From here to there

Meet Turkish exchange student Yagmur Dogan

Yagmur headshot2


The Shield: Where are you from?

YD: I go to school in Izmir, which is on the west coast. Izmir is so similar to Austin. The people are so friendly and helpful and happy.


The Shield: Why were you inspired to study abroad?

Yagmur Dogan: When I was in middle school, I went to Germany for one week with my middle school, and that experience was really good because you see lots of people from different countries and you are like, ‘Oh, we are not that different. We live in different places, but we have the same kind of habits, and we are just having fun.’ It’s really fun to be around different people. You feel special, kind of, and it made me want to do it more.


The Shield: What is it like to be learning a new language?

YD: I knew English before I came here, but I wasn’t super-great. I was like, ‘Let’s go to a country where they speak English.’ I wanted to improve my English at the same time. ‘What’s up’ was hard for me when I first came here. I was like, ‘How am I going to answer that question?’ I would just say, ‘Hi,’ or act like I didn’t hear what they said. I learned two days ago that if you someone asks you, ‘What’s up?’ you need to say, ‘Nothing much,’ but if you are texting or messaging, you need to say what you are doing. I was always saying, ‘Good.’ So now I know what to say.


The Shield: What other languages do you know?

YD: Turkish is my first language. I know a little German too, but I’m not that great. I can talk with a German person and understand, but I don’t feel comfortable talking. I can read, but I cannot write. In Turkey, when it was the Ottoman Empire, they were writing with a different alphabet, and they had a special kind of language. For example, the ‘big’ people, like the royalty, the writers and the artists, were writing in that language. In my high school, they teach us that language, Ottoman Turkish. You read it as Turkish, but you write different. It’s hard, though.


The Shield: What has been the biggest challenge of studying abroad?

YD: I think the language was really hard at the beginning. I knew English, but still, if you are in a different country learning English as a foreign person, you don’t know all the idioms and all the slang. You do practice in your English class, but it’s not the same. So you know how to speak, how to read and how to write, but the beginning of the year was like, ‘I understand the first thing that you said, but I do not understand the rest of it.’ If someone was speaking for like five minutes, I understood the main thing they said, like as a summary, but I did not understand the details they were saying exactly.


The Shield: How did you overcome your nervousness?

YD: The first two weeks, I was so shy to talk. If you don’t talk, you don’t make friends, so after a little while, I tried it. People were telling me that they don’t know any Turkish, and if they went to Turkey, they wouldn’t understand anything, but I was understanding people and communicating. They don’t know anything about my language, and I know lots about theirs. They said, ‘Just be confident. Believe in yourself.’


The Shield: What’s something most people don’t know about Turkey?

YD: The first thing is that people ask us if we are speaking Arabic, but it’s not true. We don’t speak Arabic. We just used their alphabet, and that was all. They ask, ‘What’s your language?’ It’s Turkish. And some of them don’t know where Turkey is.


The Shield: What surprised you about McCallum?

YD: People are so friendly and open. I didn’t see any bullying here, and it surprised me. Most of the people in the movies and TV series show bullying in the American high schools, but I didn’t see any here. It’s great.


The Shield: How is McCallum different than your high school in Turkey?

YD: Here, you have lots of options about your classes. You can choose everything. You have lots of art, different kinds of every kind of art. There’s theater, musical theater, tech theater. We just have theater. Here there’s everything. The school is huge. In Turkey, my high school has 300 people. It’s small compared to other high schools in Turkey too, but the building is kind of big for that many people. The first day here, I was walking in the hallway and everyone was coming towards me, and I was always lost for the first two weeks. I was always asking people, ‘Where’s the closest restroom?’ and ‘I forgot the number of the room.’ It’s so big.


The Shield: How is the United States education system different from Turkey’s?

YD: It’s harder in Turkey, but if you are taking all of your classes AP, it’s kind of the same. Here, you have college and then go to university, but in Turkey, we just have university, like a European system. Our high schools are harder because most of them teach us college stuff in high school. You go to college for four years, but we already know two or three years of college when we graduate from high school. So it’s harder, and you need to work hard to get into a university.  Here, you have eight classes in a year, but in Turkey we have 15 or 16. Your classes are different every day. For example, here, you take geography in 10th grade and history in 11th, but in Turkey, you need to take geography and history in every year. Instead of Algebra I, Algebra II and Pre-Calculus, we just have math and geometry every year.


The Shield: What do you miss about Turkey?

YD: My family is the first. We try to Skype every Saturday, but sometimes I have something to do and I cannot do it. Sometimes they go somewhere, and they are eight hours ahead of us. Sometimes we do it every week, but sometimes it’s every two weeks, and one time we did it after three weeks or a month, and I missed them. My best friends are actually in the United States, too, because we applied to the same program at the same time. We have American numbers and we can just call each other, so I’m keeping ties with my friends easily.


The Shield: What do you plan to do next year?

YD: Next year I will go back and do a fifth year in high school. My school is kind of special. It’s a social science high school, and they made us study English for one year, 20 hours in a week. They have one in almost every city. It has dormitories, so I have friends from different cities who stay there so they don’t have to travel, but I’m taking the school bus. When I graduate from high school, I want to go to law school. I want to be a lawyer. Here, you have some ACT and SAT tests, and we have our own test. You need to take one during your senior year, and you need to pass the limit, and then you can take the other tests. The second test, there are different kinds of test subjects. If you want to go to medical school, they count your science and math score. If you want to go law school, they count your literature and math scores. In Turkey, there are different kinds of high schools. For example, there’s one that teaches you how to teach, so if you go to that kind of school, they give you an extra point because you took some classes. If you go to a medical school, they give you an extra point for your medical college. Before you go to high school, you take another test, and you choose your high school with those points. The social science schools are kind of special. There are 33 of them in the whole country. In middle school, I became interested in language, and I’m not that great in science, so I chose a social science school. In 9th and 10th grade, we take biology, chemistry and physics, but if you go to a normal school, they teach you those three every year. I want to be a lawyer, so I need social sciences, math and literature.

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