Monday, September 28, 2015

A Consideration of the STEM Fields and the Humanities
by Thomas Reilly
As an Honors Ambassador, I work with sixty-four incredibly accomplished students in order to represent the Honors Program. From my time giving tours and speaking with many high school and first year students, I have noticed a pattern whenever I ask them what they would like to study. It seems that I receive one of two answers: either they cautiously stutter their intentions, or they give their answers with confidence, sometimes even with arrogance. These students almost always intend to major in a STEM field, and their confidence reflects society’s prominent emphasis of technical training over the social sciences and the humanities. This phenomenon proves all the more salient at the University of Florida where the Shands medical complex is steps away from classrooms and where more than $323 million dollars of the university’s $619 million research awards are health-related. The humanities intertwine with the sciences more than many realize, and while the division between them is understandable, there are resources to reconcile it.
Scheduling often bars STEM students from humanities courses. Admittedly, one look at the regimented critical tracking requirements for a chemical engineer confirms that time often does not permit supplementary coursework. Although some majors, like Chemistry or Mathematics, in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences also encounter this problem, CLAS is generally more flexible even when a preprofessional track is thrown into the mix. Haley Oberhofer is a third-year chemistry and anthropology dual major on the premedical track, a diverse combination that she explains in the following way: “I hope to become a craniofacial surgeon and to work in developing countries.  Biomedical and cultural anthropology will be extremely pertinent in my future profession. In order to treat patients, we have to know and understand their backgrounds.” In Haley’s case, a humanistic foundation is at least as practical as taking additional STEM courses, which hopefully expels the notion that disciplines like anthropology are a leisurely indulgence that students cannot afford.
In fact, the entire idea of humanity is inextricable from the STEM fields. Matt Salis is a fourth-year mechanical engineering major involved with UF’s Design Build Fly team, which creates radio-controlled aircrafts for competition. When asked if he felt his coursework to be gratifying, he reflected, “My relationship with my classes is that I don’t hate them. I find fulfillment within the actual application of engineering principles; I have found most of this fulfillment within the design team I work on. For me there is a huge difference in terms of fulfillment between solving practice problems in the classroom and performing the analysis, design work, and manufacturing of an aircraft. This difference lies mostly in the creative element within design engineering.” The difference between a physics class and an art history class thus seems to be that one applies what the other seeks to understand, i.e. being human. Without the desire to improve the human condition much of the world’s scientific advancement would never have come into being, therefore begging the question: how effectively can you help that which you do not understand?
For many STEM students, the Center for European Studies has the potential to ease this imbalance. The Center was the first in the nation to receive funding from the European Union in order to establish its Jean Monnet Center of Excellence, through which it hosts guest lectures and workshops - opportunities that require little time investment from a busy physics major. Additionally, many companies and firms collaborate with their European counterparts and therefore value employees who can make connections with English engineers or Russian researchers. For students whose professional goals would benefit from becoming bilingual, not only does Center offer classes in less common (and therefore more marketable) languages such as Hungarian and Turkish but it also distributes Foreign Language and Area Studies (FLAS) fellowships, which provide funds for students in all subjects to study European languages.
The separation of knowledge into discrete domains, as universities must unavoidably implement, is illusory. Descartes, for example, married philosophy and mathematics in his influential legacy, while Wittgenstein studied mechanical engineering and aeronautics before contributing to our understanding of language. In the same way, students today must recognize the importance of the humanities and their relationship to the sciences – a relationship not of discord but of harmony.

