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Miami forms partnership, creates opportunities in Turkey

By Garrett Shaw, For The Miami Student

Miami University's new partnership with Erzincan University, located in the northeastern part of Turkey, is more than just another sister university.

When sociology professor Glenn Muschert, and Fauzia Ahmed, assistant professor of sociology and women's studies, visited Erzincan, the pair realized the benefits of international collaboration in this "cradle of civilization," as Muschert said.

It began in fall of 2012.

Muschert received an email from a sociologist named, Mujdat Avci, who lived in Turkey. Avci inquired about visiting Miami as a scholar. After communication and planning, he was invited to campus, where he stayed for four months.

After his stay, the two began discussing the possibility of a sister relationship, specifically with a university in Turkey in the region that needed it most: Erzincan.

Few people are aware of Turkey's geographic importance, which is another benefit of Miami's partnership in the area.

"Turkey has played a pivotal role between east and west politically, geographically and historically, more than any other Islamic country," Ahmed said. "We went there for the signing of the memorandum of understanding and we've already followed through on implementation."

In September, Muschert and Ahmed visited Erzincan to sign the memorandum of understanding with the university's officials, in order to solidify the partnership.

Upon returning to Miami, the two worked toward developing possibilities for student exchanges between the two universities. Muschert plans to take students to Erzincan next summer.

Ahmed created a pilot workshop for Erzincan sociology and business graduate students and started it in November, as the first step of a two-year research project on gender, Islam and microcredit (small loans to women to run businesses). Next spring, a graduate student from Miami's political department will be joining this international research team.

But, Miami's relationship with Erzincan goes beyond academic purposes or experience abroad, Ahmed said.

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"It's not just taking a trip, it's about changing yourself, it's about growing," she said. "That's what makes it different, it's really about helping Miami students become global citizens."

Ahmed spoke of steps in the right direction of not only changing our perspectives and views as students, but as Americans as well.

"Miami students - Miami in general - has been referred to as the bubble, and the more international exposure you have, the more students can get out of the bubble," Ahmed said. "We need to be humble and reflective - especially when we deal with people from a different cultural background. We're training the leaders of tomorrow and we need to build this attitude."

Ahmed said this international exchange holds numerous benefits.

"We always think that other people need to learn from us, Americans. But it's not a one way street," she said. "I think we're cheating ourselves if we have this attitude because what we are really saying is that we have nothing to learn from other cultures."

Ahmed and Muschert are also working toward opening up a "Miami corner" on Erzincan's campus with offices that include American material as well as individuals who speak English in those departments.

The duo also hopes to create a "Turkish corner" here at Miami with the help of librarians at King Library. this will enhance student exchange programs and create a "buddy system" linked by both the Miami and Turkish corners.

Ahmed and Muschert's experiences wouldn't have been as successful without Cheryl Young from the Global Initiatives Program, as well as the Jantzen family's donation in the sociology department, which funded the trip.

The trip to Turkey will include other activities like white-water-rafting, hiking, archeological digs where residents find 2,000 year old ruins and the tasting of Turkish cuisine.

Muschert voiced his appreciation for Ahmed and her impact on the students in Turkey.

"Here's a woman that's a professor in the US, walks in as a role mode and basically says 'here's what women can do' and they don't get to see that every day," Muschert said.

In order to get a head start on the project, Muschert plans to bring a group of undergrad students to Erzincan in May of 2015.

"People kept asking me if I was worried, but Turkey is a very modern and stable county," he said.

He also knows the value of the university and its opportunity.

"People who are graduates from the Turkish university have so much enthusiasm for Miami University."

Whether it's the cultural opportunity in Turkey or the value of expanding yourself as an individual, Muschert and Ahmed are confident Erzincan University is a place of opportunity.