I am an exchange student from The Netherlands and have spend my fall semester studying at Bilgi University in Istanbul. One of the courses I have enrolled in was the course communication lab. Communication lab provided me with the opportunity to choose a project most fitting to my interests. I chose the project Oral History lectured by Ariana Ferentinou. Oral history gives both Turkish and Erasmus students the chance to interview elderly and both record and document their stories.
I am a media and entertainment student myself and immediately saw the opportunity not only to document Oral History orally but also on video. When Ariana first started talking about her project I immediately imagined a short documentary that would show young students interviewing and establishing an emotional bond with elderly. In The Netherlands elderly are not often in contact with youngsters, the story that they have to tell do not interest the youth and I think this is a waste. In Turkey elderly are handled with care and respect. You stand up for them when traveling by bus, in The Netherlands this is all very different. Everybody thinks for themselves and puts their own needs and wants first. Oral history showed me that elderly have interesting stories to tell, they need to be handled with care and respect. They are our living history books and it is important to get to know them and hear listen to what they have to say and the life lessons they can teach us.
At the first week of December me and my student colleges all departed towards İzmir to meet and interview four elderly people. Going on this trip was such an eye opener for me. Turkish citizens are so hospitable and even though there is a language barrier they open up their hearts towards you. Each interviewee we visited made sure we had enough Turkish sweets and çay as we could consume. I have experienced the hospitality from both Turkish students, citizens I have met on the street and the elderly I have met in İzmir. İzmir is such a remarkable city filled with a rich history, that Bilgi made it possible for us students to go there was truly amazing.
Once we arrived I got the chance to see and document the beautiful city. I walked around with my camera and documented everything I could. My student colleagues showed me around and helped me shooting remarkable shots. The weather was great and really showed how enchanting Izmir can be. After documenting some great sights in Izmir we visited our first interviewee. Dr. Abidin Bayraktaroğlu (97) whose family came from Agean island Crete and who still speaks perfect Greek.
I did not only meet and filmed the elderly but I feel like I really got to know them. I am half Greek myself and luckily for me all the elderly we interviewed spoke the same level of Greek I do. With Greek as our communication tool I felt so connected to all of them. They gave me compliments and showed me a lot of love. I was so touched by all of them and the comments they made. They invited me in to their homes and hearts.
I have also experienced that elderly Turkish people are very emotional. They give you the feeling that you are family, that you belong and the friendliness of the way they touch and hold you truly amazed me. Stay tuned on our website to follow our journey, meet our interviewees and see pictures of our trip. This project creates a wonderful learning opportunity since both Turkish and Erasmus students work together. You learn from each other’s cultures, language and from the way everyone handles things differently. I can recommend it to any exchange student!