This summer four Grambling State University faculty traveled to Turkey to study as participants in Grambling State University’s Fulbright Scholars Program. Dr. Brenda Wall, Melanie C. Thomas, and Gay Lynn Bond were participants in the Fulbright Seminar, and Dr. Subdahara Abraham was project director.
Wall, head of the department of sociology and psychology, said, "The trip was life transforming and exceeded my expectations on every level. Turkey is a
beautiful country. The people were ready to build relationships at every level, demonstrating that
people can accept others apart from their religion or political position."
She said that it was a great experience to walk into the halls of Middle Eastern Technical Institute, a university that is comparable to M.I.T. and see the
sign "Welcome Grambling State University."
"I will use what I have learned to incorporate cultural diversity in curriculum as directed by the Fulbright grant. However, beyond that, I will share with the faculty and students the parallels that exist with respect to women in Turkey and women at Grambling," said Wall.
Thomas, who teaches English, said that she enjoyed studying Turkey’s culture. She said that their tour guide, the classroom lectures, the field trips, and the Turkish people provided her with a wealth of knowledge.
"The academic part of the Seminar in Turkey was great. I learned about the Islamic faith, the changing status roles of women, and about the history of Turkey. The guided field trips enhanced what I learned during the lectures," she said.
Thomas said, "Traveling to Turkey was an experience that I will never forget. I enjoyed traveling to Ephesus and seeing Mary’s house, the place where Paul went to tell people to stop worshipping other gods, Medusa, and the library. I enjoyed seeing the springs in Pamukkle, the Blue Mosque, and the Archaeological Museum."
Thomas said that it was amazing how much Turkish traditions and cultures parallel many of those of African Americans. "If think that if more people took the time to experience others cultures, they would see that we are more alike than different. I found it easy to relate to the Turkish people, because we had so much in common. Also, they were very nice, friendly, and helpful and were eager to help me learn their language," she said.
For Bond, one of the outstanding opportunities of the trip was the meeting at the ANACEV, organized by Dr. Abraham and Dr. Yorgun.
Bond said Ms. Ayse Sucu, head of the women’s branch of the religious foundation spoke to them at a non-profit organization for literacy and education programs for women and children.
"She spoke to us in Turkish and our tour guide; Sue Ellen Dopp did the interpretation. I found that her passion, commitment and interpretation of Islam concerning women resonated with me," said Bond, an associate professor in the School of Social Work.
"My work has just begun. The Turkey Seminar has stimulated and renewed me. My interests in cultural diversity, women’s issues and now religion have taken a different and exciting focus. I look forward to working with other participants in taking the next steps to develop out thoughts from this experience," said Bond.
Wall, Thomas, and Bond said that Abraham did an excellent job planning, implementing, and adjusting the program. They said that everything ran like a well-oiled machine.
Abraham, said, "We have learned a great deal about people, religion and culture of Turkey and the role of women, family and contemporary social institutions in Turkey."
GSU Fulbrighters experience Turkey
By Melanie C. Thomas
This summer Grambling State University Fulbright participants traveled to Turkey to study. The program director was Dr. Subhadra Abraham.
She said, “I have always been interested in international programs; I believe students and teachers must learn more about other people and other cultures. Greater appreciation of other cultures leads to greater international understanding and peace.”
Dr. S. Abraham said that Turkey was chosen because it is a key ally of the United States in the Middle East and is considered a bridge between the East and West. “We chose Turkey for a better understanding of Islam and the culture of the Middle East,” she said.
She said Turkey is also a predominately Muslim nation, but unlike other Islamic nations, Turkey is largely a secular nation.
“The highlights of the program,” she said, “need to be understood in terms of two major thrusts of the program. First, we had a strong academic program with lectures and faculty meetings at Middle East Technical University in Ankara and Douz Eylul University in Izmir.”
She said this enabled the professors to interact with a number of Turkish scholars in various fields of study.
“Secondly, the guided field trips were extremely interesting; they provided an insight into the vast cultural history of Turkey spanning over 12 successive civilizations,” said S. Abraham.
This allowed them to see firsthand Turkey’s connection to biblical times, Greek and Roman civilizations, and its contemporary strategic location as the bridge between Asia and Europe.
