The $5,000 scholarship Neslisah Bayraktar earned is, to the Turkish student, worth even more. One Turkish Lira is worth about 28 cents at the current exchange rate.
Neslisah — pronounced like “Nestle — like the chocolate” she says happily — is one of two students awarded a scholarship from the Southern Illinois University Edwardsville’s Office of International Affairs. Sandra Tamari, of SIUE, said the scholarships “recognize the leadership abilities of undergraduate international students who, among other things, bridged cultures at SIUE and in the community.”
Neslisah is a part of the dual diploma program at SIUE and Istanbul Technical University, where she attended two years before coming to Edwardsville.
Her family in Turkey fully supports her studies, especially her mom, Dulsah.
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“She always supports me doing everything I want. (She says) ‘I know it’s hard to follow school and these activities. I’m proud of you, and you can do it.’”
In Edwardsville, professor Melissa Thomeczek has taken on some of the roles of “mom” to Neslisah. She was invited into the Thomeczek home over the winter break to take part in the more secular parts of Christmas and other traditions.
“They’re Christian; they’re respecting of my religion ... they bought me a bunch of gifts ... they are trying to show me everything, like pumpkin carving (for Halloween). We don’t have that in Turkey.”
Q: What is the biggest misconception about you that Americans have?
A: “They assume I talk in Arabic; I don’t. They expect me to wear a burka ... I don’t wear a burka, but I am Muslim.”
Q: What’s been an adjustment you’ve needed to make living here?
A: “(When) we have a guest and are saying goodbye, we are saying goodbye to them in the door. None of the Americans do that; they just say goodbye from the table or wherever.”
Q: What advice did the international hospitality program give you?
A: “Respect others’ language and religion and other things — and the driver’s license; they warned us you have only six months to use the Turkish drivers’ license. (Neslisah has an international drivers’ license.)”
Q: What’s a difference between here and home?
A: “I live in the big city, like New York. And when I came to Edwardsville, it was so small for me. ... The first year I was depressed. I couldn’t go to my family; the trip back home is too much. This is a small city, people are nice, but I was expecting more welcoming. ... This year I decided to (be more involved in clubs and activities), if I meet with them, then they want to meet with me.”
Q: Would you like to stay in the United States?
A: “Yes. I am taking only two classes this semester (in hopes of getting an internship). I got an email last week (from a company she applied to). They cannot sponsor my visa. But I still have hope.”
Neslisah will have two months to remain in the United States after she graduates in May.
Q: Is there a difference between an industrial engineer in the United States and Turkey?
A: “Yes. In Turkey, it’s more like management. In here, it’s more like engineering. That’s why when I apply, they ask me (in Turkey) do you know supply chain, do you know marketing?”
Q: What activities do you enjoy at SIUE?
A: “I like to go to Zumba, and I’m member of the Quidditch team. We have a broom, and we are running all over the place with a broom. ... I’m a beater.” (Quidditch is a game from Harry Potter involving several balls, goals, and players with various jobs. Beaters throw balls at opponents to keep them off balance and from scoring.)
Q: What are the concerns in Turkey now?
A: “We have so many Syrian refugees in Turkey. And we have other countries’ refugees too, like from the Black Sea region. (Her mother helps provide supplies for the refugees.) ... In the summer we had some problems with government, it wasn’t like (Syria). It was scary to live in that environment. I’m glad (refugees) are running out of the counties; its better to live in a safer place. Not so sure I’m going to be safe when I go back, because of bombing in Istanbul. But in Turkey, I have a better chance to work in a good company.”
Q: What’s Turkey like?
A: “Please come. ... It’s real touristy. Istanbul, and the sultanahmet, and Taksim Square, Galata Tower. (We have a story like Rapunzul about Galata Tower) ... if you go there with loved ones, we believe you’re going to marry them. That’s why I went there with my boyfriend.”
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Meet Neslisah Bayraktar
- Age: 23
- School: Senior studying industrial engineering at Southern Illinois University in Edwardsville
- Family: Mom Dulsah, Dad Osman, and brother, Ogulcan, 18
- Favorite American food: Meatloaf, and all kinds of burgers, especially at Red Robin
- Favorite Turkish foods: “Everything about Turkey I like. I’m not picky; I just eat everything that I can.
- Television shows: “Game of Thrones,” “How I Met Your Mother,” “Friends,” “Lost,” “Prison Break.” “I am studying a lot, but Turkish (television series) are 90 minutes, here (they are) just half an hour. It’s easier to study here than in Turkey.”
- Fun fact: Neslisah loves coffee, but the Turkish variety is made differently. After drinking, grounds remain in the cup and some like to look there for fortunes. “It’s just for fun; we don’t believe it seriously.”
- She said her coffee fortune was once, before she went to college, that one of her legs would be outside of Turkey.
- As for how to read the coffee grounds? “There’s an App on Apple for it.”