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"I had no idea that in a matter of months I would find myself in the city of Ankara"

German-Turkish Masters Program - Jael Vizcarra recounts her story

I was working as a secretary in an anthropology museum in southern California when I applied to the German-Turkish Masters Program in the summer of 2007. I had just graduated from college and enrolled in the Middle East Technical University.

I obtained a Bachelor of Science in anthropology with a minor in international relations from the University of California Riverside and had spent some time in Göttingen and Potsdam due to prior language and culture exchange programs. When I graduated, I was sure I wanted to pursue a Masters degree but I also knew that an ordinary Masters program would be too monotonous for me. I had by default a very interdisciplinary academic background and was looking for something that would integrate my interest in politics, history and sociology; for exactly this reason, I enrolled in the GET-MA Program.

My prior experiences in Germany had awakened my curiosity for the country, particularly the vibrant communities of people from Turkey and the issues that arise as result of the changing demographics in Germany. The first time I visited Germany in 2004, I was pleasantly surprised to find the diversity of cities like Berlin and Hamburg -- they reminded me of cities like Los Angeles. I became curious of how such changes began and wanted to learn about the various histories of migration in a European context. The GET-MA Program was the perfect opportunity for me to do this as I could spend one year in the Turkish capital of Ankara and conclude the second year of the program in the city of Berlin.

In Ankara I was enrolled in the Middle East Technical University (METU); an English teaching institution in central Anatolia. In METU, I took courses related to modern Turkish history, Turkey's relationship with the EU, the Middle East and Central Asia along with seminars in sociology and elective courses in Urban Theory.
Through the elective courses I was able to know other graduate students and make friends outside of the program. I was very satisfied with the discussions we would hold in class because the students I interacted with were very participative and engaged critically with the material we would review in the courses. The professors were also accessible, and the professor/student hierarchy that is common to German universities was not too common there.

Before my arrival, I was sent information on the housing opportunities in Ankara. One included the dormitories on campus but I preferred to look for a WG. The university is 20 minutes away from the center of Ankara and there is frequent transportation from the dorms to downtown, but the dormitories had a curfew and where separated by sex meaning that you had dormitories only for women and men. I ended up looking for a temporary flat online, through the couchsurfing website and then once the semester began in October, I met other students who then introduced me to the roommate I would live with the rest of the year. I shared the flat with a sociology graduate student from Baku.

The year in Turkey served as a foundation for what was to come the next year in Berlin. In Turkey we established the connections between the two countries and discussed the types of relationships; whether politico-economic or cultural, that had existed between the two over the years from the Ottoman Empire to the current accession negotiations. In the Turkish part of the program we also improved our German since none of us in the group where native speakers. Along with the other courses, we took a German course but taking other language courses, including Turkish, was of course possible. After the school term ended we had the possibility of doing an internship in Turkey if we wished, being a requirement of the program we could either do it during the summer in Turkey or once we arrived to Berlin. I decided to do it in Berlin and travelled through-out Turkey instead.    

Once in Berlin, in the Fall of 2008, we took courses related to the European Union process of integration, modern Germany, and electives as well. This year was intended for us to complete our internship and to write the thesis we where expected to complete by the summer 2008. Throughout the first semester we would also discuss possible topics and the faculty here was also helpful in giving us orientation regarding our interests. The second semester included fewer courses and we worked mostly on our thesis. I completed the three month internship in a Turkish immigrant women's organization in Kreuzberg and wrote my thesis on the phenomena of transnational marriage. I conducted interviews with women who migrated through marriage to join their husbands in Germany and discussed the relationship of gender and the nation-state in the context of immigrant women from Turkey. We turned the thesis in in August 2008 and the program was officially done.

During the second semester of the GET-MA I applied to the Berlin Graduate School of Social Sciences and now I am part of the Introductory Year working on a research proposal that will deal with a comparison between immigrant Mexican communities in the US and those in Germany. I will focus on the everyday strategies immigrant women employ to overcome the restrictive policies of each country and then compare the ways both groups of women deploy networks to do it. In this way, I hope to add yet another dimension to the German-Turkish one, including the struggles of people of color in the US for example. These struggles despite occurring in a different political and economic context are not too distant from each other, in particular from the problems "minority" groups in German society confront.

My overall experience in the GET-MA was highly positive and I would recommend the program to anybody who is willing to broaden their understanding of the complex relationship between both countries. One of the strong points of the program is that students are able to spend one year in both Germany and Turkey, and aside from the academic field the personal interactions one is able to make are also an aspect worth mentioning. In the context of current Islamophobic sentiments throughout Europe as well as Germany, it becomes even more necessary to engage in a dialogue and exchange. The GET-MA is an opportunity to do so.

Dr. Claudia Matthes
Berlin Graduate School of Social Sciences
Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin
Institut für Sozialwissenschaften
Phone: 030 2093- 6079/-5349