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Students Earn Degrees From US, Turkish Universities

Every year thousands of foreign students come to the United States to study at colleges and universities. But Binghamton University in New York state is giving new meaning to the idea of a global education.

Global studies and exchange programs are becoming increasingly popular. But what sets Binghamton apart is the dual degree program it is operating in conjunction with five universities in Turkey. Turkish students spend their first and third years at universities in Turkey and their second and fourth years at Binghamton. They graduate with degrees from both schools.

Binghamton University President Lois DeFleur believes the new program is already attracting some of Turkey's top students.

"It is very competitive to get into Turkish universities," she said. "So what they are able to do is to get an additional degree in the same period of time. They are able to improve both their understanding of the United States as well as their English. I think it is interesting that of our first year students, almost all of them, when they went back, had major internship appointments in European and Turkish companies because they had this international experience and they are working on this degree."

Merve Yasin Yavuz, who spent a year studying international affairs at the Middle East Technical University in Ankara, Turkey, agrees.

"For international relations students it's very important to go abroad, see the world, and experience of the world, get some experiences of different people, different perspectives of world views," he noted.

Ms. DeFleur says Turkey was a natural partner because Binghamton has many Turkish faculty members and students. She believes the program also offers advantages to Binghamton's students.

"We feel that this is really a particularly relevant program, given the current state of international affairs," she added. "The fact is that Turkey is a very pivotal country and it is a secular, but Muslim country. What we are trying to do with our students is to have them broaden their perspectives."

At Binghamton, President DeFleur has pushed to expand requirements in global studies, and increase international enrollment. Last year Binghamton won an award from the Association of International Educators for its achievements in international education. The awards committee said Binghamton is preparing students for leadership in a global society.

Ms. DeFleur says much of her commitment to international studies is influenced by her own experience studying in Argentina.

"Having a strong international experience changed my perspectives," she noted. "In all of the administrative posts that I have occupied, I have always been committed to broadening the internationalization of the schools and colleges."

The dual degree program is still in its infancy. But combining the academic requirements of two systems has already emerged as the biggest challenge. That's where Oktay Serkercisoy, helps out. He spent four years as a graduate student at Binghamton, completing two masters' degrees, before he joined the Dual Diploma program as assistant director. Mr. Serkercisoy, who is from Izmir in western Turkey, says his familiarity with both educational systems helps the Turkish students clear the first big hurdle.

"All the undergraduate students have to take certain general undergraduate courses, regardless of their majors," he explained. "In Turkey, we do not have this system of general education courses. Here at Binghamton they have to take course in humanities, science. They have to complete their math requirement and aesthetics."

The program offers degrees in global affairs, management and information systems. For global affairs student Merve Yavuz, the toughest work is not in her major areas.

"In Turkey, we are very specialized in our specific major. In Turkey we take only history, international relations, and political science courses," she said. "Here in America, I am taking a lot of courses because of general education requirements, for example, yoga, that you cannot find in Turkey. I study more for my Beethoven class than any of my major courses."

It can be frustrating. Still, Mr. Serkercisoy says it is worth the effort.

"Other than having two degrees from two different countries, the major advantage will be having lived in an international environment and gaining experience in this environment," he added. "Binghamton University values internationalization and we have students from different countries. Our Turkish students socialize and go to courses with students from so many different countries. It is an incredible experience for them to take back. They are part of this global village that we are leaving in now."

There are about 100 Turkish students in the dual degree program now. Within the next few years, Binghamton University plans to expand to 350 students.