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Sherrill native soaks up Turkish culture
Oneida Daily Dispatch, 31.08.2013
SHERRILL >> The chance to learn about the culture of Turkey firsthand -- and gaining a better understanding of people she found not really all that much different from herself -- is a lesson Gabrielle Jaquays isn’t likely to forget any time soon.

Jaquays, the 20-year-old daughter of Laurie Jaquays-Semo of Taberg and Mike Jaquays of Sherrill and a class of 2011 graduate of the Camden High School, heard there was a study abroad opportunity in Turkey as a freshmen at Niagara University. The possibility of the trip intrigued her.

“I have always been interested in different cultures in the world, and I thought the trip would help me blossom and expand my openmindedness about other places,” she said.

Initially, the cost of the trip appeared prohibitive. Thanks to a contribution by grandparents Allen and Irma Jaquays of Sherrill she was able to fund her travels, and her Aunt Laura Fawley of Taberg added to her spending money fund by holding a candy bar sale fundraiser. But before Jaquays could head out on her adventure, she first had to spend a semester in the classroom learning about Turkey, in a history 390 “Topics: Istanbul” class taught by Turkish national Dr. Mustafa Gokcek at Niagara University.

She wrote a research paper on Turkey’s involvement in World War II, and the class was visited by another Turkish professor, who taught them some of the language. They also had to attend four events outside the classroom, and Jaquays went to the nearby Turkish Cultural Center in Buffalo for a cooking class and a coffee night, saw the movie “Turkish Passport” about the country’s role during the Holocaust, and went to a lecture by a speaker who had written a paper on Sufi religious practices in rural Turkey.

“I was well prepared by the time I left,” Jaquays said.

Gokcek’s wife and children – who spend the summers in Turkey and the rest of the year in Niagara Falls -- joined them on many of their travels around Istanbul once they arrived, and Jaquays was especially taken by his baby daughter.

“She was so cute,” she said. The rest of Gokcek’s family still resides in Turkey.

The trip ran from June 26 through July 6, and Jaquays admitted she wasn’t able to sleep the night before flying out from the Buffalo Airport to their connection in John F. Kennedy Airport in New York City before heading to Istanbul. After their nine-anda-half hour flight she had a short nap, but then they were right out sight-seeing.

By the end of the day she was exhausted, Jaquays admitted, and then her “fun” side came out.

“I get giggly when I get tired, and Dr. Gokcek’s family thought I was hysterical,” she said. “Somebody told a joke, Dr. Gokcek translated it for us, and I burst out laughing. And then everybody was laughing at me.”

There were eight students on the trip along with Gokcek, who served as teacher, tour guide and interpreter. They stayed in a dorm in Istanbul at night, and made many visits to Turkish families along the way, enjoying homemade meals in their homes.

Jaquays said they enjoyed an traditional Turkish-Arabic meal of meatballs, called Kofta, that took all day to prepare. They dined seated on the floor with a local family originally from southeastern Turkey.

“They were all very hospitable and treated us like family,” she said. “That showed me the true way they live and the way they reach out to others, even strangers like us. It’s a shame more people here, in the states, don’t know what they are really like.”

Jaquays had stopped at the Oneida Silversmiths’ factory store in Sherrill before leaving to pick up some keepsakes for families that reflected the Central New York area. She gave out gifts of silver sugar spoons engraved with the image of the Reilly-Mumford Memorial Park gazebo to the families they saw on those visits, she said.

“The families were so surprised and touched by those,” she recalled. “They wanted to give us something back, and some gave us their personal prayer beads.”

Jaquays kept in touch with her family back in the United States through the entire trip, both via her own Facebook page and one set up for the trip itself. A message home on June 29 summed up her feelings about the experience:

“I am having time of my life,” she wrote. “It is more than I would have ever expected it to be. I wish everyone could see and experience Turkey the way we are. It is beautiful and nothing like the news or media portray it. The families here would do anything for us. One family, the father said he was so glad we visited and his heart was filled with love and he started crying!! Most here want nothing more than to help a stranger; it is very enlightening and amazing. The stereotypes in America could not be more wrong. I know there are radicals and terrorists, but most Muslims believe that those groups are not true believers.”

