Friday, January 29, 2010

Why It Continues To Be a Small World After All

As part of my whole semi-institutionalized “having Turkish friends” thing, I now go to the language school on Tuesdays and Thursdays (in addition to class on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays) to interact with the students intending to travel to America for Work-Travel programs. The classes for these students seem to be pretty free-formed. Today, I made a collage of what Turkey means to me (their words, not mine) while about five Turkish students made collages about America. The medium of choice was the Turkish version of Elle Magazine, which offers few good examples of Americana or Turkeyacana (my word, but it should catch on). Fortunately, the Americans in the room were offered Turkish tourism pamphlets, which were great. The Turks did not fare as well. One America-themed collage had at least three pictures of Russian churches and statues. I tried to point out that onion-shaped domes and three-bar crosses were indicative of Russian churches and that American statues are not so triumphant (or of Lenin), but perhaps I was too soft-spoken. I didn’t have the heart to argue further once the pictures had been pasted on. Almost every “America” collage also included dollar signs drawn all over, which sort of makes me feel bad about America is viewed abroad. After collage time, we went out to have a snowball fight in the first Ankara snow of the season.

Between the collage making and snowball fighting (forgive the non-chronological order – I need to do it for stylistic reasons associated with the title of the post) we met the director of work-travel programs at the language school. He was a nice guy, and was seemingly convinced that Americans are the friendliest people on the planet. He told the Turkish students with us that if you were in America and needed to get somewhere, you could knock on a stranger’s door and they would drive you. Though I am sure this is sometimes the case (especially since it happened to this guy once), I feel like any American would shudder at the thought of the combination of soliciting and hitch-hiking. Furthermore I am learning that people are generally nice to foreigners in most countries, provided they are of the right race (is that statement going to get me in trouble?) and neither too poor nor too rich. This is the only rationale I can come up with for why we are convinced that the Turks are the nicest people we have ever met and the Turks feel likewise about us.

Getting to the point of the story, this teacher began asking us a bunch of questions about ourselves. He asked us what we were studying, and when he heard I was studying mechanical engineering at METU, he more or less told me I was some serious trouble, as it was apparently one of the most competitive academic programs in Turkey* He then asked us where we were from. My usual answer is that I am from New York, but seeing as this guy lived in Pennsylvania for several months, I decided to say that I was from New Jersey. His response was something like “Oh really? Where are you from in New Jersey? Ridgewood?”

Assuming I had just suffered an auditory hallucination, I said, “Ridgewood, near Paramus and Hackensack, if you have heard of them.”

The teacher responded, “Oh yes, I have been there.”

Again, I was unconvinced that some man from Turkey that had toured the United States for a semester would identify my un-noteworthy suburban town as the first town he could think of in New Jersey. I said, “Which town? Hackensack?”

He responded, “No, Ridgewood. We got lost going through New Jersey and ended up there. There is nothing to do there. It really is a boring town.”

I agreed with him, still a little stunned.

*I am getting this a lot and it is starting to worry me. I need a B or above in all of my classes to get credit at Mudd (Pitzer students need a C for their classes) and this apparently requires scoring 96 or above on finals. Hopefully, Turkey is not a very smart country.


  1. 1. Turkeyacana is what we have on Thanksgivingacana.
    2. There was an article just this week in Newsweek that addressed, amongst other things, the competitiveness of the US. It stated that one our our major strenghts is our higher education system; that while the competition to get into the top facilites in other countries is far more intense than here, the quality of the education that they provide does not begin to compare. Worry not (unless Newseek is totally wrong).

  2. Hahahahaha, I liked the Lenin statue comment. :)