Cultures Collide In New Paltz

Traditional Turkish folk music played throughout the Student Union (SU) on Thursday, May 3. Participants gathered in the SU Multipurpose Room to discuss their country and its culture during Turkish Night, hosted by New York Assemblyman Kevin Cahill and the Turkish Cultural Center in Albany.

Turkish exchange students joined with American New Paltz students and greeted each other with “salam,” or “hello” in Turkish. The event featured speeches by Cahill, President Donald Christian and Assistant Professor of Political Science Ş İlgü Özler.

The speeches were followed by traditional Turkish dance and food, provided by New Paltz’s own Anatolia Turkish restaurant.

Eight years ago a dual diploma program was created as a collaboration between SUNY and YÖK, the Turkish Higher Education Council. The program’s purpose is to promote increased cultural awareness between the United States and Turkey, while providing additional educational opportunities for Turkish students.

New Paltz currently offers its 150 Turkish exchange students five different programs with three varying majors including business, economics and teaching English.

At the end of the program, students earn degrees from New Paltz and their partner Turkish university, including Middle East Technical University, Istanbul Technical University and Izmir University of Economics.

“These are among the most competitive schools in Turkey so we get excellent students who participate in this program,” Director of the New Paltz SUNY YÖK program Dr. Kathy Bauman Geherer said. “At this time, we have very few American students who choose to study in Turkey but the Turkish universities and government would love to host American students on their campuses as well to create a more balanced exchange.”

Turkish Night invited campus-dwellers and New Paltz community members to learn about Turkish students and their culture, while combatting stereotypes associated with Turkey and its political ties, Cahill said.

Cahill presented a video promoting Turkish culture and history, focusing on the intercultural and interfaith freedom within Turkey. In addition, large presentation boards illustrating the history of religious intolerance in the Ottoman Empire were displayed.

Assistant of the Center for International Programs Purnima Schachter said this event shows how open the school is to different cultures, regardless of differing political opinions.

“This celebration is cool because we mostly associate with fellow Turkish kids here, since we are placed in the dorms together,” Cem Menase, Turkish exchange student and third-year student at New Paltz, said. “New Paltz is very different than my home city of Istanbul, but the people are very welcoming here and I love seeing American students eating our food and listening to the music of our culture.”