We had our second stop on the tour at Ataturk University in Erzurum, which has a beautiful campus tucked in the Palandokan Mountains. Erzurum is a popular ski town, though it was a little too early in the season for much snow.
When we arrived I was chatting with one of the event organizers. I told him that was really happy with how the first talk had gone and was very surprised at how big the crowd had been. He then informed me that the first university was a smallest one we would visit. After showing me the 800+ seats in the auditorium, we proceeded outside to the media vans, which would be broadcasting the event nationally on the radio. I wish the proper letters existed to communicate the squeak that came out of my mouth as my butt clenched tight with fear.
After pulling together a satisfying presentation at the first event, I wanted to keep the momentum going. I was texting back and forth with my mom before things got started, and she was surprised to hear how many students were showing up (as was I). So, when I got on stage I asked them all to wave to her while I took their picture.
The presentation itself went very well – better than the first one, actually. There were some very poignant questions on stage and in the greeting area afterward. I personally was never one to raise my hand in class or ask questions from the audience, so the enthusiasm students were showing was really impressive.
OH, I forgot to mention this last time – as if the Britney microphone wasn’t magical enough, every time I walked onto the stage they played that Coldplay song from Life of Pi. This is another feature I would like to adopt into my everyday life – I’ve never been a particularly devoted Coldplay fan, but from now on be prepared for a Coldplay soundtrack every time I enter a room, building, or conversation. I believe this will give my life the sense of whimsy it has been lacking. You’re welcome.
When I went back to my seat for the rest of the presentations I saw a kid trying to sneak a picture of me. I then tried to sneak a picture of him sneaking a picture of me, but I was too slow. Armed with a bodyguard and my wonderful translator Hasan, we went out into the foyer to answer student questions once the presentations were finished. The rolling desk nearly crushed me as students pushed forward, but it was really nice to have a chance to talk (very briefly) with a few of the students.
It has been hard to judge how many students are interested in applying for the program and how many just wanted to take pictures. The program is called Bugün Günlerden Yarin, which translates directly to “today is the day that is tomorrow.” The general message is something along the lines of “your future starts today,” but the Turkish title sounds more exciting. Plus look at all those umlauts!
The long-term goal of this whole project is to have a system in place to offer students from the more rural areas of Anatolia the opportunity to gain hands-on experience by applying for and carrying out a project, with the National Geographic Young Explorers program as a model. As I understand it, these kinds of opportunities are more difficult to come by in the universities outside of larger cities like Istanbul and Ankara.
We wrapped up the day with another amazing dinner at a restaurant that is over 300 years old. I had all the skewered meat, spicy soup, baklava, and rice pudding I could handle and flew home full and exhausted.