Muge Uguz, originally from Ankara, Turkey, is a second year MA student in Nationalism Studies at Central European University (CEU). In addition to her studies, she works at the International Organization for Migration (IOM) Turkey Office for the Public Information team as Communications Assistant, International Organization for Migration. We spoke to her on the occasion of her 2022 Presidential Scholar Award. This is an edited interview conducted on November 14, 2022.
What was your route to CEU?
I grew up in Ankara and I attended Bilkent University for International Relations with a minor in Communications and Design. I found CEU’s program when I did my Erasmus in Germany through a teacher, Rory Archer, who is a CEU Nationalism Studies alum. I took his class and, at the time, he was also a visiting lecturer at CEU. Some of my contacts at Bilkent University had also suggested the program at CEU.
What does this honor mean for you?
I've been doing community related activities for as long as I can remember, but I never expected this kind of recognition because work in community is something that I do with joy and lots of effort and time. It is an integral part of my character. This is the first time that my effort and skills in this area are acknowledged and appreciated so formally. And I am being recognized by people who I've only met ten months ago.
When I saw the scholarship opportunity I didn’t apply at first. Professor Michael Miller in my department wanted to nominate me and I realized that even that nomination made me really happy that the work I do means something for other people. It's meaningful for me and I know that I'll keep doing it. The award encourages me to do more. It doesn't only recognize leadership activities but also work in community. It means a lot to have not only academic skills be honored, but also a meaningful social life with others. Those around me seemed to agree that I am deserving of this and were so helpful with their letters.
I am incredibly happy that I was selected for the Presidential Scholar Award. It is great that we have the opportunity to be awarded not only based on our academic performance, but also our leadership skills and community-related activities which are also essential parts of success. Nothing could encourage me more than this before starting the new academic year. I am grateful to everyone who supported my nomination!
What drives you in your work?
My academic work is on migration and my professional work is also in this area. I always sought to have a job that has a personal meaning, not only financial support. In any kind of job, I always try to do the best I can and do the work in a way that only I can, so there's a personal touch to it. In seeking a job through which I can contribute to the world, I’m hoping to share my perspective, personal networks and other work experiences.
I really learned how to improve my leadership skills in the radio company I was working at during my undergrad, Radio Bilkent and Publishing Corporation. I was there from the first day of school and applied to work there. The station consisted of volunteer workers only so it's a platform that the university provides for students to get experience on a professional level in radio. After getting through a competitive interview process, months of training, and an internship, students can work there if they are admitted.
I spent five years working there, so I always say that I didn't graduate only from Bilkent University, but I also graduated from Radio Bilkent. This was a sort of school and I learned a lot there. I like to say that I worked full-time in radio and part time in my studies. I learned in both places and always tried to improve, add more, and also teach others in training.
What advice do you have for others applying for this scholarship?
I would say if you apply, you should contact your classmates and colleagues to highlight your leadership skills. I learned from the process that even the small things that I don't pay attention can mean a lot to other people. Sometimes we can't see these things ourselves but from an outside perspective those who spend time with you can highlight certain things about your contributions.
What else would you like to express?
CEU is a really inclusive and supportive place full of great international people. I feel like I'm not alone here and that also motivated me to contribute to the community. I think this award also reminds me that I can find success both in academics and community related activities and that success involves all of these things, not just studies.
The important thing about being at CEU is the opportunity to build friendships and contacts while you're here. I encourage people to enjoy and get to know people, learn about differences and support each other. CEU is a really productive and effective place to do this because there are lots of things going on at the university and everyone is coming from different backgrounds and we can support each other in different ways.
It means a lot, especially in a new country where you moved. CEU is an amazing place so I really want to connect now and stay involved as an alumna. Since people come from so many different backgrounds, students disperse somewhat after graduation, but I know that I am meeting people who will be there for me in the future and I also will be there for them even after years. We are like a family abroad here to each other so that's what gives importance to my social life. Success does not only include academia but also encompasses your relations and this family abroad.
The Presidential Scholars Fund was established by Michael Ignatieff and Zsuzsanna Zsohar. It supports four Presidential Graduate Research Awards for exceptional Master's and Doctoral students whose research shows promise for the next generation. The Fund also awards two scholarships per year to incoming bachelor's students demonstrating exceptional academic credentials and leadership promise.