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A Jesuit College Preparatory Experience

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Turkish Consul General Speaks to Political Science Students

On January 25, Turkish Consul General Mr. Umut Acar delivered a guest presentation to Honors and AP Political Science students at Loyola Academy. Consul General Acar spoke with students about topics ranging from the war on terror, the refugee crisis, relations with the U.S. and religious and ethnic diversity and conflict in Turkey.  
I thought it was very insightful for students to listen to the perspectives and experiences of those who have an international view of the United States,” says Associate Principal of Academics Phillip A. Nieman. “We may become somewhat insular in the views we hold. The presentation caused me to stop, reflect and even reconsider some of my own views.”

Over the course of the lecture, Consul General Acar unraveled the complexities of Turkey’s current political affairs to a group of students captivated by his deep understanding of international policies and government, coupled with a candid, approachable manner.

Consul General Acar began with a brief history lesson to provide students with important context. A country of just 78 million people, Turkey boasts the 17th largest economy in the world. With roots that spread deep into antiquity, Turkey’s past is a mosaic rich in history and tradition. Two of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, the Temple of Artemis in Ephesus (circa 7th century BC) and the Mausoleum at Halicarnassus (circa 350 BC), both stood in Anatolia (pre-modern Turkey). Çatalhöyük in southern Turkey is one of the earliest known human settlements and was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2012. The use of coins as currency traces its origins in Turkey, as does the much beloved and generous Bishop of Demre, St. Nicholas.

“Speakers like Mr. Acar help students appreciate the diversity of human experiences,” Social Studies Department Chair Jeff Dees says, commenting on the value of guest presentations.  

Furthermore, students learned that in 1948, modern Turkey was a founding member of the Council of Europe, an international organization focused on promoting human rights, democracy and the rule of law in Europe, and the European Court of Human Rights. The country has participated in NATO since 1952 and is currently a candidate for full membership in the European Union.   

Neighbored by Syria, Iraq, Bulgaria, Greece, Georgia, Armenia, Iran and Nakhchivan, Turkey has found itself in the midst of complex conflict. Since the war in Syria began six years ago, Turkey has taken in the largest number of refugees—a decision that Consul General Acar fully supports. “This is about fundamental human rights,” he said. “These are no longer international issues; these are issues related to ordinary people. We have to practice empathy. When you do that, you see things differently.”  

Senior Francesca Vena-Pedersen asked Consul Acar what policies Turkey has implemented to help the 2.7 million refugees that have fled to Turkey. “This is a wonderful question,” Consul General Acar replied. He pointed to the exemplary refugee camps established in Turkey, to the free health and education services refugees benefit from and the law that allows refugees to enter the labor market. “We kept our borders open,” Consul General Acar explained. “Turkey is not the richest country in the world, but if we can do it alone, imagine what together we can do.”  

“This presentation was one of the more interesting ones that I have seen at Loyola,” reflects Vena-Pedersen. “I enjoyed hearing about a country I did not know much about, and now I am interested to find out more about similar countries and refugee policies.”

“For me,” notes Hugh Rider ’18, “it was fascinating to learn about how the people of Turkey perceive the world.”

Mr. Mark McGuire ’06 of the Social Studies department teaches AP Political Science and U.S. History. “It is imperative that our students see how what they are learning in their classes at Loyola has meaningful real-world applications,” he explains.  “As our students study the political systems of other countries, meeting a real-life foreign diplomat brings our course content to life.”

For a little over an hour, Consul General Acar fielded questions, offering students open and candid responses. Long after his formal presentation had ended, he continued to speak with students individually, answering questions and offering insight about major global issues.

“My students commented on how easy it was to talk to a foreign diplomat,” McGuire ’06 says. “They were surprised at how willing he was to discuss complex topics such as Turkey's involvement in NATO, the EU, the war on Daesh (ISIL), Syria and Kurdish nationalism. They were interested to hear the perspective of an outside diplomat’s viewpoint about the United States, and they realized that they take for granted the immense power that the U.S. wields through the world.”

“The presentation provided students with some answers and many more questions, which is a good thing!” adds Dees. “We hope that through our classes and through experiences like these that students seek to become informed, discerning and active citizens who recognize the call to work for social justice.”

To much applause, Consul General Acar was presented with a Loyola pullover jacket as a token of thanks from the Social Studies department and the political science students. He also took a group picture with the students—what he kindly called a “family photo”—and offered an open invitation to the group to visit the consulate’s offices in downtown Chicago for Turkish coffee and tea.

Consul General Acar’s parting words gave students praise and provided inspiration: “You have a wonderful high school. I’ve traveled the world, and not many people at your age are as fortunate as you or have these possibilities,” he said. “Study hard and enjoy your life; these years will not come back.”

To learn more more about the Turkish Consulate General in Chicago, click here.

Visit the Turkish Consulate General in Chicago on Facebook and Twitter.
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