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

The Benefits of Taking a Gap Year After College
by Shaila Kavrakova
            As youre approaching the end of your undergraduate studies, stress doesnt cease to accumulate. The dreaded question arises, what will you do after college?Up until this point, youve gone to school year after year since you were a toddler. The thought of taking a break sounds like such a relief from the academic burnout.
            Gap years between college and graduate school are becoming increasingly more popular in an effort to slow down this fast-track generation of students. It offers individuals the opportunity to rejuvenate and return prepared to take on new responsibilities. Its a chance to explore the world, while exploring oneself simultaneously. Many come out of this experience with a new sense of self-confidence and even self-discovery. Some decide to work in a field of interest after college such as teaching or research; others wander the globe.
            30% of people spend their gap year traveling, particularly in Europe. The culture, beautiful landmarks and history make this one of the most desired destinations in the world. Many European students have spent time traveling from country to country because of their close proximity, while students from the U.S. may not have had the opportunity to go abroad. This is probably why students from the states use a gap year to explore different countries. 
            There are plenty of resources out there to help fund your trip such as, grants, fellowships, even budget friendly blogs to guide you on your journey. Work visas are also an option in order for individuals to obtain jobs in certain European countries. Whether its a job or simply volunteering, this type of experience will look great on résumés and appeal to future employers. Working in another country not only shows initiative, but also reflects your ability to adapt and adjust to new situations. This could even be an excellent time to take up a new language or sharpen your communication skills.
            Studies suggest that those who take a gap year have improved grades, clearer career
 goals, and increased social involvement, with hardly anyone regretting spending this time off. Taking a break from the inflicted structure of schooling can lead one to their true passions.
            If youre debating on taking a gap year, make a list of the pros and cons. If one outweighs the other significantly, then I think you have your answer. The main point to take away is that a gap year is not one size fits all. Its about maintaining a balance and achieving clarity. No matter what you choose to do, use this time to your advantage. This is the time to prepare for the next step in your life. 

Good luck!

Monday, September 14, 2015

An Inside Look at Ottomans, Islam, Syria and Turkey

Emrah Sahin is the Turkish Studies lecturer at UF's Center for European Studies. A portion of this interview was featured in the UF campus newspaper, the Alligator. The interview was conducted by CES intern, Ann Manov. Ann is a UF French, English and Spanish senior. Her column appears in the Alligator on Mondays.

AM: Why is Turkish studies housed in UF’s Center for European Studies?

ES: A Turk probably couldn't say if he is Middle Eastern or European. Politically, economically, if not socially or culturally, Turkey is part of the European civilization.

AM: Turkey has the second highest number of diplomatic missions in the world, after the US, and most of recent increase has come from contact with the Middle East. Politically, is Turkey becoming less European?

ES: Turkey’s journey into the EU is checkered. In the early 1990s  the EU began to dictate conditions [beyond the Copenhagen criteria] for Turkey. But Turks have always wanted to be in the European civilization, a symbol of modernity. They are not less European than new EU member nations.

AM: When did Turkey begin emulating Europe? 

ES: From 1839 to the 1870s, the Tanzimat reforms sought to cure the Ottoman Empire, the “sick man" of Europe, by modernizing the military, society, and the administration.

AM: How does the problem of Kurdish integration have its roots in the Ottoman period?

ES: In the “millet” system, Sunni Kurds were part of the broader Muslim community. In the late 19th century, Kurds and Armenians [in eastern Turkey] attributed economic crises to each other, and disorder erupted. But today’s Kurdish question relates to identity. After the Republic of Turkey was established [in 1923], the Kurdish population ended up being the only minority in Turkey, as population exchanges sent Greek subjects to Greece.

AM: Were the population exchanges done on religious lines?

ES: They were done more on ethnic lines. Atatürk, the founder of Turkey, would not have imagined Turkey as a Muslim state; it was a European-inspired, secular Turkey where Islam was buried with the Ottoman Empire.  The new generation of scholars would receive education in Europe and replace Islam with rational sciences and positivism.

AM: What is it about Turkish Islam that makes it the only Muslim democracy?

