16/01/2009

Memoirs of Middle East Technial University, Ankara

I was asked to write a 'few words' for the old Turkish university, in diplo-speak for the new incoming students. So naturally I had to stop myself from going on and on, and ON. Here's what I limited myself to...

ODTU

In the first few weeks of my study semester in ODTU, I volunteered to do my bit for my host community and write a short article for the Erasmus Life. I recall with nostalgia struggling to decide what aspect of my mini-adventure I should focus my attention on; the new sights, sounds and smells overpowering my imagination, and an endless bureaucracy slowly throttling it . Now that it is all over, I am confronting the same struggle for words - this time to take some of the experiences, thoughts and feelings of possibly the most eye-opening six months of my life, and churn them into a few short paragraphs for your skim-reading pleasure.

But for the sake of brevity I shall focus on the university itself - as for the country and people; the work of an unlimited number of historians, diplomats and journalists, and even more psychologists, would never help you understand.

But you can hope to become gradually enlightened. And coming to ODTU is to view Turkey from a unique lens. The university is as famous as it is controversial. Originally funded by the Americans to recruit the best minds in the Middle East for the forces of capitalism (and duly designed in the shape of gun aimed towards Moscow) it is a great irony that it is now almost synonymous with Marxist-Communism and student radicalism. I had the pleasure of meeting some of its first students - now in their 60s - on a trip to the island resort of Bozcaada. “ODTU is a very special place” the old man beamed at me - “It really was revolutionary".

Evidence for its revolutionary past are everywhere, preserved in campus folklore and of course, the great centerpiece stadium whose main stand is emblazoned with Devrim - Revolution. Here, protests and marches run like clockwork.

Although most of the students, if asked, have no idea what form this devrim would take and, if quizzed long enough, would probably conclude that another radical coup would be devastating for Turkey, this is all done in the name of tradition - just go along with it, and for God's sake - don't question it.

Alternatively, you can march to your own drum quite easily; ODTU offers a beautiful and serene campus for you to explore and there are always the amenities; tennis courts, gym, swimming pool, football pitch, music and dance studios - all of which you will inevitably regret not having used while you spent most of your day sipping chay in the many cafes open around the clock.

Turks take food seriously, so it is just as well that there are enough restaurants and cafes around campus - and you will eat better than you ever did at home for half the price. If you’re from the UK anyway.

And another point - especially for my fellow Britons; EU institutions are taken seriously when you leave the island - even in Turkey! Prepare to find out why on the word Erasmus is almost synonymous with having fun, making great friends and ending up in the most bizarre situations you’ll ever be in. There are trips and socials planned tirelessly by the Erasmus co-ordinators on campus to make you feel at ease and to help you get to know cool, interesting people. And with so many nationalities and personalities it is sure to be a great experience for all.

Have fun arkadeshlarim!

P.S.. Learn Turkish!

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