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Meleknur Alevcan has made the world her classroom. She speaks four languages—Turkish, English, Russian and Swedish—and after growing up in Turkey, she put down her roots in Sweden. Now she’s in the U.S., spending this semester studying psychology at SUNY Potsdam as an international exchange student.

“It’s hard to leave your comfort zone to move somewhere else, but it’s definitely worth it. The people being so friendly at SUNY Potsdam has made it so much easier,” Alevcan said.

As a child in Istanbul, Alevcan started learning English in the fourth grade. “I was always reading and writing diaries in English and always listening to English songs and trying to translate them,” she said.

Her aptitude for learning languages led her to pursue a bachelor’s degree in Russian language and literature in 2012 from Ankara University, in Turkey’s capital city. Right after graduating, she received a scholarship to study Russian at Moscow State University for the summer. When she returned home, she landed a job as a teacher and translator in Istanbul.

After two years there, Alevcan moved to back Ankara, where she got a job as a consultant to the European Union Minister. She spent one year there, before another scholarship opportunity pulled her away from Turkey again—this time to Sweden, a region of the world that had always interested her. “The human rights, the quality of living—I was always attracted to that. That’s why I wanted to try and live there for a short while,” she said.

Alevcan moved to Gothenburg, and rather than a short visit to study Swedish, she put down roots permanently. “After my education, my initial plan was to move back to Turkey for work and to be with my family. But, I felt extremely welcomed and I really loved everything about the country. There wasn’t any bias or hierarchy between people—I really loved that they valued diversity there. I got my permanent residency and soon I will become a Swedish citizen. I have my life there now,” she said.

Alevcan is now a senior at Luleå University of Technology in Northern Sweden, where she is pursuing a bachelor’s degree in psychology. She not only became fluent in Swedish just four years ago, but she is now just one year away from completing her degree—building on her knowledge base here at SUNY Potsdam this semester, by taking classes with Dr. Claire Starrs and Dr. Melissa Dolese.

Alevcan is taking courses in both abnormal psychology and counseling theories with Starrs this fall. “Dr. Starrs really encourages me a lot. I really like her. We don’t have a grading system at my university in Sweden; we have only pass / fail. So, I was extremely worried during my first exam with Dr. Starrs. I didn’t know what to expect. The language barrier could also be a problem, but she said, ‘Oh no, you will manage.’ She was really very encouraging, and I got a 100 on the first exam! She’s very supportive, it made me really happy,” she said.

Alevcan is also taking a class on the psychology of art with Dolese, a unique psychology course that just started being offered last year. “I really enjoy that class. We don’t have such diverse classes at my university in Sweden,” she said.

“I really love the challenging atmosphere here at SUNY Potsdam. I also love that the teachers always care. If you don’t go to class, they would know if you’re not there—they pay attention to you. I feel like there’s constant interaction between teachers, professors and students, which I don’t have in Sweden, where people are a bit more introverted. Here, everyone is so outgoing.  Every day I talk to someone and they ask me how I’m doing,” she said.

Some of those conversations have taken place in the Writers’ Block, an academic support system for students working on a variety of writing projects. Alevcan has been seeking help with her writing, notably for a book focused on the stigma associated with schizophrenia. “In Sweden last summer, I worked at clinic with schizophrenic patients. They were feeling really bad because of self-stigma. Although they were really nice and not dangerous, most of society would view them as really being dangerous. So, I would like to raise awareness about this subject,” she said.

Alevcan has been taking advantage of every opportunity available at SUNY Potsdam. She is also taking a criminal justice class, and is involved with the theatre club, on top of practicing classical guitar and piano at The Crane School of Music. “It’s a very enriching atmosphere here,” she said. Over the fall break, she visited New York City where she saw world class Russian theatre, and took a helicopter tour. She will be visiting Niagara Falls over the Thanksgiving break.

Alevcan will be heading back to Sweden in December and finishing her degree in the spring. Her plan is to do clinical work and pursue a Ph.D. program in neuropsychology after graduation.

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Article and photos by Jason Hunter