First Penn State students to study in Ankara develop deep cultural appreciation

Liam Jackson
January 08, 2016

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Ryan McCann and Luke Schramm had the chance to experience something that no other undergraduate Penn State student has experienced — studying for a semester at the prestigious Middle East Technical University (METU) in Ankara, Turkey.

From the moment the two petroleum and natural gas engineering (PNGE) students set foot in Turkey, the trip was filled with new sights and activities, as well as many interactions that helped the students feel at home.

“I was wearing a Penn State hat during our flight, and as soon as we got off the plane in Ankara, someone saw my hat and started talking to us. It turned out to be a Penn State grad. That made the trip easier at first,” said Schramm, who hails from Butler, Pennsylvania.

The following day, the students experienced something that would take them further out of their comfort zones than they envisioned.

“Shortly after we arrived in Turkey, we needed to get residency permits. On our way to Ankara’s Migration Management Office, we saw a few hundred refugees from Iraq and Syria lined up trying to immigrate into the country. Entire families were standing in line with their lives in drawstring bags. Just to see how the events going on in the Middle East affected everyday peoples’ lives was a very sobering experience,” said Schramm.

Those two experiences represent some of the unique and sometimes challenging experiences that would allow the students to grow into well-rounded individuals and learn to appreciate people from vastly different backgrounds.

two students sitting at a table drinking tea

Penn State students Ryan McCann and Luke Schramm enjoy a cup of tea in a restaurant in Ankara, Turkey, during their study abroad trip. Per capita, Turkey drinks the most tea of any country worldwide. Tea is such an integral part of the Turkish culture, they said, that it was even served in the middle of long exams at Middle East Technical University, where the students studied.

IMAGE: Luke Schramm

A leading technical university

Before enrolling in college classes, students in Turkey are required to take a nationwide placement exam. More than 1.5 million students complete this each year, and many departments of METU only accept the top 1 percent of these applicants.

“The Middle East Technical University is one of the best Turkish institutes for technical degrees. Some of the best petroleum engineers throughout the Middle East have received their degrees through METU,” said McCann, a native of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

The courses were all taught in English, and the METU’s PNGE program is accredited by the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology Inc. (ABET). McCann and Schramm chose to study there because the program offered courses that would directly translate to their PNGE degree program.

“The classes were very in depth and there was a very strong bond between professors and students there. They really welcomed us with open arms and were excited about us being there,” said McCann.

The name “Penn State” was well known to many PNGE students and instructors at METU, Schramm said, because of the connections that had been built over the years by Turgay Ertekin, who received his bachelor’s and master’s degrees in PNGE from METU and is head of Penn State’s John and Willie Leone Family Department of Energy and Mineral Engineering.

“A lot of PNGE students and instructors knew of Penn State because of Dr. Ertekin’s petroleum and natural gas engineering research. Even the department head of the PNGE program at METU, who taught one of our courses, was good friends with Dr. Ertekin,” said Schramm.

Ertekin, who also received his doctorate in PNGE from Penn State, maintains close ties with METU researchers and regularly visits to present guest lectures.

“Quite a number of qualified, productive METU graduates have chosen Penn State for their graduate studies, both in our PNGE program as well as other programs across the university,” said Ertekin. “Personally, I was happy to see that some of our PNGE students were visiting the school I graduated from. It’s very fulfilling to me, and I’m happy that they came back with a positive experience. I hope that it will help us continue building our relationship with METU and that it will show Penn State PNGE students about a new opportunity to enhance their education.”

four students in a study area

Ryan McCann and Luke Schramm, two Penn State petroleum and natural gas engineering students, stand with their two Turkish roommates from their study abroad experience in Ankara, Turkey. McCann and Schramm were the first two Penn State undergraduates to study abroad in Ankara, Turkey, and the students studied at Middle East Technical University.

IMAGE: Luke Schramm

Connecting with individuals from different backgrounds and cultures

The trip wasn’t the students’ first time abroad — they traveled to Jamaica in 2013 through the College of Earth and Mineral Sciences’ Learning Edge Academic Program (LEAP) — but spending a semester in Turkey gave them a chance to “be on their own,” they said. They forged new relationships throughout the semester with their Turkish roommates, lab partners and classmates, and made international friendships through the METU chapter of the Erasmus Student Network (ESN), a European student association that facilitates study abroad and exchange programs.

“Every Thursday night, a group of students from between 10 and 20 countries would get together through the ESN. We’d meet at one person’s apartment and everyone would bring a traditional dish from their country. Being able to sit down and eat and talk with students from different nationalities is something I’ll always remember,” said Schramm.

Sharing an apartment suite with two Turkish students also helped the Penn State students build deep connections and understand the Turkish culture in a way they never dreamed of before the trip.

“We would talk about religion and current events, and everyone we met seemed to be very well informed on some of the major news from the United States. They did have a different perspective than we, but it really helped us learn a new respect for the Turkish culture. It really does open your eyes,” said McCann.

McCann and Schramm also spent time traveling throughout Turkey, visiting Istanbul, Mount Ararat and the three major seas that border Turkey — the Mediterranean, the Aegean and the Black seas. One of the most memorable sites was Cappadocia, a human-created network of tunnels, caves and living quarters carved into a natural rock formations that resemble chimneys. The dwellings served as home for ancient humans, and as a refuge for early Christians fleeing from the Roman Empire during the fourth century.

“There were so many amazing landscapes to see, from mountains to the seas to the desert areas to more lush environments near the Black Sea. It’s so unlike anything we had seen in the United States,” said Schramm.

The most lasting impression for the students was the bonds they built, said Schramm.

“Something I’ll always remember is the group interactions we had both inside and outside of class. That cross-cultural group dynamic, with everyone being respectful to each other and getting along, was nice to see and experience,” he said.


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Last Updated January 08, 2016