ES:  Muhammed structured the first Islamic state upon democratic tenets. But the Turkish model became successful paradoxically by the introduction of secularism by Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, Turkey's leading founder. Today, secularism also preserves the right to religion. Referencing EU standards of non-interference in religion, the government permitted religious symbols on campuses. So, Turkey historically applied a strict form of secularism, but the groups that hold power define it. When Turkey abolished the caliphate in 1924, several Ottoman-educated scholars revolted. The republican founders changed the dress code and replaced the Arabic alphabet with the Latin version. Secularism proved strict for the first generation who went through this top-down revolution.

Most practicing, devout Turks take no issue with democracy. This is a legacy of Atatürk. The current generation of Turks believe that democracy is the ideal form of government. The secularism established by Atatürk todays takes another turn that preserves the right to religion.
AM: By the time of Atatürk’s revolution, was there already a solid Turkish identity? Did the pan-Turkic movement change what Ottomans would have called Turkish?

ES: In the late Ottoman context there were a number of ideological streams: pan-Ottomanism, pan-Islam, and pan-Turkism. Pan-Turkism remained feasible in the face of ethnic revolts in Serbia and Greece: why not copy that ideology and create a Turkish empire? The republic was founded on Turkism; not pan-Turkism of all Turkic peoples. Turkism promised a nation based on linguistic, ethnic and cultural unity. 

AM: Is establishing that Turkish identity why Kurds had to stop speaking Kurdish?

ES: Atatürk's Prime Minister, Ismet Inonu, declared any citizen in Turkey to be a Turk. This did not reflect the desire to "Turkify" the Kurds. Being a Turkish citizen came with a strict state dictation: Turkish is the language.The current government, in an effort to smooth relations, reminded the Kurds and the Turks of their common religion and collective memory. But the conflict goes deeper. 

AM: Was it the Justice and Development Party (Ak Parti) that first allowed Kurdish language schooling and TV?

ES: Yes. That was part of its multiculturalist policy. When they first won the elections [in 2002], Ak Parti actively pursued EU talks and gave liberties to Kurds and women. The PKK—the Kurdistan Workers Party—has fought for over three decades for an independent Kurdistan including southern Turkey and northern Iraq. The Turkish government tried to grant certain rights to the Kurdish population, such as allowing Kurdish language radio broadcasts and public service. But later on, the government abandoned reconciliation. Broader events in the region played a role, especially the events in Syria and the reactions from the PKK.

AM: Why is it strategic for the Ak Parti to turn against the Kurds now? Could you recap the elections this summer?

ES: The Turkish position on the Kurds, especially the PKK, a terrorist group in Turkey, began to change after the elections. The Kurdish party, called the People's Democratic Party (HDP) argues for greater reforms but also supports Kurdish independence. After June 7th, HDP won about 13.12% of the popular vote and 80 parliament seats. Ak Parti  cadres seemed frustrated by PKK negotiations and unilaterally ended talks. My fear is that political intolerance might affect the larger, favorable Turkish perception of the Kurds.

AM: How do you think Ak Parti’s recent policies affect their chances of EU accession?

ES: They seem to have shelved the prospect of joining the EU, especially in the 2010s. Europe is partly responsible. Some procedures were intentionally dictated to make it increasingly difficult for Turkey to gain accession into the European Union. Erdoğan grew exhausted with EU expectations. Last year he even challenged the EU by saying, ‘Take us or we will otherwise partner with the Shanghai-5.’

AM: What makes Erdoğan charismatic?

ES: The way he dictates policies, electrifying speeches, and the way he connects intellectuals and bureaucrats, along with party members, under his authority. The opponents of Erdoğan focus on his background. He grew up in a neighborhood of laborers, not intellectual elites. He is stubborn and straightforward, and not extremely sophisticated in his political decisions.

AM: Do you think that Turkey is becoming more conservative across the board, or just the Ak Parti?

ES: Turkey is polarizing along ethnic, political, and religious lines. Erdoğan recently waged a battle against the Gülenist movement, calling them the parallel state. That’s a huge, ongoing battle between two types of Turkish Islam, one more political and the other more socially-oriented.

