An energizing and emotional finale
Approaching the final day of this historic and productive weeklong trip to Turkey, it was difficult to imagine how we might top the previous days’ activities. Moving at a mostly breakneck pace—first to Istanbul, then to Ankara and then back to Istanbul and its breathtaking Bosphorus waterway—members of the IU delegation barely had a chance to catch their breath—or, in the case of IU President McRobbie, who led most of the discussions here, regain his voice. The delegation spent the week working toward potential partnerships with Turkey’s top universities, met with officials at the country’s leading government agencies and reestablished ties with IU’s many successful Turkish alumni.
The busy itinerary reflected IU’s remarkable level of engagement in a country so culturally, economically, historically and—as recent events in the Middle East have indicated—politically important to the world. The schedule also suggested the university’s determination to become more active and engaged here, through identifying promising new exchange programs for IU faculty and students to teach and study abroad and exploring opportunities to open IU’s third global gateway office (in addition to facilities in Beijing and New Delhi). A new gateway would serve as a hub for university-led activities in Turkey, including conferences, meetings, receptions, symposia, workshops and other events.
As President McRobbie said on several occasions during our meetings here, few, if any, U.S. colleges and universities have been as engaged in Turkey as IU, and a new global gateway would serve to bring IU and Turkey even closer together.
A Hoosier family at the head of state
Our last full day in Istanbul would offer perhaps the strongest confirmation of IU’s close connections to Turkey and the major impact it has had here.
On Saturday afternoon, McRobbie and IU First Lady Laurie Burns McRobbie met with the recently elected president of Turkey, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. Joining them were two of Erdoğan’s three children who graduated from IU, daughters Esra and Sümeyye.
Esra Erdoğan (sociology) and her youngest brother, Bilal (political science and economics), both earned bachelor’s degrees from IU Bloomington’s College of Arts and Sciences. Sümeyye, who focused her collegiate studies on sociology and policy, is a graduate of IU’s School of Public and Environmental Affairs.
President Erdoğan, who was sworn in as president last month after more than a decade as prime minister, and his wife, Emine, both visited IU’s Bloomington campus when the former was prime minister.
Erdoğan’s meeting with the McRobbies in Istanbul came at the close of his own busy week. On Thursday, President Obama spoke to Erdoğan from Air Force One about the threat posed by ISIS in Iraq and Syria. Shortly thereafter, Erdoğan would meet Vice President Joe Biden in person in New York, where world leaders gathered for the opening of the United Nations General Assembly.
At Saturday’s meeting, though, the focus was mostly on Erdoğan’s two daughters, who were eager to share their fond memories of IU.
The impact of IU’s Istanbul alumni
Now that I have a few presidential trips under my belt, I can honestly report that there’s truly no better way to wrap up a trip than having the opportunity to meet with IU’s inspirational international alumni.
Saturday evening at the architecturally and visually stunning SALT Galata cultural building, located within Istanbul’s commercial Karaköy neighborhood, IU graduates living and working in Turkey’s largest city came together to meet President and First Lady McRobbie and other members of the IU delegation, and to reestablish ties with their alma mater.
In attendance at the special reception at SALT was Erdal Yildirim, who earned his master’s degree in philanthropic studies in 2005 from what is now known as the IU Lilly Family School of Philanthropy. Today, Yildirim serves as president of the Vehbi Koc Foundation, one of the largest non-governmental charitable organizations in Turkey and the country’s first private foundation operating in the fields of education, health, art and culture. Under his leadership, the Koc Foundation has made a number of major contributions to Turkey’s development, including the establishment of elementary schools and hospitals all across Turkey.
In recognition of his outstanding accomplishments in nonprofit management and philanthropy—as well as his assistance in furthering IU’s engagement efforts in Turkey—McRobbie presented Yildirim with IU’s Thomas Hart Benton Medallion, given to individuals who have achieved a level of distinction in public office or service and have exemplified the values of IU.
Before and after the medal presentation, numerous alumni expressed their appreciation to McRobbie for making this historic trip to Turkey, and how proud they were to learn of IU’s efforts this week to establish stronger ties in their home country.
In turn, McRobbie praised IU’s Turkish alumni for the remarkable successes they’ve had since leaving IU and shared, on behalf of the entire IU global community, his gratitude for their great dedication to and support of the university.
“You are part of the spirit of Indiana University, and your successes are the university’s successes,” he said.
Goodbye and thank you, Turkey
With the alumni gathering in Istanbul, IU’s time in Turkey drew to a heartening and emotional close.
This busy and productive week will have a tangible effect, enabling more IU students to travel to Turkey to learn its languages and study its past and present culture and history. The week also brought IU one sizeable step closer to opening a permanent global gateway office in Turkey and approaching its goal of becoming the nation’s preeminent center for Turkish studies.
Admittedly, it will be difficult to leave our scenic surroundings, the warm hospitality we encountered everywhere we went, the incredible food and culture, and, especially, the new and old friends we met on our weeklong travels.
Already, I have what I’m calling the Bosphorus blues.
Still, our time in Turkey was nothing but uplifting and inspiring. Indeed, standing at the crossroads between Europe and Asia showed us that the spirit of IU is strong in Istanbul, in Ankara and all across this important part of the world, where IU promises to be increasingly engaged in the months and years ahead.
Thank you for reading, and to all of our Turkish friends, we look forward to seeing you again soon!
Tags: Ankara, Bilal Erdoğan, College of Arts and Sciences, Erdal Yildirim, Erdoğan family, Esra Erdoğan, Istanbul, IU Global Gateway Network, Laurie Burns McRobbie, Lilly Family School of Philanthropy, Michael A. McRobbie, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, School of Public and Environmental Affairs, Sümeyye Erdoğan, Thomas Hart Benton Medallion, Turkey, Vehbi Koc Foundation