Husband-and-wife counselor educators Chris and Hande Briddick recently spent a one-year sabbatical in Turkey, joining the faculty of Bahçeşehir University (BAU).
Although there to teach, the couple says they were in turn taught many things, from the connections forged with colleagues over tea and birthday cake to the thoughtful questions students asked about counseling topics in the classroom.
“How many meaningful, warm and humorous conversations can you have in one year of your life? Turns out it is too many to count,” Chris reflects.
The Briddicks are professors in the South Dakota State University (SDSU) College of Education and Human Sciences. They spent the past academic year teaching at BAU in Istanbul and at a local K-8 school, where they helped develop curriculum and worked with parents and teachers. They also brought their young son, Sinan, who attended a local preschool and learned Turkish over the course of the sabbatical.
Chris is an American Counseling Association member and leader of ACA’s Historical Issues and Counseling Network.
Hande and Chris agree that the experience allowed them to stretch and grow both professionally and personally. Experiencing the counseling profession through the lens of another culture offered an invaluable career highlight.
“The energy level of BAU is very high. It is a very dynamic institution,” says Hande. “BAU is also quite involved in education issues in Turkey. It was wonderful to see how a university can play a
significant role in identifying and providing possible solutions to a country’s education system. Being part of a faculty highly involved in these issues was indeed the highlight of my experience there.”
For Chris, an “aha moment” arrived while on a river cruise on the Bosporus, the strait that runs between Asia and Europe, with other scholars as part of the European Educational Research Association conference, which BAU hosted last fall.
“[Hande and I] were working so hard to just get our feet on the ground and to adjust to being in a new setting,” he remembers. “I think it was then [on the cruise] that I realized our experience was not going to be ordinary by any means.”
Counseling Today caught up with the Briddicks to talk about their experience in Turkey and the benefits of work/study abroad. [Click on the photos to see in full size.]
Q+A with Chris and Hande Briddick
How long were you in Turkey, and what type of work were you doing?
Chris: We were in Turkey from July 2013 to July 2014. We served on the faculty of educational sciences at Bahçeşehir University. In addition, we worked with a private kindergarten-through-eighth-grade school (Bahçeşehir Primary School, Etiler Campus) which is associated with the university. We were mainly teaching, consulting and doing a bit of research.
Hande: Similar to our faculty positions here in the States, we taught several courses for their graduate and undergraduate students, did some informal advising, delivered workshops, etc. In addition, the college had a wonderful program called “University Within Schools.” This program allowed the faculty at the college to work closely with Bahçeşehir’s K-12 private schools. Within this program, we were able to spend time in one of Bahçeşehir K-12 schools. We worked closely with the principal and the school’s counselors. We concentrated on developing curriculum and working with students and parents — excellent opportunities for us both personally and professionally.
What made you want to spend your sabbatical in Turkey? How does it connect to your work at SDSU?
Chris: We wanted to do something different for sabbatical, and Turkey offered a great opportunity to experience higher education in a different culture firsthand.
Also, it seemed like a natural extension of [multicultural work] we had already been doing. Hande
and I have worked with a travel program for seventh- through 12th-grade schoolteachers, funded by the Turkish Cultural Foundation, for several years. I led a study abroad group to Turkey in 2011. We have also worked in support of campus programming related to Turkey and assisted with an excellent library grant to add books on Turkish culture to our university’s library.
Hande: I am from Turkey. I came to the United States in 1994 after receiving a full scholarship from the board of higher education in Turkey (YOK). The scholarship was to complete my master’s and Ph.D. degrees at Kent State University. While writing my dissertation, I accepted a position at South Dakota State University and began working at SDSU in 2002.
Although I love teaching at SDSU, I always dreamed about teaching in Turkey one day. Selçuk Şirin, one of my dear friends and college classmates from my undergraduate days in Turkey, currently works at New York University as an associate professor in applied psychology. He was incredibly helpful in getting us connected with Bahçeşehir University and Bahçeşehir K-12 schools. With his help, we presented our résumés, met with some of the faculty at BAU and were then invited to teach at their university.
To answer your second question, I coordinate the school counseling program here at SDSU. Bahçeşehir University had just opened their school counseling program. It was wonderful to be a part of this new program. In addition, I teach a multicultural counseling course in our department here at SDSU, which I had developed years ago. Consequently, it is not surprising that I am quite attracted to cultural experiences. After 20 years, going back to my home country did prove to be one of the true highlights of my personal and professional life thus far.
