Colby Silver is a student in the Graduate Program in International Affairs (GPIA) pursuing a concentration in Governance & Rights. He is currently in Istanbul, Turkey where he is participating in the 2015 International Field Program (IFP) during June and July working with two separate organizations. First, he is working with the Maltepe Municipality, the 10th largest district in Istanbul, to research programs and projects the municipality is interested in implementing; second, he is creating a fundraising campaign for a small NGO called SKYGD, which translates to Center for Social and Cultural Development. In this interview Colby shares his experiences working with these two organizations up to this point.
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How did you decide on the Turkey IFP over the other 2015 locations?
I visited Istanbul years ago for about four days and thought that it was fascinating, so when I had the opportunity to spend the summer here on the IFP it was a no-brainer. Also I’ve focused on South-Eastern Europe, Turkey, and the Middle East in my academic work for awhile now, so Istanbul was a perfect fit.
You were required to take a Turkish language class prior to your departure? Does your work require you to communicate in Turkish?
Turkish is very different from English grammatically so it has been hard to learn, but it’s really satisfying to be able to communicate even if just a little bit. You do have to have some knowledge of Turkish to get around here, and in my office some people don’t speak English. My Turkish isn’t good enough to be able to hold a conversation, but at least I can communicate on a basic level.
How did pre-departure required courses of Governance and Rights and the IFP Turkey Lab help prepare you for the work you are currently doing?
I actually decided to do a Governance & Rights concentration because of the required Global Governance course. I had entered GPIA thinking I would concentrate in Media & Culture, but the Governance & Rights courses ended up speaking to my interests more. Global Governance, along with the IFP lab helped prepare me in terms of the current political situation in Turkey and the broader discourses of Global Governance and International Affairs generally.
Tell us a bit about your work with the Municipality of Maltepe and SKYGD.
Maltepe is the 10th largest district of Istanbul and has about 500,000 residents. I work in the EU Integration and International Relations office, primarily researching projects and programs that the municipality is interested in implementing. For example, the United Nations Joint Program’s Women Friendly Cities project which is being implemented in other cities around Turkey. I am working in the office with another IFP student, Eddy Pierre, and we are brainstorming potential social development projects that could be implemented in Maltepe.
SKYGD holds creative workshops for disadvantaged populations. Right now they are focusing mostly on Syrian Refugee children. I am creating a kickstarter campaign for them to raise more funds, and in July after Ramadan I will be helping them hold more workshops. I’m also working with another intern who is Turkish but who studies in NYC, and an animator who will help us create a promotional video for the organization.
How do you expect your work will impact these organizations?
I hope that our fundraising campaign at SKYGD will be successful and raise a lot of money for the work they do, especially given the huge influx of refugee children into Turkey. In Maltepe I hope we are able to provide good ideas for development projects that can be passed on to the mayor for consideration.
What success and/or challenges have you had so far either regarding your work, language, culture, etc.?
There isn’t the same kind of intern culture in Turkey that you see in New York, so I’ve had to push a bit to be given enough projects to keep me busy. The language barrier is also frustrating at times because at times it prevents me from becoming fully involved in everything that is happening at the offices where I work, but it has helped me to pick up more Turkish, out of necessity.
Are you conducting any thesis research while in Turkey? If yes, what is the focus?
Yes, I am researching the economic policies of the ruling AKP party and how they are tied to the party’s Islamist politics. More specifically I’m looking at the synthesis of neoliberalism and Islamism that has emerged in the past fifteen or so years.
What skills are you acquiring or enhancing which complement those developed in the classroom?
Having international experience is pretty essential to finding work in the International Affairs field, so it will be helpful to have two internships and international study that I can add to my resume. I also think conducting interviews and research for a project in a foreign country is a particular kind of challenge and this is a good opportunity to work on those skills.
Any funny/interesting cross-cultural anecdotes/stories/lessons you’d like to share at this point?
If you take a taxi in Istanbul be prepared for a hair-raising experience.
What is your living situation like?
We all live in a dormitory-type building in a quiet area called Ortaköy about a ten-minute walk away from the Bosphorous. The building is a mix of Turkish and international students and has lots of amenities. We share rooms with other New School students in the IFP, with two or three people to a room.
What advice would you give to students interested in participating on the 2016 Turkey IFP?
Take the language classes seriously and get in touch with past Istanbul IFP students for advice.