by Mahid M. Mangontarum

The Exchange Program

The MEVLANA Exchange Program is an academic exchange program for students and academic staff between higher education institutions (HEIs) in Turkey and in other countries. Aside from contributing to the globalization process of higher education, this program also aims to promote the historical and cultural heritage of Turkey on a global scale, thereby enriching the culture of respect and tolerance to differences through increased intercultural interaction. In this program, students from other countries may experience studying in any Turkish higher education institution for a span of eight weeks to three months, while academic staff/faculty members may give lectures on their field of expertise to Turkish faculty members and graduate students.

In May 2018, two faculty members from the Mindanao State University – Main Campus, Marawi City, were given a chance to participate in the MEVLANA Exchange Program. Dr. Evelyn V. Bigcas, Associate Professor IV of the College of Forestry and Environmental Studies and Prof. Mahid M. Mangontarum, Assistant Professor IV of the College of Natural Sciences and Mathematics, were chosen out of the many applicants from other higher education institutions around the world to visit the Kastamonu University in Turkey as visiting lecturers. This was not the first time Kastamonu University and the Mindanao State University engaged in such a cultural exchange or encounter. In 2017, some University officials and faculty members including President Dr. Habib W. Macaayong, visited Kastamonu University on several occasions to deliver lectures and participate in research-related activities. Similarly, delegates from the Kastamonu University, including their University Rector Prof. Seyit AYDIN and Vice Rector Dr. Ali Rafet ÖZKAN were also given the opportunity a chance to visit MSU in the past. In fact, months before the two faculty members traveled to Turkey, one student from Kastamonu University, under the MEVLANA Exchange Program, studied in campuses of MSU, specifically the Main Campus, IIT and Naawan.

Stay in Istanbul

As part of promoting Turkey’s culture and heritage, we had to stay in Istanbul for five days from May 7 to May 12, 2018. We then visited remarkable historical land marks including the Blue Mosque and the famous Hagia Sophia, among others. The Sultan Ahmet Mosque or Blue Mosque is popular for its beautiful architectural design and features. It is also reported to contain Sultan Ahmet’s tomb. Sitting next to the Blue Mosque is Hagia Sophia which is known for its unique traits and chequered history. It was first an Orthodox Christian cathedral, and later on became an Ottoman mosque, and now a museum. We were also fortunate to experience a cruise to the Bosphorus Strait and the Black Sea, where we were able to travel back-and-forth the Europe and the Asia part of Turkey.

Exploring Kastamonu

In the afternoon of May 12, 2018, we arrived in Kastamonu, the capital district of Kastamonu Province, Turkey. Mr. Metin, a graduating BS Tourism student from Kastamonu University, fetched us from airport and we treated to the Faculty of Tourism where they usually house their international guests. Mr. Metin also accompanied us to places where we experienced Turkish hospitality and tasty treats. He would always accompany us when we needed to go some places to buy stuffs. The following day, May 13, 2018, the MEVLANA Coordinator, Ms. Emel TIFTIK, arranged for us a tour to different cannons in Kastamonu and its surroundings. The said tour is usually intended for guests/tourists in Kastamonu. In this tour, we were grouped together with graduating students from Kastamonu University who were also invited to take the tour as part of the University’s tradition before their graduation. It was a 10-hour trip, during which we were able to meet new friends, see the surrounding communities, and appreciate the beauty of nature. At first, we were having difficulty due to the Kastamonu residents’ language. Although Google Translate and other Language-translating mobile apps were helpful, there isn’t always an available wifi connection. We were very fortunate that there were graduating students with us during the tour who speak English. The group of Ms. Pinar, Ms. Seyma, Ms. Neslihan and Ms. Nilüfer, graduating students from the Faculty of Education, were the ones who helped us during the times we needed some translation. They would often explain to us the significance of the places in our itinerary. They are such a group of good and hospitable people.

Academic and Research

Activities in Kastamonu University

On May 14, 2018, the Kastamonu University held its graduation ceremony. This is an annual event where over a thousand students from different academic programs who successfully complied with all necessary requirements leading to their respective degrees attended. Important Turkish personalities like senators and other politicians graced the ceremony. The setting was very similar to that of the Mindanao State University. Parents coming from different regions around Turkey traveled miles to witness the graduation rites as their children embark on a new chapter in their life. There were also cultural presentations showcasing the rich culture of Turkey. It was an honor to be invited as guests to this memorable event.

Later on that day, we proceeded to our assigned Faculty. Dr. Bigcas was assigned in the Faculty of Forestry. She was accompanied by Dr. Tayyibe.

ALTUNEL, Assistant Professor of the Department of Forest Engineering. Dr. Bigcas and Dr. ALTUNEL, discussed some possible research collaboration between the College of Forestry and Environmental Studies of MSU and the Faculty of Forestry of KU. Before proceeding to the Faculty of Forestry, Dr. ALTUNEL led me to the Department of Mathematics in the Faculty of Arts and Sciences, where I was assigned. There, I met Dr. Zafer ÜNAL, the person in-charge for the MEVLANA participants in their faculty. We had a lot of discussions especially on the mathematics curriculum of both of our departments. It was re-assuring to see that our departments have almost identical curriculum contents. It is a proof that the Mindanao State University offers programs which are of international standards. Afterwards, Dr. ÜNAL introduced me to the other faculty members of their department.

