2011 Student Academic Conference: Two Students from Center for International Programs, Humeyra Bostan and Altina Besimi
By Vickie Moller, student, Long Island Center–Hauppauge Unit and 2011-2012 student representative, Student Affairs Committee
December 7, 2011
I am certain that all in attendance at the 2011 Student Academic Conference will have taken away with them many memorable and treasured moments. For me, two of those moments are represented by the time I was privileged to sit in conversation with Humeyra Bostan (left, in photo) and Altina Besimi (right, in photo), two international students whose stories have deeply inspired and motivated me.
Humeyra Bostan is a former Center for Distance Learning student who earned a Bachelor’s of Arts degree in Cultural Studies with a concentration in literature this past summer. Her attendance at the 2011 Student Academic Conference was particularly momentous since it represented not only her first visit from Turkey to the United States, but the first time that she had ever travelled to an English-speaking country.
Through her presentation, “Social Life in the Great Sahara through an Ottoman Officer’s Eyes,” Bostan recounted the observations made by an Ottoman officer in his journal as he traveled through the Great Sahara during the 19th century. He found the lifestyle of the Bedouin tribes to be quite foreign, discomfiting and primitive compared to the more “civilized” life he knew in Istanbul. Through her comprehensive presentation, however, Bostan disclosed that the officer’s eyes were ultimately opened to not only how astute, civilized and well adapted the Bedouin tribes were in every aspect of their practical lives, but also how courageous, loyal, inventive and noble a people they were.
After her presentation, Bostan spoke with several students in greater detail about her educational experience. She explained that she has always loved to study hard and learn, and that she often has worked at libraries, eagerly poring through books with great delight. She spoke of her desire to study online at either a British or American college, and that it was through her research on the Internet that she became aware of SUNY Empire State College. Because Bostan believes American colleges to be more interactive and developed than British colleges, she chose to study at SUNY Empire State College.
Bostan has worked hard and although she learned English in high school, her college studies represented a significant challenge to her. She described how difficult finding the English equivalent of even the simplest words could sometimes be for her. Regardless of her formidable challenges, Bostan earned her undergraduate degree in just three years – entirely online.
With great enthusiasm Bostan expressed what a pleasure it was for her to study through the Center for Distance Learning, explaining that her mentor, John Deluca, was “a great person,” who helped her so much. She generously lauded him for never tiring of answering her questions or solving her problems. Bostan revealed that it was during a required world history course that she developed more interest in history than in literature. She added that since SUNY Empire State College does not have strict rules about courses, she was allowed to increase the number of history courses she studied. She explained that while she loves literature, history is her passion.
“My major was literature, but they allowed me to take history courses. I had a chance to follow my interest. They did not hinder me,” Bostan said.
Bostan is currently pursuing a Master’s of Art in History at Istanbul Sehir University in Turkey and aspires to complete her doctoral studies in the cultural history of the Middle East related to the Ottoman Empire. She explained that books about African history under the rule of the Ottoman administration are difficult to find and that while there are some written by the Europeans on that subject, they do not reach the historical sources of the Ottoman Empire. She added, “They are not enough to understand the period of the rule of the Ottoman Empire.” Exploring this unique, obscure history will represent the work of Bostan’s thesis.
Altina Besimi, an international student from Kosovo, also was in attendance at this year’s Student Academic Conference. Besimi is working toward her bachelor’s degree in political science in international relations at SUNY Empire State College at the college’s partner institution, the University of New York Tirana (UNYT), and will graduate next spring.
Besimi explained that although there are a lot of colleges in her country, UNYT does not need to advertise much because it is widely known throughout Kosovo, Albania, Macedonia, Montenegro and Serbia as the first private university in Albania. She added that it was the first to be opened as an English university and is, unequivocally, the best university in the region.
“People know,” said Besimi. “It is a prestigious university.”
To qualify for admission, Besimi had to receive good scores in the Test of English as a Foreign Language. This test ensures that students have an adequate grasp of the English language and will be able to successfully complete their studies. In Albania and Kosovo, Besimi added, everybody speaks English, especially students – the young generation. She said, “You barely find a student that does not know English. Even though a prospective student knows English and can communicate, it is different when you go to an academy; high school-level English is much easier than college-level English.”
Even though Besimi began taking English when she was in the second grade and also completed English during high school; however, in her first year of college it took her one hour to read four pages. She had to carry a dictionary with her to class. She explained the difficulty she had thinking in English instead of her native language.
“In the beginning,” Besimi said, “it was really difficult. The second year was easier, and the third year was much easier.” Although this semester has not yet started, Besimi is more comfortable speaking English, and she has more self confidence. She said that is why she came to the conference and added, “This conference was for me a really big event.”
In order to gain admission to the University of New York Tirana, Besimi took three exams: algebra, English as a foreign language and computer applications using Microsoft Office, followed by an interview. As part of her learning experience, international faculty members and professors come to Tirana for conferences. The students, Besimi recounted, value their wisdom and knowledge and spend two to three hours listening to lectures in conference halls, each with a strong desire to take what they receive and use it to make a meaningful contribution to their country.
An ambitious person by nature, Besimi is strongly contemplating going straight to work on her master’s degree. In addition to her many accomplishments, she has been awarded a prestigious scholarship by the European Union, which enables students to travel from Kosovo to study in European universities. Besimi also plans to apply to universities in the United States.
Besimi was raised in a family with a history of making significant contributions to her country. Her mother was the first female to initiate demonstration protests in 1981, during a very rough period of her country’s history. She relayed how much suffering her people have endured and said, “For a hundred years we have been apart from motherland Albania, and we have been under the occupation of Serbia.” Thanks to the aid and intervention of the United States in 1999 and to NATO, Besimi’s country finally realized its independence.
Besimi’s dream is to be an ambassador, building good relationships with other countries and contributing to a brighter future for her country. “I was lucky that I have my parents,” she said. “They kept encouraging me: ‘You have to do this. You will succeed in life.’” After meeting Besimi, I have no doubt that they are absolutely correct.
Humeyra Bostan (right, in photo) and Altina Besimi (left, in photo), two extraordinary young women, have reminded me that we learn best from each other. Both of them, who brought meaningful messages wrought through the rigors of scholarly research, also brought living messages of unbroken passion and perseverance, not written with pen and ink – the stories of the price they paid to be with us and share with us, reminding us of the kind of persistence and commitment it takes to open doors of opportunity and usher us to bright fulfillment.
If we follow after the example of remarkable and exemplary students like Bostan and Besimi, perhaps someday the fruit of our educational energies and focus will attend us to Turkey or Kosovo or another part of the world, where we will be called upon to transcend cultures and to deposit our unique contribution at the doorsteps of eager listeners and hungry hearts.