Guest Post: A Journey of Self-Discovery... in a Foreign Country

Selen Erkut learned how to be a better global citizen through UAlberta's e3 program in Berlin

Selen Erkut - 31 January 2018

During the summer of 2017, I had the chance to discover myself in a city I'd never been to.

From the ages of eight to 14, I lived in Turkey with my family, so going abroad wasn't something out of the ordinary for me (especially considering how many countries I was able to visit from Istanbul's global hub of an airport). Going abroad alone was definitely new, but I felt like it was time to immerse myself in a different culture again.

The opportunity came to me in the form of a giant mint green poster in our studio. "E3 CRITICAL DESIGN IN BERLIN" stood out in all-caps Helvetica, and it didn't take much more convincing to get me on board. (UAlberta's e3 programs combine academics with international study and work experience.)

My flight took off from Edmonton on July 31 and sent me far, far away from the people I knew and the culture I understood. At first, I was afraid to be living on my own for the first time - especially in a foreign city - but I soon found that I had a great support system around me. The course started two days after I landed, and suddenly . . . I was immersed in Berlin.

I spent three weeks learning about critical design AND critical grocery shopping. I found my way around a foreign city with limited understanding of the language, managed to spend more than I should have, and made more friends than I expected. I also got myself into a bit of trouble on public transit, but mistakes are part of the journey. I found myself growing as a person every day and learning new things from all of the people around me.

Berlin also helped me understand my cultural identity. It was my dad who moved us to Turkey in the first place so he could work in his home country and be closer to his family. I've never been sure if I count as Turkish, but I also know that I am not like a lot of my classmates from small towns in Alberta. Berlin has the largest number of Turkish expats in Europe, so everywhere I went, I found myself among people like me: people who were sort of Turkish, but not really sure if they'd call themselves Turkish; people who spoke the same second language as me but also shared a certain disconnect from it; people who fell somewhere in between. I felt a deep appreciation for the bond that culture can create between people every time I bonded with random strangers.

Returning home was probably the hardest part of my trip abroad. I got used to grabbing groceries every day on my way home from the U-Bahn (transit) station and working late into the night in someone else's tiny dorm room. Berlin was different enough from Edmonton that I could get away for a bit, but similar enough that I could still get donairs on a night out. It perfectly fused my Canadian and Turkish halves as well.

I got to learn how to be a better adult, designer and global citizen within the short span of three weeks and I'd do it again in a heartbeat.

Selen Erkut is a Bachelor of Design student in her second year, focusing on social sciences and visual communication design and how they overlap. She is currently working towards her Certificate in International Learning. Selen is also an active member of the Alberta Alpha chapter of Pi Beta Phi and she spends her free time volunteering, traveling, petting dogs and complaining about font choices. She will be visiting Amsterdam, Brussels and London on another design-related trip during winter Reading Week 2018.

Guest posts present the experiences and viewpoints of Arts students, faculty, staff and alumni. The views and opinions expressed within these posts are solely those of the authors.