AM: Because of Gülenist schools?

ES: Yes, but Erdoğan said that they also conquered the state within the state by putting leaders of the Gülen Movement into strategic positions within the army and even Ak Parti ranks. Another battle is against PKK and HDP, and another against MHP, the National Movement Party. The regional status quo seems to be deteriorating and internal politics are not getting any better.

AM: The UNHCR estimates that by the end of 2015, there will be 1.7 million Syrian refugees and asylum seekers in Turkey.

ES: Turkish sources confirm it is already two million. It’s not a simple refugee problem; it’s Turkey’s new minority.

AM: Do you think Syria’s Ottoman past will help them integrate? Is there any prospect of a stable minority status?

ES: Syria was part of the semi-independent, Arabic-speaking province of Damascus. People spoke Arabic and worked outside of domestic Ottoman agricultural and commercial networks. Today’s minority issue exacerbates political instability and regional insecurity in Turkey, as Turks spot Syrians everywhere in the country. There we face a language barrier, economic hardships, and unregulated settlement. Turkey expected the EU to help but it did not come this year and the proposed solutions don’t seem to address the magnitude of the refugee crisis.

AM: Sweden said it would take all of them.

ES: Well, we will see. Turkey has historically opened its arms to the oppressed, such as the Jews escaping from Europe during the Second World War. Having the European continent as a union prevents any EU member from acting rapidly and unilaterally; Turkey had that option to help—and did, at the risk of discomforting the Turkish nation. Once again they have opened their border. People living in border towns are not thrilled with this because the refugee flow destroys their business and because ISIL is targeting their towns. It is an unfinished story and we will see in 2016 how it will be resolved, if it ever can be.

Thursday, September 10, 2015

This Day in History: September 10, 1964, West Germany Celebrates Arrival of One-Millionth Guest Worker

Earlier this week a massive crowd of Germans loudly applauded the arrival of hundreds of asylum seekers at the Munich train station. Weary after days stuck in a web of bureaucratic confusion and less-than-ideal refuge in Budapest, the warm reception stood out as a rare bright note in last week’s migration-dominated headlines.

Fifty one years ago today Germans celebrated the arrival of another foreigner, Amando Sá Rodrigues. Rodrigues, a Portuguese guest worker, was met at the Cologne train station and given flowers and a moped to celebrate the arrival of West Germany’s one millionth “Gastarbeiter.”

The West German guest worker program started in 1955 with the recruitment of workers from southern Europe. In 1961, after the erection of the Berlin Wall, the recruitment program expanded to include, most notably, Turkey. The program was initiated to address the need for a mobile, cheap workforce within the booming West German economy. Guest workers initially signed 2-year rotational contracts but once employers realized the tremendous expenditures involved with bringing and training a new set of workers every two years, the 2-year rotational structure was quietly abandoned.

Guest workers, initially viewed as temporary guests, were welcomed by the German public. The positive vibes faded however by the late sixties, as the economy took a downturn and the public started to view the guest worker population as a permanent fixture rather than a temporary visitor. As such the “Gastarbeiter” program was halted in 1973 during the global oil crisis. Ironically, while ending the program was expected to curb the number of immigrants, it actually had the opposite effect. Many guest workers, especially those from Turkey, decided to bring their families over permanently once the guest worker program was put to an end out of fear that they wouldn't be able to return to Germany if they left. Today people with Turkish background form largest ethnic minority in Germany, totaling around 3 million. 

Moving forward, it will be interesting to see what lessons Germany learned from its experience with its guest workers, as it is now taking in a large number of migrants once again. A fundamental difference this time around is that the refugees are being viewed as permanent new members of German society right off the bat. As an example of this new orientation towards migration, there have been efforts from the German government to ramp up the number of language instruction programs available to the incoming refugees. In the coming years, we will see how Germany finds a place in the fabric of German society for these new migrants.

