I had the chance recently to chat with Nazli Atalay who is a former attorney from Istanbul, Turkey. She worked with some of the most high-profile legal firms in Turkey where she worked on cases in human rights advocacy which ultimately led her to pursue another degree in social work and therapy helping the underserved in New York. She has worked with the Legal Aid Society in New York city. Currently Ms. Atalay is working in human rights advocacy and social work utilizing both her law degree, master’s in social work, and license in therapy to continue to assist those in underserved in New York.
Here is what I asked her:
As a woman, what advice can you give other girls about the impact they can make in their communities?
My great-grandmother was an other amazing person in my life. Unfortunately I lost her before I turned 10, and her last few years were lost to dementia. However, I have very clear memories about her and the short time I’ve spent with her. I remember that she had this deep look in her eyes, and a strong posture, you would know if you crossed a boundary and get yourself together immediately by her one straight look. She was also the kind of person, who would go and visit different people in our neighborhood, inquire if anybody need any help and bring their issues to the family table to figure out any possible solution for our neighbors’ problems. I truly believe we need more people like her.
To be like her, you need to be self aware, own your accomplishments, your strengths; analyze your weak spots but do not hung up on the things you think you made a mistake. Have self-compassion to yourself, especially to prevent to lose your temper in sensitive situations. Do not let anyone or any label define you. Life is full of obstacles and pitfalls, being a woman is just one sort of challenge but that is not the most difficult challenge that one can face. Find out sometimes need to ask help from somebody else.
Community problems cannot be solved efficiently without the feedback and support of the community members. So be observant, talk to your community leaders and members; if you notice an issue bring it to others attention; speak up! And lastly, watch out your community members back, remember that the power to be heard and be believed is crucial, so use it.
What advice would you give immigrants seeking education in the United States?
Before coming to the US, do your research well. It is crucial that you end up in a place that truly fits your character. For instance, if you are a city person, going to a small town college might be a recipe for depression. I know many people who went to a small town, where town consists of only the university and one or two theaters and maybe few pubs, but ended up very unhappy even though the school ranked in the top percentage. Do not think that a school that is only two hours driving distance to the City is reasonably close enough, because believe me it is not, especially when you are a student! Similarly, if you are the type of person who would be overwhelmed in a crowded city, go to a small town, where everybody knows each other.
Once you are here you need to be really here. Unlike many others, I have never been “homesick.” I visited my country every summer, I retain close ties with my family and friends who are there, I still assist to the associations I am a member of, but I also made this place my home since day 1. That is important, because many suffer homesickness, which makes their life and adaptation period more difficult. Whether it is just a few month, or years that you will spend in another country, you need to be able to enjoy every single second and grasp every single opportunity that this environment offers you.
The US, and especially big cities like NYC, San Francisco, Chicago are very diverse, try to learn and experience the cultural differences, get involved with the US life and therefore travel within the country as often as you can. Every city has a different texture, a different culture. Also, feel free to ask genuine questions to others, in and outside of the classroom. Class participation matters, there is no such a thing as a dumb question, and actually probably your question will help to somebody else in that classroom too.