At the top of a high mountain, with a blanket of snow-kissed forest cascading toward a cosmopolitan area below, sits a cluster of unassuming complexes. From outside the gates of the estate, the buildings exude serenity and calm, but inside these facilities, hard at work, are the students, faculty and staff of the prestigious Koc University.
A private university with a student body roughly the size of Elon (4,924 students), Koc (pronounced "coach") University prides itself on providing a unique higher learning experience for its students. In Turkey, where simply getting a degree is the main goal of most youth, the quality assurance of some institutions is lacking. At Koc, they go out of their way to make sure they provide the services and education that they promise their students upon entry. For at least the first year, students learn college-level English, where they are expected to read and write at that level, but also learn time-management and project management skills along the way. During this year, many students find themselves giving their first oral presentation or writing their first real paper. In all levels of the Koc University experience, faculty strive to fulfill the college's philosophy of "creative teaching and participatory learning," a rarity among most Turkish high schools and many traditional universities.
Founded by a highly philanthropic corporation, the university's main objective is "to set an example for excellence and to benefit the nation by creating sustainable and replicable models." Their first course of action is to convert their students from multiple-choice thinkers to free thinkers. By the end of their Koc University experience, graduates are expected to go forth into their communities, both domestic and abroad, as leaders in citizenship, awareness, and other important pillars within their fields of study.
As Elon students, we were also encouraged to consider the university's growing exchange program, which allows international students to study at Koc for a semester or a year, giving them the rare opportunity to learn about Turkish language and culture. During their time there, exchange students are set up with internships or other experience opportunities in the greater Koc community, which provides connections with peers and scholars worldwide.
In addition to our introduction to the university, a brief tour of its beautiful campus, and a lunch with some the Koc faculty, we listened to a lecture about the research of a sociology professor there, who is doing field work on the experiences of the Syrian refugees and displaced persons near the southern border of Turkey. Just the other day a group of us were watching a news story on the horrible conditions in the refugee camps as the bitter cold winter is setting in. Tent fires, burning of toxic plastic, and inadequate clothing are just some of the issues faced in these areas. The professor we spoke with has interviewed leaders in the town around the camps, as well as some of the displaced persons living there and in the refugee hospitals.
As the professor continued to speak, our group became more and more excited about our previous plans to start a movement on Elon's campus to send aid to these displaced Syrians. After sharing with her our ambitions of coat drives and fund raisers, the professor advised us to direct our aid provisions toward the displaced persons in Syria, as they are outside the camps and living in more dangerous conditions. Upon our return to Elon, we hope to form a student-led organization to help these displaced Syrians in any way we can.
Overall, our visit at Koc University was intriguing and inspiring, though it might have left some of us feeling of homesickness for our beloved Elon.