Thursday, September 3, 2015

Study Abroad Tips and Tricks
By Sarah Adler

While there are over 50,000 students at the University of Florida only around 2% of UF’s undergraduates pursue study abroad during their college career. What’s even more surprising is that 97% of study abroad students find employment within 12 months of graduation. Study abroad pushes students to get out of their comfort zone and explore other cultures and environments. The Center for European Studies at UF offers study abroad programs in Prague, Brussels, Istanbul, Krakow and Wrocław, and Salzburg. They also provide multiple funding and grant opportunities for other trips.
Selecting a study abroad program can be difficult and overwhelming, but here are some tips to help you find the perfect study abroad tailored to your needs:

1.     Blogs
Blogs can be a simple way to find unbiased information on the trip you plan to take.  Most reviews of study abroad programs will only be a couple paragraphs long, whereas a blog follows the entire trip from start to end. Through blogs you can find whether the trip meets your degree requirements, costs, and travel budgets. Some blogs can be very detailed, outlining the visa requirements and packing list- while others may start off well and fizzle out towards the end. Don’t be afraid to contact the people behind the blog, most of the time they’re extremely enthusiastic. Who wouldn’t want to talk more about their travels!

2.     Don’t trust everything you find online
While blogs can serve as a great way to find information, online sources are also where people like to vent about their frustrations. Don’t let one negative review dissuade you! Try to find a different blog about the same trip or contact the provider and address the questions you have.

3.     Look at the comments section to find the best information
The comment sections can answer some of your most pressing questions. I’ve found that other people who attended the same study abroad program will comment on the blog post with their own personal anecdotes. Most of the time there are also links to other blogs about the trip! Additionally, one can find tips ranging from the application process to budgetary concerns.

If you still find yourself struggling to find the right study abroad program, take a step back and talk to your school’s international center or study abroad advisor. Once you make your decision prepare for a life changing experience!

- Sarah Adler

Center for European Studies Study Abroad Programs

Study Abroad in Prague, Czech Republic
-       UF GPA credit and transfer credit available
o   Earn credit toward Czech language requirement
-       Core course is taught in English by UF Faculty
-       Guided excursions to other cities
-       No previous knowledge of Czech required

Study Abroad in Salzburg, Austria

-       European studies with a political science and history focus
-       Music courses are available, including private lessons
-       All courses are taught in English
-       Homestays with Austrian families with morning and evening meals included
-       Four day excursion to Vienna with hotel, breakfast and events included

Study Abroad in Kraków and Wrocław, Poland

-       Four weeks in Kraków studying Polish language and culture
o   A medieval city with a contemporary flare
o   The capital of Poland for almost 500 years
o   Home to over 18 universities
-       Two weeks in Wraclów, the “Polish Venice,” studying literature, history, architecture, film and art
o   City of islands and bridges
o   Major urban center of no less than 9 different European states or empires over the past 1000 years
o   Rich architectural and cultural history

Study Abroad in Brussels

-       Six weeks in Brussels as part of European Union Studies Program (EUSP) Minor
-       Unofficial capital of Europe and headquarters of the European Union
-       Lodging in fully furnished apartments
-       Courses are taught in English at Vesalius College
-       Focus on EU institutions, NATO, transatlantic relations, EU enlargement, etc.

Study Abroad in Ankara

-       Military/Geopolitical focus
-       Ankara is both Turkey’s capital city as of 1923 and the headquarters of its armed forces
-       A quickly modernizing city with contemporary architecture juxtaposed with ancient architecture, Ankara was established over 4000 years ago
-       Students will live and study at the University of Economics and Technology (ETU)
-       Program will include an intensive language immersion component and/or an area studies program that focuses on history, politics and culture
-       Includes two week trips to Istanbul and two weekend trips to Antalya, a beautiful, ancient city located on the Mediterranean coast

Visit or email Greg Mason at for more information about our study
abroad programs and study abroad funding opportunities.