Among friends, I sometimes jokingly refer to myself as "your friendly neighborhood Spiderman"—in part because I'm involved in so many activities that I could really use some web-shooting skills to get around! I'm no superhero, of course (though I will gladly apply if there is a job opening in that field!), but I'm proud of the person I've become and the contributions I've made, and thankful for the influences that have shaped my character.
I was born in Kars, in the North-Eastern region of Turkey (the part closest to Russia), in 1976. During my childhood and teen years, my father was the best role model I could have hoped for. A well-respected local judge and member of parliament who had brought himself and his family out of poverty through pure hard work, he taught me how to swim, fish, and play chess, spent endless hours helping me work through difficult math problems, and shared his strong sense of ethics and empathy with me. Best of all, he never treated me as "just" a kid—I got to sit in on many of his important meetings, and stood alongside him during his political campaigns. He gave me so much; he also expected a lot from me. I remember trying for years to win just one game of chess against him. When I finally did, I asked my mom if he had lost that last game on purpose and she told me that there was no way he would have let me win. He wanted me to understand the exhilaration and satisfaction of having won in a fair match—and I did.
Meanwhile, I got my emotional, artistic and caring qualities from my Mom, who has always been the "adoptive mother" of all my friends in Turkey, perhaps because of her uncanny ability to make just about any challenging situation come out all right. My mother was only 18 when she got married, and just 36 when my dad passed away suddenly in 1994. She raised three kids on a tight budget while working as a fashion designer—even now, I joke with her that she should become Turkey's economics minister. My mother has spent the bulk of her life helping those in need—old people, children, the poor and homeless, and even animals—and I have looked to her as a role model for that very important aspect of my life.
I was in my first year at Bogazici University when my father passed away, and I was shaken deeply by the loss. To deal with the grief—and to act as I knew my father would have wanted me to—I poured all my energy into my studies and extracurricular activities, as well as working hard to care for my mother and siblings both financially and emotionally. This was also the period of my life when I started to make the most of my genuine interest in helping
others succeed. I began volunteering for Junior Achievement (JA) as a private tutor, promoting career success skills and advocating educational advancement to students in the economically-depressed suburbs of Istanbul. These students were often disillusioned and convinced that they were powerless to shape their futures. I wanted to be a role model for these students and help them become agents of change in their own lives, and so I shared my own story with them, showing how I overcame personal and academic obstacles through hard work and determination. For one student, Ali Kemal Pamuk, my mentoring transformed his approach to the university entrance exam. Instead of perceiving it purely as a necessary evil, he soon began to view it as a challenge and an opportunity for positive change in his life, an opportunity that led him to have his own law firm. (He went to law school and partnered with his friends and started up a law firm!) Another student, Ayca Unlu, confided that she initially did not feel smart enough to consider medicine as a potential career, but our daily conversations inspired her to remove her self-imposed limitations and aim higher. Now she is a successful doctor at Florence Nightingale hospital in Istanbul!
My college years were also when I learned to make the most of my very limited time—while most of my classmates in the Chemical Engineering Department did nothing but study, I was determined to "have a life." I played for the college soccer team for four years (and was MVP two years in a row!), organized spring break vacations for my group of friends, and even worked as a part-time vacuum-cleaner salesman (this helped me to finance my studies). During the school year, I worked as a private tutor for high-school kids who were dreaming of getting into Bogazici, and during summer vacations, I worked as a rafting guide in Southern Turkey, with tourists from all over the world.
This was the first time I realized the importance of understanding and working with different cultures. On a small scale, this experience became the foundation of my "global" perspective. I learned how disciplined the Swedish people are, and how very different they are in temperament compared to people from the Mediterranean region. All the German people I worked with helped me to understand why German cars are so detailed and perfectly crafted! In return for the cultural insights I gained, I taught these visitors about Turkish hospitality and customs. Somehow, in spite of our differences, we invariably managed to work in harmony. This experience alone sparked my interest in working in a global environment, where I could learn to understand the differences among cultures and find ways to combine all these different ideas and paradigms into my own approach to life.
In spite of all this "multitasking," I still managed to complete my degree within four years and line up great internships, even though this often meant sleeping only two or three hours per day. I often came to the classroom in my pajamas to take a test, and then fell asleep outside on the grass with my classmates afterwards! This period of my life was challenging, but it was exciting as well, and it helped me to prepare myself for everything that would come after, from my mandatory military service to my studies in Sweden and career in the US.
After donating my car to Habitat for Humanity Fresno last year, I got interested in what they have been doing for the community—building on the lessons my father taught me about the importance of helping the community in which I live, I started to volunteer at the construction site at Cross Road Fresno. I am also coaching the Bullard Talent High School soccer team—this gives me the opportunity to share my passion for soccer with kids and teach them how the world's most popular sport can help them bond with people from literally hundreds of different nations; this, in turn, increases the kids' curiosity about the world they live in, both on and off the soccer field. I am also an active member of the Jack Russell rescue network, dedicated to placing unwanted, displaced or abandoned Jack Russell Terriers into permanent homes. Hoping to help others learn from my own tribulations with the GMAT, I am also one of the moderators at the www.beatthegmat.com online GMAT and MBA community. The executive director of Test Prep New York (Bara Saphir) and the founder of the website nominated me as the "ambassador" of GMAT-test-takers on this forum; I even have my own "tip of the day thread" in which I offer suggestions and support to test takers from all over the world.
As Peter Parker's aunt May said in the Spiderman movie, "I believe there's a hero in all of us, that keeps us honest, gives us strength, and makes us noble." I am trying my best to make the most of my "inner hero." After all, I am committed to being a citizen of the world, setting a strong example for others and making a positive contribution to the community—yes, your friendly neighborhood Spiderman!