METU alumni explain: Why can’t we leave METU?

Ecem Bakkal

Click to read in Kurdish or Turkish.

We talked about Middle East Technical University graduates’ commitment to their alma mater with two people who graduated in 1978 and in 2015.

Middle East Technical University (METU), founded in 1956, is an educational institution with a unique culture. Indeed, it is the university of those who green the desert. Since its establishment, approximately 135 thousand people have been graduated. An ever-growing huge family with 26,500 students. Yes, we call it family. Because everyone who studies here knows that METU is a warm sweet home for people. When sitting in Devrim (Revolution) stadium, you can’t help looking at “EV” (home) part of “DEVRİM” word. As a student, you don’t pay much attention that. You only think about certain things, and you just dream. But its significance and value are felt when you graduate. A legendary graduation ceremony takes place at this Devrim stadium. The stands are full of proud people. At that moment, you are standing in your graduation gown on the lawn, where you rocked and rolled during your student life and maybe even letting a little bit of fresh air in between your classes.

METU is a very distinctive university. Another reflection of Stockholm syndrome, perhaps. Throughout your education life, you resent the classes. As you grapple with assignments, presentations, projects, exams, you question your university and life choices. And you regret your decisions. During this period, there are many who decide to drop out of school.

In this university surrounded by trees on all sides, the activity I personally enjoy doing is going for a walk in the early morning in the spring, listening to the singing birds and inhaling that fragrant scent of the nature. When the weekend comes around, alumni end up at campus. In fact, the campus is a respite and renewal point for them. Many also try to engrain the unique tastes of campus in their families. Children’s laughter synchronizes with the woodnotes on the weekend.

You probably don’t like this much during your student life, and you complain about the crowd in the campus. But you realize that after years, maybe one day you will hold your kid’s hand and have fun by running together on the lawn in front of physics department or at Devrim stadium and have Sunday breakfasts at Çatı with your family.

The commitment of METU graduates to the university is not a coincidence but a reality. Memories of the university circulating, the eye-catching photographs, passing from hand to hand … Perhaps once you saw “METU’s Air Water Soil”, a mocking stock among students, at ODTÜDEN, the shop selling METU products; you thought, “Who will pay for it, to what point has capitalism evolved?” However, you will even desire to buy it.

We talked with a graduate of 1978, S.Ç and a graduate of 2015 (undergraduate) and 2019 (graduate), P.A. about their relationship with METU.

“I consider METU my home”

Although 44 years have passed, S.Ç.  still talks about the days spent at the university with shiny eyes. S.Ç.   never forgot the classes he took and the contents of these courses. S.Ç.   talks about undergraduate years and the year he spent in prep class with such great enthusiasm that I can’t help thinking, “I wonder what I went through in those days of my education life.” S.Ç.  asks me questions from the math class taken in the first grade. Since I am a student of the Faculty of Economics and Administrative Sciences, as S.Ç.  was in the past, I am given some advice by S.Ç.

Ecem Bakkal (E.B.): If I am not wrong, the procedure is to make university preference first and then take the exam when you entered in the university. Have you ever regretted or felt sorry when you saw that you won METU in such a placement?

S.Ç: No, never. At first, I was just nervous about coming to Ankara from another city. You have lived with your family for years and suddenly you will start to build a life again in a completely different environment. Maybe all your friends will stay away from you. There are many question marks in one’s mind, but METU is such a university that it gives you back all the things it takes from you. First, I came here and started living in a culture that I had never been in before. The people around me were so helpful that they suddenly became my friends and family. That’s why I always perceive METU as my home rather than an ordinary university.

E.B: It has been 44 years since you graduated, but you still share the same excitement as me. The memories you told before the interview are the same as most of what I am going through on campus right now. Dormitory life, dining hall queues, difficulty of classes, etc. What do you think is the reason behind this?

S.Ç: I think the primary reason is the culture of the university. There is always a solidarity here which cannot be found in most of other universities. I think this is already known by the entire Turkey. The fact that name of the stadium is Devrim, the political turmoil experienced in the past, this atmosphere of unity and togetherness… Everything is a factor that creates this culture. This is the effort of Kemal Kurdaş and everyone who helped him greening the steppe. Just as those saplings took root in barren lands, we as METU members are rooted together. I think this explains how our bonds become stronger. It will be clearer when you start your career. You will be envied by people whom you work with when you state that you are from METU. And you’ll probably notice that one of your managers is a METU graduate as well. You will realize that solidarity does not only exist at METU campus, but also anywhere where people living with METU in their heart exist.

P.A.: METU helped me be me

2015 graduate P.A., who holds a bachelor’s degree, reveals that the feelings of the graduates about METU do not change even though years pass.

E.B: I’m sure you have a great deal of memories about this fascinating campus where you spent nearly 10 years of your education life. What kind of change did you see between yourself when you first entered the university and when you graduated 10 years later?

P.A: Physically speaking, I was 18 when I entered METU. The youthful spirit was alive in me. I was high in energy. METU is a difficult university as anyone can imagine. You must constantly work, move yourself forward. Almost a third of my life has been spent working for this cause. I am so tired of stress and lack of sleep. My hair started to turn white. Spiritually, I think METU helped me find my personality. This is a crowded university in terms of both students and academics. You meet so many people anyway. There is community, event, etc. for everyone’s interest. You can get different ideas by participating in these events and meeting new people. In this respect, I think that METU is an invaluable place. It made me be me.

E.B: You mentioned that you were in the labs. Do you think this is a sufficient university in terms of such technical facilities?

P.A: It would not be right to compare it with foundation universities. To evaluate it as a state university and a technical university, it seems to be sufficient in the country’s conditions. In the previous question I mentioned that the university was crowded. For this reason, in undergraduate life, of course, there may be some inconveniences in some activities such as the use of laboratories, but more intense research can be carried out in graduate studies. I still think that such technical facilities at the institution should be more advanced.

E.B: As a graduate of METU, we often encounter you at the campus. What do you think is the reason why you couldn’t break your bond with the university?

P.A: METU is a very particular place. During your education life, especially during exam periods (laughs), even if you often say that you hate the university, or you will get rid of it after you graduate, things don’t work that way. While you in the famous gown with your banner walking past the crowd applauding proudly at the graduation ceremony, you say that you would study at this university again if it were. For this reason, I studied here, including my doctoral education. As for my inability to stay away from METU, I have been in this circle for about 10 years. The people I consider my family are also here. It is a great opportunity to get rid of the busyness of business life and to take a breath. Nothing gives me the pleasure of being able to sit here freely with the people I love. Moreover, most people graduated from METU continue their business life (if they aim for an academic career) here. Most of the research assistants are people from your close circle. It is very difficult to tear a person out of their comfort zone. Because of this, we cannot leave this school.

*July 2022

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