I was even given a space in their office, where I can do research and talk to some of their faculty members. For instance, Prof. Semih PİRİ, a PhD student and current research assistant in their department, discussed with me possible research projects that we can conduct together, particularly on the field of Graph theory and its applications. He showed me a project that he and his team are currently working on. According to Prof. PİRİ, the said project is fully funded by the Turkish Government and is expected to improve the traffic situation of the whole country. To my surprise, that project is somehow similar to the one I was developing which was part of an integrating project during my training for the teaching of the NGEC in Cebu earlier this year. Dr. İnan ATEŞ, on the other hand, was very eager to visit the Philippines, especially the Mindanao State University. Dr. ATEŞ specializes in applications of mathematics in computer science. According to him, many of his friends who are also professionals have been to the Philippines and he has been hearing a lot of good things about the tourist spots in the country and the Mindanao State University.

Our lectures started the following day, May 15, 2018. Dr. Bigcas, being a researcher who specializes in Forest Rehabilitation, delivered a lecture titled “Philippine Biodiversity: Threats and Challenges” to the faculty members of the Faculty of Forestry. Her paper focuses on the current situation of the forests in our country and how to improve it and prevent further destruction of our natural resources. For my part, I discoursed on “Quantum Calculus and the Mangontarum q-Transforms” in a special session arranged by the faculty members of their Mathematics Department, where available faculty members and some PhD students were present. It was a very productive talk since most of their faculty members share the same research interest with me. Also, being a Special Assistant to the Office of the President of MSUS, I felt obliged to give a brief overview of the Mindanao State University, its history, mission and vision, and significance. It was a good thing I prepared beforehand a presentation regarding how the Mindanao State University serves as a tool for achieving peace and sustainable development in the southern part of the Philippines. The Mathematics Department was very hospitable to invite me to join them for lunch in a fancy restaurant outside the campus after the special session. Upon our return, Dr. Bigcas and I were told to visit Vice Rector Dr. Ali Rafet ÖZKAN at his office. Being the MEVLANA Coordinator, Vice Rector ÖZKAN awarded us our Certificates. He regarded us with accounts of his experiences when he first visited the Mindanao State University and was all praises for MSU as a very good partner. Moreover, he told us that he will be coming to the Philippines later this year to attend the international conference co-sponsored by the Kastamonu University and the Mindanao State University.

In the morning of May 16, 2018, we continued our research-related engagements in our respective assigned offices. This was also the first day of Ramadhan in Turkey. After a few discussion with some faculty members, we later on went to visit and see the different laboratory facilities in the Kastamonu University. Dr. İnan ATEŞ and Dr. Esra Nurten YER of the Faculty of Forestry served as guides. We were astonished to know that aside from the laboratories in the science-related departments, the Kastamonu University also has a Central Research Laboratory, a building which houses state of the art research facilities and equipment. It was said that different organizations, both government-owned and private, bring their samples for analysis in this laboratory at a very expensive price.

This is because most of their equipment can do analysis of different samples simultaneously and at a very fast time frame with very high accuracy. However, for international students who are recipients of any Turkish or European scholarships linked with their university, they provide free services as part of their mandate of assisting students in their scientific researches which they think contributes to the development of their country.

On May 17, 2018, we were scheduled to have a courtesy call with the Rector of the Kastamonu University, Prof. Seyit AYDIN. But because the Rector was in a very important meeting, Dr. ALTUNEL took us first to the office of Vice Rector Dr. Sezgin AYAN. Vice Rector AYAN is the university coordinator for the ERASMUS Program, another international program in Kastamonu University which is funded not by the Turkish Government, but by the European Union. He even gave us some freebies and souvenirs from the ERASMUS Program and told us to apply for the program in the future. After the brief meeting with the Vice Rector, we were finally informed to proceed to the Office of the Rector. Rector Prof. Seyit AYDIN is a very respectable but humble person. During the meeting, he told us about the time he went to the Mindanao State University- Main Campus in Marawi City for the signing of the Memorandum of Agreement for institutional partnership between the Kastamonu University and the Mindanao State University. He underscored how highly he thinks of the MSU constituents. Rector AYDIN said that we can come back to Kastamonu University anytime we want and that we are always welcome. After hearing this, I took the liberty of asking if we can send faculty members from MSU and bring with them samples for analysis in their Central Research Laboratory for free. I explained how their laboratory facilities could be very helpful in our studies regarding Halal industries. Rector AYDIN approved my request. He even said that we can treat the Kastamonu University as our own and that he would always help us with our academic and research activities. Like Vice Rector ÖZKAN, Rector AYDIN is also looking forward to come back to the Philippines to head the Kastamonu University delegates for the international conference.

Our last activity in the Kastamonu University was our visit to the largest mining area in the Kastamonu province on May 20, 2018. This was per request of Dr. Bigcas addressed to Dr. YER. The purpose of this visit was for Dr. Bigcas to have an idea of how the Turkish people carry out forest rehabilitation in mining areas given that this is currently a very big issue in the Philippines. Dr. YER took us to the mining area in KÜRE Mountain which was being handled by the ETİ Bakir AŞ Mining. According to the person in charge, after the external mining, they would proceed with the rehabilitation of the trees that were cut off during the mining procedure. This is done simultaneously while they are mining underground in order to save time. The good thing about their rehabilitation program is that before a mining company is issued a permit, they will have to pay first the estimated expenses for the rehabilitation of the land and forests covered by the mining area. They also have a choice of doing the rehabilitation themselves. The practice is exemplary and worth emulating. We can do the same in mining areas in the Philippines. Moreover, it gave me an idea that the Mindanao State University can utilize our experts from the College of Forestry and Environmental Studies to do forest rehabilitation in the nearby communities, particularly in the Lanao area.

The journey back home

May 22, 2018 marked the conclusion of the MEVLANA Exchange Program for the year 2018. After finishing some paper works in the University, we proceeded to the airport together with Dr. ALTUNEL and Ms. Emel. We took a flight back to Istanbul and from there, took a flight again back to the Philippines via Abu Dhabi. I strongly believe that the experience we gained from this program will be significant in our career as faculty members of Mindanao State University and as responsible citizens of our respective communities.