Ricardo Lozano, CTX assistant professor of education, is back in the U.S. after spending seven years serving as an education professor in Turkey.
After visiting the country several times on one-month long trips, Lozano said he fell in love with Turkey.
“As I was finishing my PhD at Texas A&M University, my research was accepted to be presented at the World Congress of Comparative Education Societies,” he said. “This Congress takes place every three years. Interestingly, my program completion and this conference coincided in the same year. And to my surprise, in 2010, the congress was scheduled to be held in Istanbul.”
Since Lozano was finishing school, he knew he had to find a job so he messaged a few Turkish universities. Some of them responded, and after a round of interviews he was offered a position from the Educational Sciences Institute at Yeditepe University in Istanbul. He taught and conducted research with Yeditepe University for six years and spent his final year in Turkey serving at Hasan Kalyoncu University.
“My inspiration to spend seven years in Turkey resulted from experiencing the richness of its history and culture and the unique opportunity to fully immerse myself in them,” Lozano said.
In addition to the professional satisfaction of conducting research and teaching in a very different context, he said his biggest accomplishment was being invited to attend and participate in a local Turkish church.
“At my church, I was also invited to assist in the leadership of their college group, and to play music for the Sunday services,” he said. “One of my greatest joys in Turkey was to play piano and hear my brothers and sisters singing to God in their heart language; to be a part of ‘every tribe, tongue and nation’ on Earth.”
From the start, Lozano said he had to learn the differences between overall culture, organizational culture and individual personality.
“I learned that I cannot judge one based on the other,” he said. “This is to say, I cannot judge an entire country based on the actions of an individual, and I cannot judge an entire country based on the culture of a particular institution. At the same time, I cannot judge an individual based on his/her nationality, ethnicity or line of work.”
He was surprised and humbled by the level of hospitality exerted by the great majority of people in Turkey.
“Being a collective culture, people are always aware of those around them,” Lozano said. “Children are watched by strangers in the street, given food and even scolded if misbehaving.”
He mentioned that concepts of privacy and personal space boundaries are quite different in Turkey and that people do not hesitate to ask questions Americans might find too personal.
“People would ask about your salary or the value of your possessions without thinking much about it,” Lozano said. “First I thought these questions were directed at me because I was a foreigner. Later I found that they ask the same questions to one another and they don’t think much about it.”
Lozano said he had open conversations with friends on topics such as these and he found himself learning to be comfortable with being human around other humans.
“I could go on and on with stories about driving, sharing plates, body odor and things we could find challenging,” he said. “Things that, to most people in the world, are just a normal part of being human.”
He plans to incorporate aspects of what he learned in Turkey into his classes here.
“I have many examples and stories not only about my life as an educator, but also experiences related to cross-cultural understanding, flexibility and the patience needed to live, work and operate in a society different from what you would consider to be the norm,” Lozano explained. “As our society becomes more and more diverse, our students need to be made aware of the skills necessary to not only live, but thrive and enjoy the multiple benefits derived from interacting with individuals with different backgrounds from ours.”
After seven years in Turkey, Lozano finds himself immensely richer.
“I have learned to listen and observe more,” he said. “I have learned to think deeply before arriving to a conclusion based on a particular action or word spoken.”
He also has started giving the benefit of the doubt more and asking more clarification questions when communication is not clear as a result of societal, cultural or language barriers.
“It is not an exaggeration to say that every colleague, every friend, every student, every neighbor, the vendor in the market, the mechanic, the doorman, every one of them had an impact on my life,” Lozano said. “When you are a part of a different society, every individual contributes to your overall understanding of life, reality and truth.”