To me, culture represents how one lives their life. Our beliefs, values, traditions, and any other element that is passed on for generations and that plays a role in how we view the world is part of our culture. As a Turkish-American woman who has had the opportunity to live in various parts of the world, I believe that I carry my culture around the globe with me. Realizing the line between adaptation and assimilation has been a habit that has helped me stay true to my culture and values over time.
The first time I encountered a different culture was at the Italian elementary school I stepped foot into when I was eight. Sitting there nervously, not understanding a word of Italian, I received a note from a girl across the class. Looking bluntly at the paper, I questioned what “Ti voglio bene (“love you lots” in Italian)” meant. The girl patiently tried to explain the word to me through non-verbal language by shaping her hands like a disoriented, cute heart. “Ti voglio bene” was the first phrase I learned in a foreign language. It introduced me to the beauty of a new world that comes with understanding people who are not necessarily sharing the same experiences — or even the same language as me. The note I received that day sowed the seeds of the value I give to understanding and connecting with others’ truth by discovering what is unknown and unfamiliar. In the upcoming years of my life, many other factors led me to be a woman who values diversity and human experience.
After my experiences in Italy, throughout the upcoming years of my life, I was fortunate enough to engage with other cultures as well. The German boarding school I attended for about two years was one of these. It was fascinating to observe the differences between German and Turkish culture and investigate how these two may have influenced each other throughout the movement of Turkish immigrants from Turkey to Germany in the 1960s for the job opportunities in the region. My time in Germany and the period I spent studying German has taught me the beauty of the language and the culture and once again reminded me of the importance of bonding with a community and culture through language.
Lastly, perhaps the biggest cultural adjustment I encountered was after moving to the United States. It took me a minute to learn how delicious Southern food tastes and perhaps even longer to get used to some of the slang, such as “drip, dope, bet, fr (for real),” etc. and I still learn new ones every day! Overall though, through my previous experiences and by having an open-minded approach during the process, I got used to my new home and grew to love my community and surroundings.
Now, as a second year at Duke – an institution with so many different cultures and diverse group of people – I realize that I enjoy adapting my character to that of a rainbow: each color representing a unique aspect of my identity becomes even more special when blended with other colors to create a gorgeous visual feast.