The Stories They Told: Minel's America, Endless Possibilities

By THO Team Member, Caelan Elliott

Americans and Turks come in all different shapes, colors and styles. Personalities range from soft-spoken to bubbly, from professional to familial, and from reserved to enthusiastic. In contrast to others who have shared, Minel’s infectious laughter and enthusiasm is immediately evident when conversing with her! A rising second year PhD student in Neurobiology at Duke, Minel has been living in the U.S. for nearly a year. “This is the first time I am actually living outside of Istanbul, so it was a drastic change—BOOM out of Istanbul, a completely different city, a different continent!”

A lover of both yoga and coding, Minel has desired to come to the U.S. for school for many years. “The education here is completely different…I have so many more options, the technology is great, everyone is so open-minded.” She appreciates the quality of the U.S. health systems, given her field of study, and also that America is— as she exuberantly calls it—the “land of freedom! Freedom of speech! I wanted to live that. I’m a very independent person.”

“I realized that the U.S. is so similar, but at the same time so different from back home. Some perspectives I’m like ‘oh, this is just like back home.’ I don’t feel like I’m a foreigner. It’s so easy to adapt to this environment. But at the same time it’s different in that I don’t feel this social pressure I felt back home. When I came here, I felt like I could do anything I wanted. It’s very individualistic.” Minel loves the feeling that “here you can be whatever you want; you can be anything; no one can stop you.; it’s just that freedom of expression. [Freedom] would be the word for me. Because it has so many possibilities, I cannot really give a snapshot of it—it’s really personalized. Whatever your freedom is, that is a snapshot of America.”

Minel laughs when asked about challenges she faced when she came to the U.S.—“there are so many! Not including taxes in the prices [listed at a store] confused me so much. When I went to the grocery store I was planning what to buy and I was planning my budget…I went to the cashier and then the total came up and it was more than I calculated!” This was “mind-blowing” for Minel.

One thing that Minel loves about the U.S., though, is that “Everyone is so kind, so friendly, so talkative. Walking down the street people are just saying hi to each other! It’s so amazing. At first I was kind of creeped out, but then I realized everyone is just so friendly. There’s this concept of community, this neighborhood, and—before quarantine of course—people just would have parties at their houses or host dinners. That sense of community I absolutely love and miss. Back home I was in an apartment and didn’t even know who was living above or across from me.”

Another thing Minel appreciates is America’s diversity in food and shopping. “Ahh, it’s just so amazing. You want Indian, there’s an Indian restaurant around the corner. You want Italian food? Right there. Everything is available, it’s like the whole world is packed into this one country and you have access to it. It’s amazing! She also realized that her assumption that Americans would know nothing about Turkey has been proved incorrect. “To my surprise, everyone knew about my culture and where I come from, where Turkey is, our president, what we’re going through. People are much more knowledgeable about those things than I expected.”

Most importantly, Minel feels that because of the time she’s spent in the U.S. she has grown personally in big ways, shifting from a posture of constantly comparing herself to others and wondering what other people think of her to becoming more accepting and loving of both herself and others. Minel plans to stay in the U.S. to live and work after completing her PhD program. “It is such a beautiful place, away from all the stress and away from all the negativity—in nature; in a beautiful environment; so peaceful. I tell all my friends and family to come to the U.S. and experience it at least for two weeks… I’m pretty sure people would absolutely love it. I love it here! I do not want to leave.” Perhaps those who have not experienced another culture through travel should consider how much beauty can be found by taking a risk in a new country and exploring the possibilities! Who knows what adventures, experiences, and growth might be lurking just beyond our comfort zone?