Turkish New Paltz Students On Recent Earthquakes

New Paltz students from Turkey are collecting donations to aid in recovery efforts after earthquakes destroyed cities in their home country. (Photo courtesy of The New York Times).

New Paltz students are contributing to fundraising efforts for Turkey and Syria after the areas suffered multiple earthquakes. A 7.8-magnitude quake struck Turkey on Feb. 6, followed by a 7.5-magnitude quake nine hours later. Another earthquake hit 15 days later on Monday, Feb. 20. This quake had a magnitude of 6.3 and worsened areas devastated by the previous one that killed more than 46,000 people.

Led by Turkish students studying in New Paltz as part of the college’s Dual Diploma Program, individuals will be tabling outside of SUB 100 for the next two weeks to collect donations for rescue and recovery efforts. The Dual Diploma Program brings about 50 students from Turkey to New Paltz each year. It allows for Turkish students to study in the U.S. and Turkey, and for them to remain in the U.S. a year after graduation while working. Students earn an undergraduate degree from both SUNY New Paltz and the Turkish university they transferred from. 

Fourth-year general business major Izem Niziplioglu has been studying at New Paltz since January 2022. Her family lives in Hatay, the southernmost province of Turkey where the epicenter of Monday’s earthquake occurred. “Many, many of my friends and my relatives have died. My family is fine, some of them went to another city, but my father and my brothers are there because our work is in that city,” Niziplioglu stated. “It was hard to deal with because we are far away.”

Residents were still mourning their losses and grappling with the first terrifying earthquake when the new one struck near the town of Uzunbag, in Hatay Province at about 5 p.m. local time. A 5.8 aftershock followed the initial quake. AFAD, Turkey’s disaster management authority, reported that the earthquake killed six people and injured 294 others. At least three people have died and 213 were injured in Hatay following Monday’s earthquake. 

Third-year business administration major Irem Hayzaran moved from Hatay Province and had only been studying in New Paltz for about a month when the quakes struck. “I couldn’t communicate with my family the first two days of the earthquake because cellphones are broken, their batteries died. They couldn’t go home because our house looks good from the outside, but the inside is wrecked,” she said. “It’s like harder than being in Turkey.” 

“The first week life is going on in the United States because no one cares. Because why would they?” 

Ceren Ekim 

Turkey is prone to earthquakes because it is situated in an active seismic zone. The country sits on the intersection of three tectonic plates that makes earthquakes frequent. The devasting death toll from the Feb. 6 earthquake has made it the deadliest quake in the world since 2000. Over 13.5 million people live in Turkey’s 11 provinces impacted by the quakes, with authorities stating that more than 139,000 buildings were destroyed or damaged to the point of needing to be torn down. Unstable infrastructure and aftershocks have complicated rescue efforts, with help not arriving fast enough for some trapped under debris.

“I’m really angry about it because the help was too late. One of my childhood friends — I’ve known him since I’m three and he passed away because of this,” Hayzaran said. “I talked with his twin sister who was in Istanbul when the earthquake happened. She said we heard his screams, and he screamed for help.”

Third-year business major Ceren Ekim had also moved to New Paltz at the start of the spring semester when the earthquakes occurred. Her family is from the city Malatya where she lived through a 5.6 magnitude earthquake in 2020. When she learned about the 7.8 magnitude quake, she knew it would destroy her city. After two hours of panicking in her dorm suite she received news that her family was unharmed. 

“My family was outside, and it was snowing. They didn’t have any coat or jacket. The only thing that they could think about is getting out of the house,” Ekim stated. “They couldn’t find any food, shelter, or a blanket. They couldn’t find anything.” 

“They were freezing out there and my grandma is like 70 or 80 years old. She’s very old to struggle with this situation. In the first two days my grandma couldn’t take her medicine because she couldn’t find a bottle of water.”

In addition to the loss of their loved ones and possessions, individuals affected by the quakes are left to grapple with the trauma of enduring catastrophic disasters. Dr. Tahsin Cinar, a representative of the Turkish Medical Association, called attention to the mental health of earthquake survivors. They are faced with additional stresses of depression, winter weather, lack of stable housing and a pause in education. “They feel so alone, so deserted and very anxious. Even a small tremor leads to a big anxious reaction,” he told AP News. “There is nearly nothing to create social well-being.”

New Paltz students are forced to cope with the tragedy of the quakes while being away from their families. “It was like a nightmare for me. I couldn’t sleep, I couldn’t eat anything,” Ekim said . 

“The first week, life is going on in the United States because no one cares. Because why would they?”

Ekim also shared the struggle of trying to adapt to a new country after the disaster. “It is very normal. I don’t blame anyone for it. But like we are already new here. We came here, not months ago, we were already trying to adapt to the United States, and then this happened,” she said. “We were more isolated than ever. We tried to focus on lessons. We tried to communicate with American friends more, but we are still struggling.” 

Dr. Kathleen Geher has been the Director of SUNY New Paltz’s International Dual Diploma Program since 2005. She has worked with over 1,000 students from Turkey and knows many colleagues, friends and former students impacted by the quakes. “One former colleague lost 109 family members, so the scope of this tragedy is hard to even fathom. We have five students from the affected areas currently on campus who have lost their entire cities, homes, loved ones and many friends,” she stated. 

The Center for International Programs held a session last week sponsored by the Institute of Disaster Mental Health and the Psychological Counseling Center to help students cope with the tragedy of the quakes. 

“I would ask faculty, staff and members of the campus community to consider that students may need additional support and understanding as they respond to this tragedy,” Dr. Geher said.

Ekim showed gratitude to the New Paltz community for their support. “One of the biggest reasons we are getting better is because we know we are cared for by our university. I am really glad that other students and our teachers and the International Students Office were supportive.” 

Donations are the best way to help those devastated by the earthquakes due to the currency exchange rate. One U.S. dollar converts to roughly 19 Turkish lira. “If you donate like $10, it will be a dinner for four family members,” Niziplioglu said.

Donations can be made to the following charities recommended by the students:  AHBAP and the Turkish Philanthropy Fund. 

After the earthquakes, Turkish students living in New Paltz also need financial support. Families are no longer able to send them money, and they are struggling to find work in the middle of the academic semester. “All the positions are taken. I can’t blame anyone, but I really need to work,” Ekim said. “We want to work. We want to earn money as students.”

The future for Turkish students affected by the earthquake remains uncertain. For Ekim, her primary university in Turkey is crushed and her house cannot be lived in anymore. “The city that I grew up in is completely gone,” she said. “I don’t feel very positive about the future of those cities and myself in Turkey because it will affect everyone. It will affect brands and prices. People lost their jobs. People lost their homes.”

Nazlioglu’s future is also unsure. “I will graduate this May, and I want to go to Turkey after that because I want to be with my family and friends,” she stated. “But I don’t know where I will go because we don’t have a house right now in Hatay. Nobody knows.”  

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About Lilly Sabella 53 Articles
Lilly Sabella is a second-year student from Queens, NY. This is her second semester as News Editor and her fourth semester on The Oracle. You can reach her by emailing sabellal1@newpaltz.edu.