A new Turkish Cultural and Community Center, funded in part by Noble Prize winner Aziz Sancar’s foundation, will create interactions between American students at UNC and Turkish students when it opens in spring of 2019.
Gwen Sancar, president of the Aziz and Gwen Sancar Foundation, said Chapel Hill needs the center to help bring Turkey’s culture to Americans.
“I wanted to try to use it as a vehicle to bring together Turks and Americans so that they could appreciate more (of) one another’s cultures,” she said.
Sancar said the foundation already has a Türk Evi, or “Turkish House,” where students and scholars have activities, but that the new center will be much bigger.
“We have a couple of large classrooms and a couple of small classrooms that we will make available to the community, particularly non-profits, for events when we’re not using the spaces,” she said.
The center spans about 13,000 square feet. Along with classrooms, it will include a community hall with a kitchen, administrative offices and six bedrooms for visiting scholars from Turkey.
Junior Irmak Saklayıcı said via Facebook Messenger that the center will help accommodate visiting scholars from Turkey.
“They help provide pretty cheap housing for Turkish students in the area, which is nice for any international students as getting adjusted here can be difficult,” she said.
Didem Havlioglu, a professor in the joint Turkish Studies program between UNC and Duke, said having a center nearby will benefit students at both universities.
“It is a mutual ground for these two schools, so it is wonderful in that way,” she said. “Space brings people together, and if there is space you feel more belonging to that community.”
Havlioglu said although we live in a digital world, online interactions can’t replace in-person interactions between American students and Turkish students.
“For real cultural exchange, we need to see each other, we need to interact with each other, so that space is going to help a lot,” she said. “They’re going to eat together, listen to music together. These are very important things when you’re studying a less-commonly taught language like Turkish.”
Saklayıcı said the center will help her interact with more Turkish students in the area.
“I’m certain that it will make it much easier for groups to gather and share their culture, which can be awesome as a Turkish student, since it’s hard to connect with other Turkish students.”
Sancar said along with the other benefits the center will bring, it will most notably help Turkish people and culture get more recognition in the Triangle.
“Most people aren’t that aware of Turkey and its history,” she said. “Most people in this area are not aware that there are a significant number of Turks in the Triangle area already, and they’ve made significant contributions to the economy, and business, and culture and to the universities.”