It ain’t Long Island: Meet Esra Alemdar

Forget the first 10 people you met at GW – not everyone is from Long Island. Or New Jersey, for that matter. Or even Pennsylvania. Though many times you may hear students asking one another “Nassau or Suffolk County?” GW really does attract students from interesting locales all over the country and the globe. Meet Esra Alemdar.

Freshman Esra Alemdar says D.C. is a lot like home for her. That might sound a little strange considering she grew up in Ankara, Turkey.

“I think the image most people have of Turkey is very stereotypical to more Middle Eastern countries … Like, most people think of women walking around in burqas and stuff like that, but Ankara is nothing like that at all. In fact, it’s just like D.C., and in so many ways.”

The Turkish cityscape she describes – the statues, museums, people with magazine-style fashion, restaurants and nightclubs – sounds pretty familiar. But, it’s not exactly America abroad.

Turkey is a “modernized Islamic country,” Alemdar said, explaining how different it is from other Islamic nations that surround it. Ankara is a place many call “the melting pot of the East and West.” Both influences are apparent, and the city plays host to plenty of ex-pats from around the world, adding to its diverse cultural flair.

It’s because of this fusion and despite religious influences that the school Alemdar attended had belly dancing classes and Halloween and Valentine’s Day dances.

On weekends, she frequented Turkey’s movie theaters, clubs and “nargile bars” or hookah bars. Hookah, which is a pipe for smoking flavored tobacco, is “very popular with the teenagers,” Alemdar said, and hookah bars are all over the city.

She has also traveled extensively outside Turkey with her hockey team.

“I’ve been to Madrid, Lebanon, Germany, Greece and Belgium to play hockey in international tournaments.”

A well-traveled international student, Alemdar has noticed some differences across borders. One thing that sets Turkey apart, she said, is the sense of nationalism and pride among Turks.

“We’re patriots. What makes us different is that we’re first Turkish and second our religions. Some people from Saudi Arabia or Egypt would say ‘we’re Muslim first,’ but Turkish people would always answer differently. Being Turkish, it’s much more important than religion.”

“It ain’t Long Island” is a new series in the Life Section that profiles students who grew up in places unique to the GW community. If you have a suggestion, e-mail features@gwhatchet.com.

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