Meet Ada Aka

Author name
Ada Aka

Thumbnail Introduce yourself!
My name is Ada Aka. I am from Istanbul, Turkey, and I studied psychology and neuroscience and completed the certificate in Markets and Management Studies. Next year I will be at the University of Pennsylvania as a research specialist.

What was your favorite class at Duke?
I really loved my educational psychology class with Dr. Malone. I initially chose the class for the professor – he also ran my FOCUS program. He was the first person I went to with any questions about psychology, research, or life. He was a huge mentor, and it was incredible to get to know my professor one-on-one and to know he cared about me. The class increased my vision: coming from a country where education isn’t a field someone may major in, that people don’t necessarily think is important to study, the class increased my curiosity.

What were you involved in on campus?
I’m involved in International Association - I am Vice President for Academic and Career Affairs. We organize two of the most widely attended events on campus – Springternational and FoodFest – and I gained so many skills from getting to know my peers from all over the world and leading an organization. I loved our large-scale events and the bonding. I’m also a part of Gamma Phi Beta sorority. It’s funny – when I told my parents I joined a sorority they weren’t so sure what it meant, they only had known about Greek life from American movies. But the sorority allowed me to know so many different people on a higher level: understanding their inspirations, talking about their talents, and getting to know them better added so much to myself. I’m so grateful that I have such a large connection of friends in America who really have this different relationship with me. And I do research! I started in Dr. Marsh’s learning and memory lab during my junior year, and I really liked the idea of how we can use memory into education
– to create a larger implication in the society. Since then I’ve been working on reading comprehension through my thesis. I learned a lot throughout the process even though my results weren’t statistically significant. But it wasn’t simply a failure – it was a learning process.

How was the transition to United States for you?
It was not my first time in the United States – I came before for summer pre-college programs – but it was new to speak English all the time. That said, I thought it’d be much, much harder. After going through international orientation and then normal orientation, it became clear people were so much friendlier than I expected. Taking FOCUS classes and having faculty members always there for you made it easy. Sometimes I had problems understanding jokes about American culture, but there’s nothing bad to say!

What do you miss about Turkey?
One thing that I’ve really loved about back home – if you take people out of my life! – is food. I really miss it. I’m not use to eating non-home cooked meals this often. And it’s not just the food, but that cultural taste and the dining atmosphere – sitting around a table for many hours, drinking for conversation and discussion. It’s something  I rarely find  at Duke, so I tried to create around dinner tables for my own friends. I guess that’s why I really liked FOCUS – we all sat down around a table and talked about daily issues and greater implications of education, we took the time to share.

How has your identity changed since you came to Duke?
My identity has certainly changed: I grasped a new vision and openness to experiences. I came from a place that was very homogenous in terms of the whole country – with religion, education; everything had a similar idea to everyone else. My mindset had to be broadened at Duke, which I really loved. It gave  me  this  open  vision  and  that’s  the  difference  in  my identity from where I came to now – openness to different people, ideas, and experiences.

Would you have done things differently?
I don’t think so! I really enjoyed everything at Duke. Maybe just getting to know more people from other areas besides my areas of interest. I didn’t have those heightened connections with some people who I would have to really force to create a space in which to interact, and I wish I did that more.
If there’s one thing you could tell yourself before you came to Duke, what would it be?
Don’t be afraid of anything, and be confident with yourself. Whenever I had different opportunities for so many new experiences, I was hesitant, and I think I lost some time deciding if I get involved, make friends, or be in a group in a certain way. But I realized those hesitations  were  not necessary because there is so much social support. There’s much more than you initially think there is at this school: once you get in the habit of asking people for help. You get much more out of education and life. With the help of other people, almost anything is possible.