Q: Can you introduce yourself and your role in the Allen School?
A: I’m Ege Caglar. I’m an international student at UW's Paul G. Allen School. I’m a rising sophomore. I’m a computer science major and that’s kind of it.
Q: What were some of your adversities like coming to the Allen School, specifically with an international student coming from Turkey?
A: One thing was simply language barriers. I thought I had a good English accent but then in the first month, pretty much no one would understand my sentences. I don’t know why, but some people just didn’t get me. I had to change how I speak so that I could be clear. I was at an American high school, so that was helpful. I already did an American high school curriculum, so to speak, with Shakespeare and all that. But that didn’t help with day-to-day oral communication. Another thing was that I didn’t really know much about US colleges. Our college advising was really helpful in my high school, but then again, you can’t actually be prepared for it without actually being in the US. I didn’t really have that many friends to talk me through it. For example, I didn’t know how to select classes, I didn’t know how to navigate my dorm. My parents were equally confused. For example, they still don’t understand how the credit system works. They think I’m a sophomore, but they’re not really sure. Overall, I would say my transition was quite easy and quite painless. I was expecting much more in terms of adversities, but it all worked out. The Paul G. Allen School was really helpful, the advising was really nice and the people are really nice.
Q: How did being a first-gen student affect your journey during undergrad?
A: I’ll start with the positives. It made me much more independent than how I was when I was in Turkey. When I came to university, my parents didn’t know anything about how it worked. Even the classes I select on my transcript, they don’t understand anything, it’s just gibberish to them. They don’t understand the system, they don’t even know English so they wouldn’t be able to help. Also, they didn’t know anything about living in the United States. So if there was anything I needed to do, even just the simple stuff, I didn’t have any help. For example, I didn’t know what type of detergent I should buy, and my parents suggested a Turkish brand. They didn’t know that the United States is a different country and that different brands exist there. I had to Google everything basically like what detergent is most suitable for this type of wash. I think I asked some pretty stuped questions to random people as well, because of how different everything was. But it made me a lot more independent and a lot more confident in myself. My parents had already gone to a university, just not an American university. So that helped a little because at least they knew something about being independent, staying in a dorm, and higher education.
Q: What do you think is not talked about enough in the first gen community?
A: I don’t know much about the first-gen community in the United States, but I can say that for Turkish people in Turksih universities, something that isn’t talked about is how do you further education and what comes after university. And that was also something that I had to figure out myself. Some people don’t know that you can pursue your Master’s, some people don’t even know how to do it. I learned early on that you can do it by TAing (teaching assistant) and RAing (research assistant) for stuff. Some people don’t even know that there is a PhD program, they just think that you complete your Bachelor’s and then that’s it. My parent’s also didn’t do any Master’s or PhDs. They could have, but they didn’t know because they were first-generation students to Turkish universities. My grandparents never went to university. They could’ve been in a much better place if they had actually talked to someone who had been down that road before. I actually had the chance to talk to people who wanted to pursue PhDs or do the BS/MS program. I would also say that the intersection of international students is also not talked about enough. Americans are pretty self-centered in that sense, and I always have to say that I exist and I’m from a different country. It’s not that big of a deal, but it’s still something.
Q: How have you navigated being in Turkey due to COVID-19 during the academic year, especially with being in a completely different time zone?
A: My strategy was: just not sleep. I started sleeping at 3 am and waking up at 10 am. My sleep schedule was a little bizarre. I feel like a lot of college students in the US have that sleep schedule, so I was not too mad about that. The biggest challenge was to find people to work with. I had to literally hunt people down and just harass them on Facebook until they responded. There were times where I would panic because I had no one to ask this question to. The Office Hours for classes would be at 5 am for me. Then I needed to sleep but I had class at 2 am. This made me learn how much collaboration plays a role in my CS classes. If I have no one, it’s a nightmare. Even if I pass or get 4.0s, it wasn’t fun or I feel like I didn’t learn much because I didn’t get to talk through it with other people. The nice thing was that I got to spend time with my family and at least they were there for me.