Career counseling and guidance are as important in Turkey as it is here in the U.S. I believe that they were interested and excited to hire Chris because of his knowledge, publications and interest in this area.
You spent your time in Turkey teaching. What are some things, in turn, that the students taught you?
Chris: Turkish students have many of the same preoccupations (social media, relationships, culture, music, etc.) as students here in the U.S. Still, I will say my students in Turkey were pretty amazing. I was quite impressed by their global perspective of life in general, including their education, as well as the emphasis on bilingualism.
Hande: It might sound a little cliché but, really, my Turkish students reoriented me to the importance of culture and how it can influence almost everything around us, which includes the way we communicate, the way we dress, the way we establish relationships, the way we teach … Basically, it defines who we are.
It may be too revealing, but in all honesty, my students and colleagues helped me remember who I was when I lived in Turkey years ago. Other international scholars might agree with me in saying that after years of living in a different country, a little bit of who we are is sometimes forgotten. Living in Turkey for a year became an empowering experience for me in this regard. And I owe that to my colleagues there — I consider them my friends now — and to my dear students.
Can you share some highlights or favorite memories from the experience?
Chris: My favorite memories will always be the students, faculty, staff and community colleagues, including our principal and staff at our community school site. They were so committed to education and so driven. I found myself comparing them with our students and colleagues here in the U.S., again realizing the similarities and preoccupations as well as differences. For instance, students in my graduate classes there had the same grit and determination I see in the best graduate students here at home. In a word, brilliant. They were a small group, but I think back fairly often to our discussions and individual conversations. My undergraduate students were much the same way.
And faculty colleagues? How many meaningful, warm, and humorous conversations can you have in one year of your life? Turns out it is too many to count. Getting to spend time in our office or at lunch talking about everything from academics to politics to pop culture to family made for some great moments. Dedicated, kindhearted and highly intellectual individuals, each and every one. One little thing that was indeed memorable was the commitment by our faculty to celebrate birthdays. Every few weeks, work came to a halt and we would all gather around the table in the center of the department and celebrate the birthdays of colleagues with cay (tea), Turkish coffee and cake. It was academic life in balance at its best.
Another memorable moment was when I arrived to give my first final and my students were there early patiently waiting. The classroom erupted into applause. Trust me, it was unwarranted, and I can say without hesitation that has never happened in all my years of teaching. We returned to Istanbul in December 2014 to visit, and we surprised our BAU students who were taking a final that day. When our colleague entered the room, she left the door open and we stepped in. I will never forget the looks on their faces and, frankly, we were a bit overwhelmed with emotion. We had a few minutes to visit before they took their final. It was incredible.
We worked at a private koleji (school) in the community. It was an amazing environment with its own Eko Ev (eco house) and large school garden, both of which served as classrooms at some point for the children. We even had a good selection of farm animals on campus right in the middle of a city of
over 14 million people, so students could better grasp how agriculture impacts their day-to-day lives. Students learned about their history and culture as well as current concepts such as sustainability.
The principal there, Naime Demirbas, was one of the most incredible individuals I have ever met and certainly a visionary leader. One of the highlights of my entire career will be working with her. I cannot count the number of meetings in her office where Hande and I worked side by side with her, watching in amazement how ideas were developed, refined and implemented with such precision and efficiency. One day we had a conversation about the importance of culture and its significance in education. She has a background in history and was quite proactive in making sure her students learned about their culture and history. The next thing I knew, I was being invited along with faculty from the school on a Saturday tour of parts of the city of Istanbul. Not only was it important for students to discover their history and culture, but so too was it important for the faculty, she maintained. Her commitment to the students in the school, the faculty and staff, as well as her progressive, innovative approach to education, will stay with me for the rest of my life.
Hande: It is really hard to choose one or two stories to share, as there are so many of them. I agree with what Chris shared with you. The faculty of educational sciences (at BAU) as well as faculty at Etiler Kolej were very supportive of us as we were making transition from the USA to Turkey and the Turkish [educational] system.
I learned a great deal about the importance of collaboration and professional support. I saw how [it] helped them create an intellectually rich and rewarding academic culture. The productivity within our faculty at BAU was impressive. Each semester they worked together on any number of valuable research projects. In the United States, we tend to place more value on individualism and less on collaboration, which I think results in more competitive academic environments. Both have pros and cons, of course.
BAU and the Bahçeşehir K-12 schools are quite dynamic and open to new ideas. The principal at Bahçeşehir Etiler Campus, Naime Demirbas, and school counselors were very welcoming. They helped us understand their school system and collaborated with us in developing and conducting various small but meaningful projects. For instance, I developed a four-week listening and friendship curriculum and had the privilege to deliver it in classrooms with the school counselors. It was so much fun.