Dr. S. Abraham first became involved in the program in 1974 when GSU sponsored the first Fulbright seminar in India. “I was responsible for some of the logistics and organizational arrangements. The group consisted of several professors from GSU and other universities, who spent nearly seven weeks in India.
Participants are selected by the project director in accordance with the criteria established in the proposal. For example, for a general program in international studies we choose scholars from a variety of disciplines.
She said, “However, if the project focuses on art, women’ studies or language training, then scholars in these areas will receive preference. In addition, there are also some general criteria established by U. S. Department of Education.”
Dr. Eurydice V. Osterman, a professor of music at Oakwood College in Huntsville, Alabama, was one of the Fulbright scholars. She said, “The program exceeded my expectations. It was one of the best trips I’ve ever taken.”
Osterman said the highlights for her included visiting the cave of the Hittites, some of the sites of the seven churches of revelation, the home of the Virgin Mary, and the arena in which the apostle Paul preached. She said, “They have all made the bible come alive for me.”
Osterman said that while adjusting to the language and visiting the sites and museums, there was so much to see and absorb that she did not realize just how much she was really learning.
“It was not until having to write a report, recalling all that I had experienced, that I realized just how much I had learned and how interested I am in learning even more about Turkey,” she said.
Osterman said, “I will use the information in applicable classes that I teach, as well as give presentations whenever and wherever an opportunity presents itself. Thus far I have already given one presentation and have three more planned within the month.”
Another participant was Dr. Leonore Simon, a professor in the Department of Criminal Justice & Criminology at East Tennessee State University in Johnson City, Tennessee. She said that she enjoyed the entire trip and variety of experiences.
“The academic program consisting of lectures at Middle Eastern TEchnical University in Ankara provided me with comprehensive knowledge on such topics as Islam in Turkey, Secularism in Turkey, Turkey and the Middle East, Women’s Issues in Turkey, the Religious Affairs foundation’s Women’s Branch, the European Impact on Turkey’s domestic policy, and many others,” she said.
Simon said that she was able to meet privately with three of the program faculty: Professors Secil Karal Akgun, Kivanc Ulusoy, and Recep Boztemur, and an expert in her area of violence against women, Professor Feride Acar.
“The academic program in Izmir added to my knowledge base obtained in Ankara with such informative lectures as the Ancient History of the Region, the Philosophy and Practice of Islam, Changing Status Roles of Women in Turkey, and Islamic Arts and ARchitecture in Izmir and Anatolia,” said Simon.
Simon said that the planning and thought that went into the trip were comprehensive, flexible, supportive, and inspiring. “The leadership provided by Dr. Abraham was creative, firm, ad supportive. She planned and implemented the experience expertly, reacting quickly and competently to unexpected continents behind the scenes and providing alternatives,” she said.
“Our tour guide, Sue Ellen Dopp, an archaeologist, was the perfect person for the job. She was helpful and possessed a wealth of knowledge about Turkey, its history, culture, and language, among other topics,” said Simon.
“My overall assessment of the project is excellent. It exceeded my high expectations,” she said.
The Fulbright program was started at GSU in 1973. Dr. William McIntosh, then Dean of the College of Liberal Arts, was the main motivation behind international programs.
Dr. Francis Abraham, a retired GSU professor who has traveled to over 21 countries with various international programs, was instrumental in helping to establish the Fulbright program.
He said, “Grambling State University has received more international studies grants than any other HBCU. We have sponsored two Fulbright programs in India (1974 and 1978), two in China (1985 and 2000), one each in Egypt, Colombia, Brazil, former Soviet Union, and South Africa. We also had international grants for programs in Malaysia, Mexico and Japan.
“On behalf the Consortium we submitted a number of proposals for Fulbright programs in a number of countries. They include Morocco, Tunisia, Jordan, Israel, Ivory Coast, Senegal, Thailand, Korea, Caribbean nations, and other countries,” said Francis.
Dr. S. Abraham said, “This is the age of globalism and we live in an increasingly interconnected world. International programs are no longer a luxury; they are the imperatives of the new world order. I continue to work with the program because I believe in diversity, multiculturalism
and international understanding.”