As Sweet As Turkish Delight

There are hundreds of students from over 50 different countries who come to study abroad each year at SUNY New Paltz to experience American culture.

Most students on campus are more familiar with international programs in the French, Italian, Spanish and Asian Studies departments but may overlook other rich, historic communities on campus — like that of Turkish culture.

According to Dr. Kathleen Geher, director of the Dual Diploma Program and a lecturer of psychology, New Paltz currently has 115 Turkish students here on campus.

On Thursday, April 30 in the Student Union Multipurpose Room, students, faculty and members of the community gathered together for the fourth year in a row to celebrate and learn about the history and culture of Turkey at Turkish Culture Night.

This annual event was started and organized by Veysel Ucan, director of the Turkish Cultural Center in Albany and a native of Istanbul, as well as District 103 Assemblymember Kevin Cahill.

“This event provides an opportunity to learn about Turkish culture for people who aren’t from the culture,” Ucan said. “We are trying to promote the culture on campus, while at the same time trying to remind the Turkish students of the home they might miss.”

As participants in the Dual Diploma Program, the Turkish students go back and forth each year between their home universities and New Paltz. The objective of the program is to allow the students to receive diplomas in the same major from both their Turkish universities and New Paltz, while allowing them to acquire skills that will open up more doors for them in the future, according to Geher.

“The best part of the program is learning about and discovering other cultures,” said Ezgi Memis, a third-year business major and another native of Istanbul. “American culture is so different from our own.”

Danielle Roma, a third-year communications disorders major and Nate Christian, a third-year marketing major, said it was their first year attending the event and they both enjoyed the authentic food and music.

“It’s nice to mix the Turkish and American students together socially,” Roma said. “And the baklava tasted delightful.”

Along with serving baklava, a rich, sweet pastry made of flaky dough filled with chopped walnuts or pistachios and sweetened with honey, Turkish Culture Night also presented its guests with börek, a savory, cheesy pastry, red lentil kofte, Turkish coffee, hummus as well as other Turkish delicacies — some provided by Anatolia, a Turkish restaurant located on Main Street in New Paltz. Meze, or appetizers, are a common part of Turkish meals, Geher said.

The entertainment of the evening was provided by two New York City gentlemen — Scott Wilson and Jim Nordstrom — who played classical Turkish instruments such as the oud, a pear-shaped string instrument, the saz, another string instrument with a deep, round back but a much longer neck as well as the kanun, commonly referred to as “the king of instruments,” whose strings stretch over a single bridge with fish-skins on one end and are attached to tuning pegs at the other.

Other forms of entertainment were provided by Turkish artist MustafanYasar, who introduced the attendees to traditional ebru art, also known as water marbling. The artist puts oil on top of a pan filled with water. They then drop specks of paint — blue, white, red, yellow, green — into the pan and stroke a thin utensil in a vertical motion through the liquid and finally place a sheet of paper on top. When the sheet dries, it brings to life the multicolored, “marbled” masterpiece.

Geher said that as a campus, we are lucky to have the Dual Diploma Program and that every year, she learns something new at this event. This year she learned that Santa Claus, formally known as St. Nicholas, was born and buried in Turkey as well as that the Virgin Mary’s house was located there.

“Turkish society is a culture most people are not very familiar with, but [are fascinated] to learn about because of its amazing history,” she said. “The students help to internationalize and diversify our campus.”