400 Turkish citizens to study in EU countries since 1989, when the first agreement was signed between Turkey and the European Commission. One thing which I really like about this program is that the scholarship holder is able to choose any university in any EU member state to study at. There isn’t any restriction binding the scholarship holder while he decides on where to study or apply. Due to this reason, during the process of making a choice between universities that I had already received admission letters from (several universities in different European cities like Amsterdam, Brussels, Barcelona), I tried to focus on getting into a master’s program in a country which has a unique social-cultural structure. As a young individual, I have travelled to several places around the world on various occasions. Even though the UK is a part of the European family, it is interesting to observe the Anglo-Saxon mind, mainly because cultural codes have been preserved. Continental Europe has an integrated structure in many aspects, where the UK becomes more distinct than other European countries. I believe that given the opportunity of having this flexible scholarship, one should opt for a unique region like the UK. Additionally, as a matter of common perception, the reputation of universities in the UK is doing better than Continental European universities do. When it comes to the issue of culture and so on, I wouldn’t call what I had after moving to Colchester, Essex experiencing a cultural shock. It was a process of adaptation and learning of some habits. Yes, I agree with you. There are plenty of differences between the two countries, but they are surmountable. On the other hand, I have never looked at Turkey as a country that is isolated from the Western world. Turkey and her historical background have been always in an interaction with the western world and there are certain epitomes that this bilateral interactions resulted with integration. Due to this reason, it was a process of adaptation rather than a cultural conflict.
What are the differences between UK and Turkey in terms of the education system?
There are some significant differences between the two education systems. First of all, one can argue that the education system is centered around the student. What I mean is that we have a student-centric system here, in the UK. You are obliged to ensure your own progress. Responsibility is divided among the actors of the educational process, between student and lecturer/university. This helps you acquire some new skills. Even if I hold a Bachelor degree from an American type of university in Turkey, during the time that I spent here, I realized that the British education system is a comprehensive one and that there is a lot to learn both academically and administratively. In terms of university administration, student-centric systems make it possible to have extensive student rights concerning the division of powers within the university. The Student Union of Essex is currently taking responsibility for many diversified areas such as regulations on university library or organizing student forums in order to supervise academic performance of the university in relation to student satisfaction. These are the key differences between Turkey and the UK in terms of the education system. The UK has formalized the combination of the education system with a student-driven structure.
Can you describe in a few words how you see Turkey, in order to encourge youngsters from all over the world to visit your country?
As a main observation, there are still some stereotypes attached to the Turkish culture and social life. Turkey has proven that all of those stereotypes are composed of insubstantial stories and scenarios. I believe that giving some key concepts for identifying Turkey would be more than enough to convince people to visit Anatolia. Turkey can be conceptualized through the terms: land of dynamism, meeting point of East and West, an emerging market as a driving force of the region.
What are the main benefits of being involved in youth projects?
I think it’s about doing something concrete. You’re getting involved in a program course that teaches you some key elements before entering professional life. Doesn’t that sound advantageous and fruitful? Without a doubt, being an active member of a youth project can provide you with things you would otherwise need to get during an exhausting internship process, as a subject of cheap labor. Youth projects encompass broader aspects, such as: the opportunity of discovering new cultures and languages, the skills you acquire by managing a project budget, leadership skills (or human resources management), the chance to improve communication skills and learn tolerance and risk management. It may sound a bit “exaggerated” when reading the list of these projects’ pros, but the truth of the matter is different. You are assigned projects; you start to take responsibility for a budget, participants from different countries and the content of the whole project.
We see more and more students of our age who do not understand the importance of volunteering. What advice would you give to them?
I don’t want to repeat myself, but all I can point out to demonstrate the importance of these projects is the obligation of competing with eachother if you are determined to stay and work in the mainstream free market and its conditions. EU projects are a sort of chance to be evaluated. Whether you’re planning a future career in the market or not, these projects provide the chance to meet with new people, discover new realms and even paradigms. Think of it this way: you have an opportunity to explore new concepts within a framework that lets you enjoy your time in a foreign country without paying anything. Networking is another beneficial aspect of these programs.
When did you first come into contact with Romanian students? Why did you decide to repeat the experience?
It was in the summer of 2011, when I first met with Youth in Action projects. As a volunteer, I was involved in a project about cultural footprints of Romanian scientists in Anatolia. Romanian youngsters are the ones who made me realize that there is another world beside Turkey. I just understood that there is a world I need to discover. Since that time, I daresay, I turned into a globetrotter. I am using any occasion to travel.
Regarding Romania, based upon my personal observations, patriarchic cultural codes and whether they exist or not are not deterministic pillars either in activation of social life or participation in labour force. The very positive image that gender equality is not a big deal for Romania has been stuck in my mind. What I mean is, Romania has a relatively equal society when I compare it with Turkey in terms of gender equality. At least, females do not abstain from having an active role in any issue that requires leadership. Another impression that I got during the time I spent in Romania was about the increasing lack of confidence, respectively the distrust in mainstream politics. I believe that Romanian mainstream politics have been incapable of meeting the demands of society in the last decade, in particular post/following the-EU-accession process. One can argue about the existence of disappointment among society’s members regarding EU membership and inadequate living conditions after the transition process to democracy and the free market system, that cannot be sustained without a significant social development.
You met youngsters from different nationalities. Are Romanians different? If yes, why so?
Without any doubt, DA! The attitude of Romanians transformed a young individual who was not aware of the advantages of being a world citizen into a totally different young individual who is now seeking any little piece of opportunity to meet with someone with a different background. It is ME! The sympathetic and discerning personality traits of Romanians differentiate them from others. Romanians are probably the best around the world in using the magic art of communication. There is a huge potential among Romanian youngsters in the field of communication and perception management.
Name one thing that you love about Romanian culture.
Peaceful traditional music. If we need to concretize this issue, your traditional music is not compromised by any aggressive or antagonistic tone or piece of art. O.K., time to confess some realities! I really miss having lunch at Caru cu Bere while witnessing a lovely traditional dance performance. Here is an example of what I tried to say about Romanian culture. I hope it will help to clarify the thing. Just click on it!
Are you planning on building a career in Turkey?
All I want to do is to contribute with all of my experiences and knowledge to Turkey’s development in the near future. I really rely on Turkey and her potential. Turkey is a country that can shape the future of the whole region in a peaceful manner. Hence, I believe that youngsters who are spread across the world due to various reasons should contribute to Turkey in her journey to promote values like participation and solidarity both at a domestic and international level.
I am around 25 Ah, ok! 25,5! I was born in Erzurum, a lovely winter city in Eastern Anatolia, Turkey, relatively close to Caucasia. I graduated from Bilkent University, Department of International Relations. While pursuing a MA in Law and Economics at the same university, I was awarded a Jean Monnet Scholarship and I started my second master program at the University of Essex, in International Relations. If we refer to my hobbies, skiing is most probably the one at the top! I have played basketball at an amateur level when I was in high school. Besides, during my university life, it’s obvious that I was really active in NGO’s and student clubs-groups, both within the university and civil society. (Anıl Kemal Aktaş)