Adriel Hsu learns to bridge cultural divides during a semester in Istanbul

A Mundy scholar essay
Friday, July 17, 2015

(Photos By Adriel Hsu.)

Senior Adriel Hsu spent the spring in Istanbul, Turkey, studying at Bogazici University through a Georgia Tech exchange program. Hsu said he wanted to completely immerse himself in another culture and experience a different way of life that could broaden his perspective.

This is part of an ongoing series of essays from across the globe written by CEE students who have traveled abroad with the support of the Joe S. Mundy Global Learning Endowment.

Participating in the Istanbul Exchange Program through Georgia Tech was one of the most amazing experiences and definitely changed my perspective on life. I did not know what to expect when I first left for this exchange program, but what I ended up learning from this experience will be invaluable to my future career as an engineer.

I had no knowledge of Turkish when I left for Istanbul, and the first thing I noticed was that the locals spoke a lot less English than I had anticipated. I took a beginner course in Turkish at the university during the semester because I felt it was necessary to know the basics to survive.

Near the middle of the semester, the water was out in my apartment. I called the utilities company and attempted to tell them my problem in my broken Turkish. This resulted in the worker on the other end of the line getting frustrated, and I was getting no closer to fixing my problem.

On my second attempt to contact the repairman, I took a different approach. I started off by saying I was an exchange student and I did not know much Turkish. By providing some background information on who I was as a customer, it allowed the repairman to be more understanding and have more patience with me.

This ordeal was just a microcosm of how important communication is in all aspects of life, including my career. I realized that to overcome communication barriers, one has to find a common connection with the other party and through that, work to find a way of understanding each other’s intents and ideas. Communication is key in the engineering field as 99 percent of the time, one is working with a team on a project. Also, I may have to work with team members from different countries on international projects, and this experience will be invaluable in communicating in the future.

Another beneficial experience was taking advanced engineering courses at the local university. They had a completely different teaching method and exam method that took some time getting used to. But the issues they discussed and local environmental engineering problems I worked on were useful as some of the pollution issues in Istanbul are unique to the region, and I would never have worked on such a problem back in the United States. Istanbul is the third most polluted city in Europe in terms of air pollution.

The Hagia Sophia Museum in Istanbul, a former Christian basilica and Muslim mosque.

The densely packed city, overcrowded population, lack of stringent air pollution regulations, and geographical position all make this issue a tough one to tackle. This diversity in experience of engineering issues will help give me a broader background to draw from when faced with new issues in my future career.

Lastly, living in a country with completely different religious beliefs and customs has opened my eyes to the perspectives of different cultures and let be more aware and respectful of others.

Living in a Muslim country, I became more aware when choosing my clothing and consciously wore shorts and tank tops much less frequently in order to be respectful to the culture I was living in. I would also be respectful during the call to prayers throughout the day. I learned that when someone was praying, to walk behind the person, and never in front of them, as that is very disrespectful to their religion.

This experience has cultivated me to grow and mature as an engineer and as a person. It was the best decision I have made for myself and was the most memorable five months of my life thus far. I greatly appreciate the Joe S. Mundy Global Endowment program for allowing me to participate in such an amazing semester.

See some of the incredible places Hsu visited during his semester in Europe (YouTube).