Episode 19 │ Scandalacious (TURKEY)
Updated: May 4
"Really talk to people, because they are SO insightful. If you really want a sense of the country you're in, then talk to people." (Marlee, Episode 19)
I can't remember exactly when or where Marlee Sherrod and I met during undergrad at Michigan State University. I want to say that we'd seen each other in passing for a while (we were in the same major), but didn't actually become acquainted until we had a class together. After touring Europe with her sister while she was in high school, Marlee was enthusiastic about going overseas again while in college. She just had to figure out where and when. She knew that she wanted to go somewhere new and different, that was still developing in someway, because she felt she'd be able to learn more in such a place than if she went to Europe again. Then in 2013 a summer program in Turkey opened up, and not only would her favorite professor be leading the program, but the classes taught would also knock out some of her required credits. It seemed like it would be a good fit, so Marlee joined a group of nine other students and spent five weeks studying abroad in Turkey, splitting their time between the capital of Ankara and the transcontinental metropolis of Istanbul.
The classes Marlee took included "state and society" and "women in comparative perspective", which meant that she and her classmates spent a lot of time studying the political history of Turkey, listening to guest lecturers, and meeting representatives from a handful of political entities. They went to the Turkish parliament and met the only female representative of the ruling party at the time, and they also talked to representatives of the leading opposition party. They also listened to an LGBTQ activist speak, and met coordinators of a feminist non-profit organization. In 2013, the US embassy was bombed in February, and the Gezi Park protests were active all that summer. Though Marlee and her group were completely safe the entire time they were in Turkey, the political unrest couldn't be ignored, and so learning about social movements in addition to more traditional forms of governance added nuance to their understanding of Turkish society and its political landscape.
Be patient, but also stand your ground and know your boundaries.
In addition to informing me briefly about the geographical, cultural, and ideological lines which Turkey straddles, Marlee spoke fondly of her interactions with Turkish people. From fellow university students who acted as companions, to the older man who walked her home one night because he thought she might be lost, to the people she met at a dance party. She was frequently humbled by all the great people she met. Of course it wasn't all roses, and sometimes she got stares because of her skin color, some folks wanted to believe that she was Nigerian even as she struggled to explain the concept of being "Black" AND "American", and a couple of times random people asked for photo ops with her. But Marlee tried to take it in good stride. Being objectified in such obvious and abrupt ways in a foreign country can be hard to deal with, but her advice to fellow Black travelers is this: be patient, but also stand your ground and know your boundaries.
Marlee currently works for an ACLU affiliate in Michigan. In the future, she hopes to learn seven languages in her lifetime and also spend at least a year doing service work and becoming fluent in Spanish in a Latin American country. Marlee can be reached on Facebook (Marlee Sherrod) or LinkedIn (Marlee Sherrod).
Be sure to listen to this episode, "Scandalacious (TURKEY)" for more! And don't forget to check out the resource list below!
James Madison College (MSU)
Study Abroad Scholarships for American Students of Minority and Heritage Communities (Turkish Coalition of America)
Danielle G. is the creator, host, and producer of Young, Gifted and Abroad. You can find her other writings at DeelaSees.com.