Chris organized a father’s club discussion group for interested fathers with children enrolled in the school. Again, it was very well received. The biggest project that we completed there was a career curriculum for their first- through fourth-graders. The curriculum was published when we were there, but they just started using it in the schools last semester. Knowing that it is being used by Bahçeşehir students is a great pleasure.
Did you find there were major differences in counseling and counselor education between the U.S. and Turkey?
Chris: Yes and no. There is overlap in curriculum, as you might imagine. Interesting contrasts do exist as well. In terms of school counseling, for instance, preparation for entry into that profession is at the bachelor’s level, so university students go into the profession upon graduation. That was different. In addition, gaining admission into counseling programs is highly competitive.
School counseling is offered at the undergraduate level. After completing their four years, which includes an internship, students apply for school counseling positions. There is a significant shortage of school counselors in schools, so the job prospects are very positive. Consequently, many students are eager to enroll in school counseling programs.
Entering university happens through a very competitive national university entrance exam. Students who end up in the program are very academically strong because of the competition. Since it is a
four-year degree, students are exposed to a more global perspective. They take courses such as educational psychology, learning theories, exceptional children and families, statistics, current issues in the Turkish education system, etc. I find that when compared with our school counseling programs, they emphasize more education, learning and development rather than mental health issues.
What would you want American counselors to know about your experience?
Chris: Though I have traveled to Turkey numerous times over the years, living there proved to be transformative in ways I am still discovering months down the road. I think any time counselors can find opportunities to work and learn outside their usual environments, it is well worthwhile. Even a short-term experience can be educational beyond imagination. I know the American Counseling Association has made a practice of promoting international travel programs for counselors. I think these should continue.
Hande: I think I would like them to know that international experiences are so valuable that I am ready to do it again. I learned not only about myself but also about American and Turkish culture, if it makes any sense. My Turkish students challenged me in a very different manner. For instance, I did not get the same questions that my students in the USA ask when I teach a topic. I saw a different way of living or existence from what I experience day to day in the U.S. Though I am from Turkey, this experience reminded me of the differences between Turkish culture and the dominant culture here in the U.S. I saw how mental health and wellness were defined differently in terms of what we might think of here.
To summarize, if you would like to challenge yourself in a rather fundamental way, living and working in a different culture is certainly one way to do it.
What advice would you give to counselors who are considering work or study abroad? In your experience, why is it a good thing?
Chris: I would highly recommend it, though I admit it took me a considerable amount of time to re-enter life back home.
Do your homework and consider all options, [both] long and short term. There is a wealth of opportunity for personal growth and learning in these experiences. Sometimes I think a good number of us in the U.S. are quite insular with regard to the rest of the world. Opportunities, large and small, that allow us to share ideas and experience the lives and cultures of others stand to benefit all involved and empower a better understanding of the world that is not so close at hand — a more global perspective, if you will.
Hande: Culture defines everything, including how people will treat you, what you will learn in a class, how you will introduce yourself to your client or students, etc. The challenge is deciphering the culture.
Although I am from Turkey and I had spent my first 23 years in Turkey, it took me at least six months to completely reorient myself to the system there. Here is one example: It is possible that your department chair will ask you at the last minute to teach a class. It is not because they are disorganized but because they are more flexible and would like to accommodate the needs of their students. Of course, you always have the right to say no. If you are going to live in Turkey, you need to be flexible and creative. Some of my colleagues there were a little surprised when I told them that I knew what I would be teaching here in at SDSU about four to six months before the start of the academic year.
It is important to learn about a culture before you visit or stay for an extended period of time. Read books, watch movies and, more importantly, talk with people who are from that culture. It is a good idea to have a short trip to the country before you start living there for a year if at all possible. Experience abroad is invaluable.
From a broader perspective as a person from a culture that highly values interpersonal relationships and family, it has great benefits for other family members. If you have a child, they learn a second or
third language and make international friends. Being able to live in a different culture challenges them to learn different skills — skills different than those to which they are accustomed, which enhances their resilience. You can end up being much closer as a family. You learn to support each other better and you begin to see each other’s different strengths and appreciate them more.
But I am not trying to say that absolutely everyone should or could work and live abroad. It does have many challenges. If you are up for the challenge and are a little bit — or a lot — inclined toward adventure, then an international experience will likely be an invaluable opportunity for you.
Bethany Bray is a staff writer for Counseling Today. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org