Islam is all about love, happiness, humility, and being respectful of other religions, she explained. In some places they even found a mosque and a church in the same building, she said.

Jaquays recalled that same man who was brought to tears had a son who is studying in the United States, and that son was near where one of her classmates lived. They even Skyped with the Turkish student, telling him the Americans were at his house while he was studying in the United States.

She said one of her favorite stops was at the Jobe Mosque, where they got up one day at 4 a.m. to join the morning prayer. It was an amazing thing to witness, Jaquays said. Gokcek had bought them ceremonial dresses to wear in the mosques to show their respect for the Islamic beliefs, and Jaquays said she never felt out of place at all. Some people asked where they were from, and they told them the United States, but everyone was especially welcoming towards them.

“Everyone treated us with respect, and that showed us their true nature as a welcoming people,” she said. “We did the same, because we were there representing Niagara University and our own Vincentian values.”

“We had an excellent group of students from Niagara University,” Gokcek said. “All of the students did a great job of representing American values and the Vincentian spirit in Turkey. Most importantly students were quite open to experiencing a different culture and trying out new things whenever they could. This made my job a lot easier.”

Those Vincentian traditions of Niagara University were inspired by the St. Vincent de Paul, a 17th century Catholic priest, who encouraged his contemporaries to help others.

Because the history of Turkey and its predecessor, the Ottoman Empire, go back hundreds of years, it isn’t uncommon to see quite a mix of old and new there, Jaquays noted.

“Turkey is a beautiful country with a beautiful culture and beautiful people, and you can see modern skyscrapers being built right next to a 700-yearold mosque in some places,” she explained. “That’s what makes it so unique. We don’t have anything like what they have in Turkey here. The history throughout the country, from Istanbul to Bursa and Iznik was jaw-dropping. As a history major, I was in heaven the entire time seeing all the sites we learn and read about in class.”

Some of the architectural highlights of the trip included a visit to Hagia Sophia, a sacred place originally built as a Greek Orthodox patriarchal basilica that later became an imperial mosque and finally now a museum. She also enjoyed seeing the Blue Mosque, a magnificent and majestic place known for its blue tiles inside. It was built in 1609 under the ruling of Ahmed I, a Sultan of the Ottoman Empire, and Jaquays had done a presentation on the Blue Mosque in class in the spring.

They saw the Topkapi Palace, where they spent six hours looking through the former home of many sultans of the Ottoman Empire. They found five huge court yards, the council chambers where the sultan called royal meetings, and the harem – not a place of ill repute as often portrayed in the movies, but the living quarters of the sultan and his royal family.

“It was really awesome to think that so many sultans had actually lived there over the course of time,” she said.

She visited Bursa, which is the sister city of Buffalo, and saw the green-covered Mount Olympus, which gives truth the Bursa being called the “Green City.” One day she even haggled with a Turkish vendor in the Grand Bazaar, Jaquays recalled. An odd site was all of the cats and dogs wandering around just about everywhere they went, as those animals are free to roam in Turkey.

“The cats and dogs are like the squirrels you see in the U.S., they just walk around anywhere,” she said.

Jaquays said she wishes more people could have the opportunity to learn about the ways of others the way she did.

“Everyone should experience something different and out of their own comfort zones,” she said. “Too many people never get the chance to understand another culture and will never have the true sense of diversity that visiting another place will give them. Everyone should be more open about learning about other cultures. They will discover they actually have more similarities and fewer differences with others, and they might just find the world is smaller than they think.

“It has given me a new outlook on my own life, and the way I would like to be. It has proved to me that I am on the right road to doing what I love. Learning, experiencing and sharing different cultures to bring people to a new understanding of our world,” she said.

The experience of studying abroad is one that will stay with Jaquays for years to come, and likely lead to a return trip in the near future. She will have plenty of old acquaintances to look up when she gets there.

“I not only learned about their history and culture but I made some new friends,” Jaquays said. “I still keep in touch with people I met in Turkey.”

For more photos from their adventures in Turkey, log on to: www.facebook. com/travelsinIstanbul
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