The Stories They Told: Aysu’s America, the Power of Speech

By THO Team Member, Caelan Elliott

Do we realize often enough what a profound thing it is to have the ability to speak, the gift of language, the use of communication? The wonder and power of it is not lost on PhD candidate Aysu, a Turkish student from Bursa, Turkey.

Aysu first came from Bursa as an exchange student in 2014, and returned again in 2016 to begin her PhD program at the University of Central Florida in Business administration and Marketing. “I will hopefully be graduating next spring!” she says with a smile. Besides working out and watching TV, Aysu enjoys cooking and eating—“especially during quarantine! I really like to cook and try different foods.” She especially loves the pastries—and especially CUPCAKES—that life in America has introduced her to!

Aysu chose the U.S. because in her view, opportunities in her field in the U.S. are the highest in the world as far as publications and universities. She says America has the highest quality of researchers, and also a “high quality lifestyle.” Unfamiliar with American life outside of what she had seen in cartoons, the news, or English dramas, Aysu worried about how she would adapt to “the situation in the US. It’s very far away from Turkey; traveling takes at least 10 hours even on a direct flight. I knew the culture would be very different, more so than in Europe. I feared I would find the people, culture, and living situation very hard.” But on the other hand, she loves traveling and looked forward to seeing New York, LA, and “all those touristy places.”

Initially, Aysu struggled with feeling mentally very alone and separated from her family. The language was difficult for her as well. “The language of instruction at the university in Turkey was English, but it’s very different when you’re speaking and listening with native speakers!” She found this to be her biggest challenge, but it also surprised her—after just five days of struggling, unable to form a sentence, it suddenly clicked for her and “so quickly became okay. That’s how it is when you live with native speakers, you adopt the language very quickly!”

Language and her ability to speak her ideas and opinions became one of Aysu’s very favorite things about America. In Turkey she was the quiet student who did not want to be put on the spot or speak in class, but now she relishes being able to communicate thoughts without being shy or fear of judgement. “I see a difference in how I speak in class, and even just in general. Also, here you meet people of many different backgrounds, speaking all different languages, or the same language with different styles, but so in harmony all together. People respect each other. I feel lucky to be here to live in that environment.” Contrary to her assumption that her non-native accent would give her “outsider” status, Aysu loves that the people she has met in America are “so welcoming to international people, so embracing. In general, I feel very comfortable going up and talking to people.”

When asked what she would want family and friends from back home to remember, Aysu emphatically states, laughing, “I want them to remember the cupcakes! I will make a note of it!” She also wants people to be more open-minded towards the US. “They think of it as being so far away. It is far away, but relations are improving, and that opens a whole new environment. I want them to take that risk, be willing to come and stay here.” She further emphasizes that the governments on both sides, which often focus more traditionally on Europe, could make improvements on programs sponsoring students to come study and work.

Aysu sees her daily life in the PhD program as a snapshot of America—“Me, my friend from Slovakia, friends from India, and American friends frequently eat together and then go to study. So many people from so many different backgrounds.” In musing thoughtfully over how the experience has grown her, Aysu shares,“I have learned how to communicate with different people in different kinds of environments. In your local country or community you see different people, but going to another country within the international world, and the U.S. specifically, gives you more opportunities to see how there are so many different opinions out there. It has taught me how to be respectful of others. Not everyone is like me, but we can respect each other and live in harmony.”

May we, too, learn to see and hear the others around us. We are all so different from each other, yet the gift of dialogue is such a precious tool that can be used to bring us together or drive us further apart. As we continue to share our own stories and listen to the stories and thoughts of others, let us hold tightly to kindness and respect, to patience and understanding, that we might cherish the bonds that run deeper than the surface and form the foundation of this messy, beautiful life we share together.