A Leadership Program for Duke Students with A Global Mindset

Author: Ceyda Alabacak

Journal 4

For me, values are more than just abstract concepts; they are guiding principles that shape my worldview and guide my behavior. Growing up in a Turkish household, I have been exposed to a culture that places great emphasis on values such as respect, honesty, compassion, responsibility, and diversity. These values have become an integral part of who I am and how I interact with the world.

Respect is a value that I hold in high esteem. I believe that treating others with kindness, empathy, and dignity, regardless of their background or status, is fundamental to creating a harmonious and equitable society. In my Turkish culture, respect is closely linked to concepts of hospitality and honor. I have witnessed firsthand how Turkish people demonstrate warmth and generosity towards others, and how they place great importance on exhibiting respect towards others.

Honesty is another value that I consider essential. It is the foundation of trust and transparency in relationships and is vital in maintaining integrity and accountability. In Turkish culture, honesty is similarly valued as a sign of moral uprightness and character. I have learned that Turkish people tend to be very straightforward and direct in their communication, and they place great importance on telling the truth.

Compassion is another value that is crucial to me. Showing empathy and kindness to those who are suffering is essential in creating a more just and equitable society. I believe that compassion is particularly relevant in today’s interconnected world. In my culture, compassion is tied to concepts of charity and generosity. Turkish people are known for their hospitality and willingness to help others, and they often go out of their way to lend a hand to those in need.

Responsibility is another value that I hold in high esteem. Taking ownership of one’s actions and decisions and being accountable for them is essential in achieving personal and collective goals. Responsibility is closely tied to concepts of honor and duty in Turkish culture and is also very heavily emphasized in American culture. I have learned and observed that both Turkish and American people place great importance on fulfilling their obligations and living up to their commitments.

Finally, diversity is a value that I believe is indispensable. Celebrating and embracing differences in culture, ethnicity, religion, and lifestyle is essential in creating a more tolerant and inclusive society.

While these values align with broader values of my culture and Turkish-American identity, they are also personal to me and shaped by my experiences. In different cultural contexts, I may express these values differently depending on the norms and expectations of that culture. However, it is important to remain true to one’s own values and not compromise on core beliefs.

Navigating cultural contexts in which these values are not prioritized can be challenging. It may require being flexible and adapting to fit cultural norms while still staying true to one’s own values. I am a firm believer that striking a balance between respecting other cultures and staying true to oneself is a journey that requires continuous learning and growth. Ultimately, these values are integral in shaping our attitudes towards the world and in creating a more just, equitable, and inclusive society.


I find that being Turkish, coming from a bi-continental upbringing, and having a global perspective as a dual citizen influences the way I view the world and contextualize culture and identity. To me, culture is a complex and nuanced construct that has a profound impact on human experience. At its core, culture encompasses the shared beliefs, values, customs, behaviors, and artifacts that characterize a particular group or society. It is a dynamic entity that is shaped by the actions and beliefs of individuals, as well as by historical events, economic forces, and other factors.
I firmly believe that one way to view culture is as a means of unifying individuals within a particular community. Culture can provide a sense of identity and belonging, as well as a shared history and set of traditions that help to bring people together. For example, a defining aspect of Turkish culture is its hospitality and warmth. Turkish people are known for their generosity and kindness, and they often go out of their way to make visitors feel welcome. This is particularly true when it comes to food, with Turkish cuisine being a true celebration of flavor and hospitality. From the hearty stews of Anatolia to the sweet pastries of Istanbul, Turkish food is a reflection of the country’s diverse cultural heritage.
In addition to its rich history and hospitality, Turkish culture is also known for its love of life and its passion for celebration. From the bustling bazaars of Istanbul to the vibrant nightlife of the Aegean Coast, Turkish people have a zest for life that is contagious. Whether it’s dancing to the rhythm of traditional music or participating in one of the many festivals and events that are held throughout the year, Turkish culture is a celebration of life and community.
At the same time, culture can also be seen as a means of promoting diversity and inclusiveness. This perspective recognizes that different cultures can offer unique perspectives and ways of thinking that can enrich our understanding of the world. By appreciating and celebrating the cultural differences of others, individuals and communities can foster greater empathy and understanding, as well as cultivate a more inclusive and diverse society. I am grateful that I had the opportunity to experience this first hand, when I moved to Italy at a young age, started attending a German high school later on, and moved to the U.S. at 16. All of these places had differences in terms of culture, but realizing that culture is not static but rather is shaped and reshaped by the actions and beliefs of individuals, making it unifying and not divisive has made my experiences a lot more fulfilling growing up.
To me, the meaning of culture is complex and multifaceted, and can vary widely depending on one’s personal experiences, beliefs, and values. Despite this, it is clear that culture plays a critical role in shaping our individual and collective identities, and in promoting greater understanding and empathy between people and communities. Whether viewed as a means of unifying individuals, promoting diversity and inclusiveness, or as a dynamic and evolving entity, culture remains a powerful and inescapable aspect of human experience.

Journal Entry #2

In the social identity wheel activity we did during our workshop as Global Fellows, I was grateful to have the opportunity to reflect on my values and identity while also getting the chance to explore the beauty of the identity of those I spoke with. As we shared which parts of our identities feel especially meaningful to us, gender and ethnicity stood out for me. As a Turkish-American woman, these aspects of my identity shape most of my world views while also influencing my experiences. Therefore, when reflecting on who I am and what matters to me, I often consider these elements somewhat important. When someone initially meets me, they can visibly tell that I am a woman. Perhaps as our conversation goes on, they will get curious about where my family is from given my darker skin complexion and not-so-common name. Hence, being a woman and later on, the unique name I carry with me as part of my culture and background will often shape how my daily experiences and interactions process. Even though being a woman appears to be a strong part of my identity regardless of where in the world I go, I find that being Turkish has a more significant impact when I am not in Turkey. Here at Duke, for instance, I am very tight-knit with the Turkish community and find great pleasure in being involved with the activities organized by the Turkish Student Association while also spending personal time with other Turkish students. Since we are minorities here, I find that there is a special tie connecting us, and I value this part of my identity and reflect on it so much more than how it would have been if I was living in Turkey.
In addition to there being some parts of my identity that are meaningful to me, I find that sexuality and being able-bodied are not factors I focus on as much whatsoever most of the time. As a straight, able-bodied woman, I usually do not have to think about all the elements that come with being queer or disabled, despite being an ally. These parts of my identity just…exist, and I am encouraged to think about them often when someone points them out. As a straight woman my romantic experiences are likely to be easier than those of someone who might be trying to come out to their parents. Similarly, in so many areas of daily life, ableism is a prevalent issue, and I am sure I would realize these areas so much more had I been more significantly impacted by them. With that being said, workshops and activities like we have with Global Fellows are incredibly impactful as they aid us in learning more about the identities of others, and I think they make us more aware of our own privileges and thus encourage us to work towards amplifying the voices of those who may not have the same privileges.

Journal Entry #1

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.

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