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Turkish students at Binghamton University come together to mourn, raise funds for earthquake relief

Turkish students hold a bake sale
Megan Zerez
Emre Demir offers a fellow student burek, a savory potato and filo pastry and kisir, a bulgar salad as part of a bake sale to raise funds for earthquake relief.

Binghamton University is home to a small community of Turkish students and professors. Some lost loved ones in the earthquake that hit parts of Turkey and Syria earlier this month. Students say it’s been painful to witness the devastation from so far away.

Last week, about a dozen Turkish students gathered in the student union at Binghamton University. A Turkish flag was draped over a table and a spread of traditional snacks were for sale.

Emre Demir offered a savory filo pastry to another student.

"This pastry contains potato, it's a traditional Turkish burek," Demir said. "Most of them were made by us, some are from our Turkish professors and their families."

The students were holding a fundraiser to support relief efforts after the earthquake. Under the table, there was a pile of other donations – diapers, flashlights, even a tent.

Turkish students at Binghamton University fundraise for earthquake recovery
Megan Zerez
Turkish dual degree students at Binghamton University collected donations to support earthquake relief efforts.

Student Zeynep Tosuner described the moment she learned about the earthquake.

"I went downstairs and my housemates were watching TV," Tosuner said. "When I saw it on the TV, I knew the consequences were going to be terrible."

Tosuner’s family lives in a part of Turkey that was not affected by the earthquake. But she said it’s been difficult to go to class like usual when a world away, her country has ground to a halt.

"There was a period of grace in our country — everything stopped," Tosuner said. "But here, nothing stops. We have to continue going to class. But in the first few days, we'd always think about [the earthquake]."

Even so, Tosuner said, the disaster brought people together here.

When a student learned his father died, classmates supported him as he made the long journey back home — starting with the four-hour drive to John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York City.

Student Özgür Tuna Eminoğlu said these efforts are just a small way for international students to help from afar.

But Eminoğlu said eventually, he wants to use his education to make a bigger difference back at home.

Eminoğlu and his classmates are part of a dual degree program in which students split their time between Binghamton University and another university in Turkey.

"We've gotta learn, we've got to grow up. We've got to develop our personalities," Eminoğlu said. "And then we'll go [home to] grow and develop Turkey too."