APRIL 2019: Dreaming Big with Bella

This month we're getting to know the lovely Bella Oktay, a lawyer from Turkey whose lessons at the IELP helped her prepare for the next stage of her career in the U.S.

NAME: Bella Oktay
HOMETOWN: Istanbul, Turkey
PROGRAM: IELP, two sessions

IELP: Hi, Bella! How did you decide to come to the U.S. to study English and what was it like when you first came here?

BELLA: I am married to an American, so I have been in Philadelphia since March 2018. He is from Washington, D.C. Now he’s at the University of Pennsylvania law school, so we came here to live in West Philadelphia. Because my father was a military officer in Turkey and I grew up on an American base, it felt familiar when I moved to Philadelphia.

IELP: Why did you choose the IELP at Temple?

BELLA: I joined one class at each university in Philadelphia to observe and Temple was the best one! It was easy to access and the price was really good.

Bella (back row, third from left) taking her first tour of campus at orientation.

IELP: What was your first impression of the U.S.?

BELLA: When I arrived here, it was Christmastime in Washington, DC. It was a unique experience for me because we have Christmas in Turkey, but we don’t have the same kind of culture. The lights were so beautiful.

IELP: How has the IELP helped you improve your English?

BELLA: I had an English education background in Turkey in my high school, but I was really shy about speaking English. After my first week at the IELP, I started to talk to people because you have to! My teachers make me less shy. We also talk about U.S. history and culture – more than I even learned from my American husband!

IELP: You’re good friends with Jungyeon Sohn, last month’s blog feature. How did you meet?

BELLA: I met Jungyeon at orientation at my first session, and then we were in the same Owl Peer group. Our story is very similar [Jungyeon is also married to a UPenn graduate student], and we live in walking distance from each other in West Philly.

Bella with her friends from Owl Peers, including Jungyeon (left)

IELP: What was something you struggled with in the U.S. that you have overcome?

BELLA: The hardest thing for me was language because I’m a talkative person, as you can see. As a lawyer in Turkey, I can express myself even better than many other people, but not in English. I felt like I lost my sense of humor – it’s one of the hardest things to convey because it’s related to culture. That’s why I’m taking an American Idioms class. My husband and I have also been watching some stand-up comedy without subtitles.

IELP: What are some things you’ve seen or done in the U.S.?

BELLA: I’ve been to Miami, Key West and Fort Lauderdale in Florida, as well as Memphis and Mississippi to see my husband’s family. I’ve also been to Washington, D.C., New York and Boston. I want to see Oregon and Yosemite next!

IELP: If I only had 24 hours to spend in Turkey, what would you tell me to do?

BELLA: Just 24 hours is sad! Of course, I’ll say you should go to the historic area in Istanbul. We have a lot of Byzantine history, like the Hagia Sophia and Basilica Cistern. You should see Bosphorus – a sea between Asia and Europe.

IELP: What is your favorite food?

BELLA: My favorite is lahmacun – basically Turkish pizza. It has a really thin crust with ground beef and some spices and onions. Turkish food is a lot like Middle Eastern and Mediterranean food. Saraya in Fishtown is basically Turkish food, but they cook it in a slightly different style.

According to Bella, you either really love lahmacun or you really don't! Looks good to us.

IELP: What are your goals for after you finish your classes at the IELP?

BELLA: My goal is to get into law school here. I applied to Temple Law, but if I can’t get in, I want to do some kind of charity work. **

IELP: What is your favorite place on campus?

BELLA: The TECH Center. I like the silence, it’s full of technology and it’s comfortable.

Bella in her Temple happy place.

IELP: What’s it like to be in a program surrounded by people from other countries?

BELLA: I have to say that I had some biases and misconceptions about other cultures before I came here. But after I came to the IELP program and met so many different kinds of people, all of these ideas totally changed.

IELP: What is your advice to other international students thinking of coming to the U.S. to study?

BELLA: Don’t be shy. Ask questions. Do your homework. And always push the limits.

**Since our interview, Bella received news that she is well on her way to reaching her goals: she has been accepted to Temple School of Law! We’re so proud of Bella for this amazing accomplishment, and wish her the very best of luck on her next chapter at Temple.

If you're interested in joining Owl Peers, contact emily.maher@temple.edu.