Q: What advice would you give your younger self, the first year you came into the Allen School?
A: I would say, meet more people than you think you should meet. Socialize more. Branch out more. I would also say “Why didn’t you apply to research, you should’ve applied to research!”. I had a lot of mental health problems coming into the University of Washington, thinking they wouldn’t continue that much. I would say everything is going to be fine. I would push things aside and say “this is going to be a really huge environment for you so take advantage of it”. Looking back, I wish I was more optimistic about my experience because it was actually quite beautiful. I really liked it there. I came in thinking that I wouldn’t. I thought the change would be too hard and that I wouldn’t be able to do my own laundry and talk to other people. When I applied to a fraternity, I thought that I wouldn’t get in. But I ended up getting in and ended up not wanting to join because I didn’t have time. I honestly thought that I would fail my first quarter, but I didn’t, I got a 4.0. The American cliche “Believe in yourself” really applied to me. So my advice would be “Believe in yourself!”.
Q: What made you want to study Computer Science at the Allen School?
A: I got my first computer when I was five years old. I really loved it, I started coding. There weren’t many Turkish resources so I kind of learned English through coding. I thought it was really fun. Computer Science was really a natural choice for me, since I also really love math. So I knew that I wanted to double major in those two areas or electrical engineering if I didn’t get into the Allen School. I didn’t think I would get into UW. I kind of just applied as a joke, since I didn’t think I could afford going. But I got a private scholarship, so that helped me consider state schools within the US. I chose the Allen School because of the classes it offered, and because it was in Seattle. I was also inspired by the faculty of the Allen School. A lot of incredible Computer Vision, Machine Learning, and Robotics faculty are at UW.
Q: What was the hardest decision you ever had to make during your time at the Allen School?
A: To do an extracurricular club. I didn’t think I would have the time. Also I think every quarter was quite a hard decision because the advising team was always like “Don’t take that many classes” and I would tell them I can’t graduate if I don’t take that many classes.
Q: What’s the biggest factor that has helped you be the success you are today?
A: Can I give an answer to this that isn’t totally cliche? I would say my curiosity. All the work that I did was fueled by wanting to know something or wanting to find out about something. Honestly, if I didn’t really feel the need to know the answer to a question or find out how something works, especially in math, I don’t think I would’ve come to the Allen School at all. I definitely wouldn’t have the grit to work that much. Or to go through all that inconvenience and sadness just to get somewhere. Wow, this was super cliche. I think if you want to be a successful Allen School student, you have to be curious.
Q: What is some advice you would give to incoming first-generation students on building a strong work ethic for college coursework?
A: This depends on whether they’re domestic or international. If you’re domestic, you kind of have an idea of the whole thing. Meaning, you probably were able to read the website before applying. In any case, it’s about finding the reasons why you do things. That’s the best advice I can give. If you’re a domestic student, why did you come to the Allen School? Yes, you wrote that lovely essay when you were accepted, it was really touching, but then again, after you took 143 and 311, how do you feel? What do you think about the labs? What do you think about the people? You have to really realize that you can only do this if this is actually what you want to do. There’s something in all people, I believe, that pushes them in the direction they want to go, so it would be hard to fight that. If you’re international, that advice plus try to unlearn the things that you have learned so far and be ready for change because the UW is like nothing you have ever seen before in some aspects. Even if you come from a background that is really similar to American people, like I came from an American high school but there was still a lot of change. And being able to adapt to that was one of the biggest challenges I had, and that other international students have. Another advice I have is don’t burnout. I realized that if I went to the gym three times every week, my grades got better. And if I didn’t do anything and just ate a lot my grades got worse, which is why my grades got worse in Turkey. But that’s just really general advice. Overall, there’s not much that you can do but make sure that you love what you do.
Q: What's your favorite song?
A: I’d say probably, god this will sound so pretentious, Paganini Caprice No 4. It’s a classical music piece. It’s a violin concerto.