Watching her sister study abroad in Spain, Laura Gammack knew it was only a matter of time before she jetted off for an international experience of her own.
As a psychology major from the University of Calgary with a desire to explore the world, Laura decided to study abroad after realizing how many electives she had left to satisfy her degree.
After looking at countless programs, the Middle East Technical University in Ankara, Turkey was an easy choice, as it offered an impressive selection of elective courses. She also felt the experience of going to the Middle East would help shape her worldview in a positive way.
“I wanted to be immersed in a completely different culture and learn a new language,” she says.
Despite Laura’s lack of apprehensions about the exchange, she had to recognize Western misconceptions about the Middle East. But when her work supervisors gave Laura the go-ahead to take a six month leave, nothing could stop this globetrotter from taking the adventure of a lifetime.
Life in Ankara
Her university in Turkey made arrangements for Laura to live with two Turkish girls from Istanbul. They ended up becoming close friends during her stay. “I got along with both of them really well and we ended up having some mutual interests – I even went to see the play that one of my roommates was in!” she says.
While the accommodation was different to what Laura was used to, she found it easy to create her own space in the room she was sharing and adjusted easily to her new home.
During course registration, the options available to choose from were plentiful. Laura ended up deciding on Classical Guitar, Handball (a national sport!), Children with Special Needs, Psychology of Disasters and Drama for Early Childhood Education.
School itself was quite similar to what a class on campus would look like in Canada. “But I somehow didn’t expect to hear as much Turkish in this English university,” she says. Even in her English classes, Laura found that students often made comments to the teacher in Turkish.
“It actually gave me the opportunity to learn the language a lot faster than I was expecting.”
Through class, Laura was able to satisfy her desire to learn about Turkish culture and share her Canadian perspective with her peers. Her professors often took students out of the classroom on organized field trips as well!
And every weekend was an additional opportunity to travel. “Half way through the semester some of my family visited me,” says Laura.” We traveled together on the weekends for three weeks!”
An Unforgettable Experience
In Ankara, Laura was happy to learn that Turks possess a “niceness” similar to Canadians. Additionally, she discovered a caring culture that is often omitted from discussions about Turkey. “Everyone takes care of everyone. In Turkey, all strangers are friends who haven’t met yet!”
One thing that truly surprised Laura was how comfortable she felt wearing her usual summer clothing, despite thinking that Turkey would be much more conservative. “I brought all my most baggy clothes with me and barely wore them. But I made sure to wear more conservative clothing while travelling to get a feel for the place,” she says.
As for the challenges that come with studying abroad, Laura says that it varies from student to student. “So much of what can be seen as an opportunity to some people can be seen as a challenge to others.”
For her specifically, things were a bit difficult after her return. “After coming home I had to incorporate the person I was abroad with the person I left behind in Canada.” She also had to deal with deeply missing all the friends she had made in Turkey.
Still, it was a trip that made a lasting impact on how she saw the Middle East. “It really opened my mind up from the narrow perspective I had seen in the news and in media,” says Laura. Her trip abroad therefore, proved to be an unforgettable experience that positively shaped her ideas about the world.
Building Her Career with a Global Mindset
Laura keeps in touch with her Turkish friends through social media. “They made me who I am now,” she says. “I hope that they will come and visit me in years time.”
While working on a certification with a specialization in career and academic advising to complement her psychology degree, memories of Turkey often come to mind. “This experience has expanded my view of the world and I’m sure my career will relate back to it.” As a future International Exchange Advisor, she hopes to help students make the most of their time at school, just as she did by studying in Turkey.
Laura’s Top Three Tips for Studying Abroad
1. Just do it: find yourself a program and go on the adventure of a lifetime.
2. Pick a destination outside your comfort zone: but, if going at all is pushing your boundaries, stick to a country that is culturally similar to yours.
3. Say yes: you’ll be surprised with how much you grow as a person and it’s amazing to be a part of an experience rather than watching it.