U.S. State Department, Citing Security, Suspends [Fulbright] Teaching Program in Turkey


Date posted: September 1, 2016

ANEMONA HARTOCOLLIS

Joanna Birkner was looking forward to teaching English in Turkey on a Fulbright award this year. But last week, she received an email from a program official saying that teaching assistant placements in Turkey had been suspended for the school year.

The letter came on July 25, 10 days after the attempted coup in Turkey, amid continuing turmoil in that country. It said the restoration of the program for the 2017-18 school year would be contingent on the “security situation” in Turkey.

“It came as a big disappointment,” Ms. Birkner said. “When you have a plan, it’s a little bit like having the rug pulled out from under you.”

In the wake of the coup attempt, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey has conducted widespread purges of perceived adversaries. As a result, every university dean in Turkey was forced to resign. Some experts have raised questions about whether the university system will be able to function. The ripple effects to American academics are just starting to emerge.

About 80 people like Ms. Birkner have had their awards in Turkey under the Fulbright English Teaching Assistant Program canceled. The awards are sponsored by the State Department.

A National Security Education Program, the Boren awards, has also been disrupted, participants said.

Several participants in another State Department effort, the Critical Language Scholarship Program, said they were told in late April, even before the coup attempt, that their studies would be moved from Turkey to Azerbaijan.

A State Department spokeswoman said it had also suspended high school exchange programs in Turkey for American students. The more prestigious Fulbright research grants were not affected.

Many award recipients have been studying Turkish language and culture for years, and want to go into the foreign service. They said the cancellation was a setback not only for their careers, but also for the cause of international relations at a difficult time in the Middle East.

“What’s going on in Turkey right now is really extraordinary and definitely something that should be watched closely,” said Ms. Birkner, 22, a recent graduate of Bryn Mawr College whose interest in Turkey was piqued by a National Geographic cover of Turkish ruins when she was 17. “Ultimately, I think it’s even more of a reason that there need to be young Americans who can speak the language, who can understand the conflict from the ground up.”

Olivia Loveland, another award winner, who just graduated from Portland State University in Oregon, said she thought her posting in the Turkish city of Erzurum would have been no more dangerous than going to France or Belgium, where there have been recent terrorist attacks, or even San Bernardino, Calif., where a friend of hers was wounded in the mass shooting that killed 14 in December.

“I just kind of expect that those things happen everywhere,” she said.

Ms. Birkner is hoping to go to Turkey on her own. She has been checking Turkish help-wanted ads and said she was finding a high demand for English-speaking employees because there was an exodus of expatriates in the immediate aftermath of the coup attempt.

Correction: August 11, 2016
An article on Saturday about a decision by the State Department to suspend a teaching program in Turkey misidentified the program that was canceled. It is the Fulbright English Teaching Assistant Program, not the Fulbright Foreign Language Teaching Assistant Program.

Source: New York Times , AUG. 5, 2016


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