Turkish night offers students a fresh perspective

Bethany English

Students find opportunity to experience other cultures and build friendships

Two hundred and fifty people defied the old adage “birds of a feather flock together” when they attended Turkish Night in the Studio A of Twin Towers Feb. 18.

Though the evening was dedicated to Turkish culture, people from all different backgrounds came to observe and participate.

Eron Memaj, residence hall director of Koonce Hall, works to break both international and American students of the habit of interacting only with people like themselves through the Koonce International Mentorship program.

This program brings domestic and international students together to foster cultural understanding and friendship through weekly one-on-one meetings.

“I would hate for a student to go home after four or five years without having made a friend here,” Memaj said.

Memaj started the program last semester in Koonce Hall, where he tried to spur interaction between all residents, including international students.

As a former international student from Albania, Memaj said he understands what other international students are going through, and he wants to help make their experience in America positive.

A residence hall’s purpose is to develop a sense of community, but students from other countries often feel isolated and excluded, or want to leave the hall entirely. People need to build real relationships, and he said a nod in passing doesn’t develop a sense of community.

Carrie Circosta, assistant residence hall director of Koonce Hall, helped make the Koonce International Mentorship a reality. When the program started, only 20 students were members. In a semester, the program more than doubled with over 50 current members.

Circosta said Memaj told her once the relationship between domestic and international students is similar to people going to a stranger’s house – they just don’t open the refrigerator and take what they want; they wait to be asked by their host.

She said American students have an opportunity to make the cultural experience more enjoyable for international students by getting involved with them and making them feel welcome. This program also helps broaden domestic students’ perspectives and introduces them to different cultures.

Hosting ethnic nights and international movie nights are some ways that Circosta and Memaj try to get students interested in the program.

The program also provides a safe atmosphere for international students to work on their English, and for American students to develop foreign language skills and learn about something that interests them without the risk of being judged, she said.

Basak Avci, 25-year-old international student from Istanbul, said the Koonce International Mentorship program helped her get comfortable in America.

“I am strong now,” she said. “I want to stay here a long time.”

The program gave her a lot of experiences, and she’s learned about other cultures since joining the group last semester. She even suggested it to her other international friends.

Samantha Woolverton, sophomore sociology major, said she came to Turkish Night because she likes to experience cultural events, which is one of the reasons she chose sociology as a major.

Ali Kapucu, director of recruitment for international students, worked for two “stressful” weeks to make Turkish Night happen. He said although his English is still not perfect, Koonce International Mentorship helped him improve his skills and make a lot of friends.

Circosta said Turkish Night, which involved music, food and dancing, is only a preview of what the program can really offer.

“Hopefully, it’s just scratching the tip of the iceberg,” she said.

She wants students to get interested and dig below the surface to find out what Turkish culture, or any culture, is all about.

Memaj added that it is important for all students, domestic and international, to develop a cultural consciousness because they will be the future leaders of the world and an international understanding is invaluable.