Fall 2011: Vol. 6, Issue 2
I write to you from Istanbul, Turkey. Since coming to CSU in 2005, I have been a strong supporter of international experiences for students and faculty, and I have striven to build relationships to partner institutions in both Europe and Asia in order to expedite academic exchanges. Now, I am taking my own medicine. This is not only about sight-seeing; it’s about experiencing the world through the eyes of a different culture. It’s about learning, with an eye to broadening our own perspectives, from fellow human beings who, speaking a different language and being raised with different cultural mores, construct their world in subtly different ways than Americans do. It’s also about sharing unique American perspectives and talents with our international partners. The goal, in short, is to help build bridges across cultures and peoples.
I am half-way through a one-month Fulbright assignment at Bahçeşehir University in Istanbul. Some of you may remember that we have a partnership agreement with this university. My assignment here is to teach literature in the Department of American Studies, which is really their Department of English, and to give a public lecture on the subject of my book. I am also advising them on the possibility of their creating a Ph.D. program in their department. I also hope to further interest in student and faculty exchanges. My hosts have treated me very well, and I am enjoying my time back in the classroom.
Istanbul can be an overwhelming experience, overwhelming just because of its 12 million people (some say that it’s even higher, 20 million). People are everywhere, and the population seems very young to me. The traffic is formidable, yet public transportation here is highly developed. It seems a very nice touch that some of my colleagues commute by ferry across the Bosphorus each morning to come to work, and I can avoid traffic and take a comfortable commuter train for about $1 across the Golden Horn to visit the Blue Mosque, Haggia Sophia, and the Grand Bazaar whenever I want to.
Turkey is enjoying a relatively prosperous time these days, unlike many of the neighboring countries of Europe, which are struggling with massive economic problems. A tour guide with whom I spoke just recently said that he had experienced five major Turkish economic crises in his young life, and he was enjoying this new experience of his country’s being on top. On the other hand, Orhan Pamuk, winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature, writes in a recent book of Istanbul’s hüzün, its characteristic melancholy. He claims to prefer to see the city in a wintery black and white rather than in bright summer colors. Perhaps this melancholy is a family affair, not shown to strangers. I, for one, haven’t seen it.
I, on the other hand, am a bit melancholy because of my lack of fluency in the local language. Yes, one can get by with English in Turkey. At the famous Dolmabahçe Palace, built by a free-spending nineteenth-century Sultan and later the home of Atatürk, the tours are in Turkish and English. Indeed, English seems like an unofficial second language in Turkey, and I can have wonderfully stimulating conversations with my university colleagues in English. But I can’t have those stimulating conversations with the grocer, the attendant at the health club, and some of my neighbors, and that frustrates my desire to see the world through their eyes. (It also frustrates my desire to ask basic questions, like does this sausage need to be cooked before eaten?) I have some small survival Turkish, but that doesn’t get me beyond a few pleasantries. Of course, no one can be fluent in the languages of every country he or she visits, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t hold up the ideal of fluency in a second language as a critical goal for our students. I’m afraid we still have a long way to go at CSU before that becomes an accepted part of our academic culture, but, as I report below, some of our students are doing very well indeed.
Since I am out of the country, my update on happenings throughout the college this month will be somewhat abbreviated. I am happy to report that Murali Nair won a distinguished service award from the Indian American Kerala Cultural and Civic Center in New York City. Also, based on strong interest in his recent book, Stephen Taysom was invited to give the plenary address at the Communal Studies Association Convention. Moreover, Andy Edwards was awarded a travel grant from the North American Association of Christians in Social Work to present a workshop at their convention entitled “Assessing Personal Values and Methods of Dealing with Value Conflict and Value Incongruence in Social Work Practice.” In addition, the National Institute of Justice has just funded Wendy Regoeczi’s grant entitled “Forensic Evidence in Homicide Investigations.”
As to student successes, I can report that the design work of Adina Feigenbaum and Nick Matej, NASA interns and students of Jennifer Visocky O’Grady, was prominently featured in a short article on the NASA website. I am also very proud of the successes of Taylor Day and Selena Vicario, students in intermediate Chinese, who study with CSU instructor Qizhi Zhang. First, they won 1st and 2nd places in the Ohio Proficiency Competition at Ohio State, competing with students from ten other Ohio universities, including Ohio State, Miami University, and Oberlin College. Second, they won 2nd place in the national competition, held in New York. There they competed with students from around the country, including students from Princeton, Columbia, and the University of Pittsburgh. Their second place finish entitled them to scholarships for further studies in Chinese in China. Congratulations, Taylor, Selena, and Qizhi!
Let me also add that, after reviewing the dossiers of those coming up for promotion this year, and working with Bill Morgan on the promotion letters, I continue to be impressed by the vitality and productivity of both our young and more advanced colleagues. As I have said many times in the past, the wealth of our college rests primarily in the gifts and dedication of our faculty, and the depth of these riches is reaffirmed each year at promotion and tenure time.
I also want to publicly thank Acting Dean Bill Morgan and the rest of the Dean’s Office staff for holding down the fort during the month of November. I could not have taken advantage of this opportunity if I did not have full confidence in the dedication and talents of the Dean’s Office staff. I also want to thank Provost Mearns for his support of this important outreach activity.
See you soon.