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Penn State student group celebrates Turkish culture at formal

The Penn State Turkish Student Association sets up to host Turkish Night in Heritage Hall on Friday, October 23, 2015.
The Penn State Turkish Student Association sets up to host Turkish Night in Heritage Hall on Friday, October 23, 2015. CDT photo

It’s not a party without baklava.

On Friday afternoon, the Turkish Student Association at Penn State was preparing to host its annual formal in the HUB-Robeson Center’s Heritage Room, complete with dinner and delicacies like ayran (a mixture of yogurt and water), borek (a puff pastry with feta cheese) and piyaz (bean salad).

Alas, dinner was still hours away and the only thing adorning the rows of tables spread across the ballroom were the tablecloths being carefully arranged by volunteers.

Members were taking turns inflating red balloons bearing the emblem of the Turkish flag, an effort occasionally punctuated by a loud pop.

The crackling echo didn’t seem to faze the group from Turquoise, Penn State’s Turkish dance group, who was too busy rehearsing traditional folk dances on stage.

“We want to represent Turkish culture the best we can,” Galip Cagan, treasurer of the Turkish Student Association, said.

Cagan grew up in a small town in Turkey by the name of Bordrum, where his mother taught English. He came to the United States five years ago and is a senior at Penn State, where’s he’s watched Turkish and non-Turkish students alike join the club’s ranks.

“It’s always been nice seeing new people wanting to learn more about the culture,” Cagan said.

The celebration was the club’s biggest event of the year and the students approached it as an opportunity to reach more people within the community than they ever could with their bowling nights or coffee sessions.

“We want all of the community members to have an awareness of all of the different cultures in this community,” Shouck Mansour, committee leader, said.

Turquoise affords Penn State students the chance to not only learn more about Turkish culture, but get a decent workout in at the same time.

Group members spend their meetings teaching one another traditional dances from the various regions across Turkey.

“Dancing is really the easiest way to get the culture,” Mahir Akgun, a doctoral student in the College of Education, said.

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