In May of 2019, her senior year of high school completed, Elif Kulaksizoglu of Istanbul, Turkey, visited the campus of the Georgia Institute of Technology in Atlanta. She had low aesthetic expectations, but was pleasantly surprised by the blend of old and new, a modern campus that also had traditional brick buildings.
Her older brother, Alp Kulaksizoglu, who already was a student at Georgia Tech studying materials science and engineering, took her to the seventh floor of Crossland Tower, where the view was beautiful.
“I was amazed. The campus was surrounded by tall and modern towers, yet when you’re inside the campus, you only saw the peaceful green,” Elif said. “I wasn’t expecting to see that many trees! The campus environment was calling me to stay.”
Of course, that was last year. This year, Elif has joined the new normal. She’s taking her classes virtually, from Istanbul, which is seven hours ahead of Eastern Standard Time in Atlanta. So, when most of her fellow Georgia Tech classmates are making dinner plans after closing their books, she is making plans to visit the sandman.
Meet Elif Kulaksizoglu, a second-year student who enrolled in the Wallace H. Coulter Department of Biomedical Engineering (BME) at Georgia Tech and Emory partly because her brother was already in Atlanta, and this would be a way to stay close to her family. After a year on campus, with her brother and thousands of other students, Elif is now as close as she can be to her family, while keeping up with a challenging course load.
Why did you choose BME at Georgia Tech:
I chose Georgia Tech mainly because it has a very highly-ranked BME program. I chose BME because chemistry and biology interested me the most among all of my classes back in high school. I also liked doing research and experimenting in a lab environment, and I thought BME would be a good fit. I thought that I had an engineering mindset, and wanted to grow and develop it in the area of biotechnology.
Tell us about taking classes virtually:
Virtual instruction is going better than I was expecting. Now that my classes are online, I have more time to study since I don’t spend time walking to class. The greatest challenge for me is the time difference. While registering for classes at the end of last semester, I didn’t know that I would be taking online classes from home. So I made myself a normal schedule that has only a few classes in the morning and most of the classes in the afternoon. So there is no problem with morning classes. However, later classes correspond to 6 or 7 p.m. in Turkey, and end as late as 1 a.m. Both the lectures and recitations are being recorded and attendance is not mandatory, so I do not attend them live but watch the recordings at a later time when they are posted.
How are you dealing with this “new normal,” and what do you miss about being on campus?
I try to view all of this as a life experience. I really do wish it ends soon, but I will try to make the most of this situation as long as we are in it. I think this “new normal” is teaching me how to look from the bright side. For example, I am happy that I get to spend this semester living with my family and being close to my friends. I also view it as a time for growth since we get to spend more time with ourselves than we ever had the chance to before, and can utilize this time to discover more about ourselves, try some new things, or just relax and recover. Either way will bring us nothing but good things in the future. That being said, I do miss being on-campus or just generally having my old life. I was involved in three or four different organizations on campus and enjoyed keeping myself busy. I also had found my favorite study spots and look forward to being back with them as soon as possible.
What do you do in your spare time, when you have it?
In my free time, I like spending time with my friends, watching TV shows, going to the movies and exercising. Also, I’ve gotten into baking during the quarantine.
Do you have advice or tips for other students?
It always helps me to think that I’m not alone and everybody else probably is going through, or has gone through, the same struggles as me. There are many resources that you can consult, whether you need help with a homework question or advising about a personal issue. It might be hard to motivate yourself to study when there’s a lot to do, or even if you manage to do so, it might be hard to concentrate on what you’re doing. I would recommend making a to-do list and moving step-by-step down the list. Getting things down will motivate you while having a list will help you keep things organized and avoid overlooking.