Tell us a little more about your journey from Turkiye to UVA?
Okandan: My family and I moved to the United States in 2016. I spent my first two years in Austin, Texas, and then my family moved to the Northern Virginia area when I was a junior in high school. While I was visiting different colleges, I really liked the vibe of Charlottesville and UVA, also, I heard about varied opportunities for UVA students like research, traveling abroad, and excellent academics, as well as the athletic teams. Overall, I felt as if I could call UVA and Charlottesville my home for the next four years.
How did you get interested in your field of study?
Okandan: Last year, I was in a CIO, Blossom Together, where we organize fundraisers and try to help people in developing nations with their public health problems such as cataracts, access to clean water systems, and nutritional needs. We raised over $40,000 to address these issues in Mali and Burkina Faso through various fundraisers here at UVA as well as other states and countries.
To supervise the projects we traveled with 7 UVA students to Mali where we spent a week helping in different clinics, distributing meal packages, as well as, visiting different schools in Mali. After my experience overseas, I felt as if pursuing a degree in Global Public Health was the right call for me.
You have been advocating for help after the earthquake? Tell us a little about your efforts to draw attention to relief needs.
Okandan: As many of you may know, there were two earthquakes that hit Turkey on February 6th with magnitudes of 7.8 and 7.5, 40,000 people have passed away and millions of people have been affected by it, 13 million people. So far, we have collected $5,000 with the Turkish Students Association and we have collected supplies, such as blankets, tents, clothing for winter, in the Charlottesville community and dropped off these supplies at the Turkish Embassy. As the Turkish community in Charlottesville, we are really grateful for all the help we have received. But we are still trying to raise awareness surrounding the issue, we had an article on UVA Today as well as we have been featured on CBS 19 news. People that are living in the affected areas are still in need of help for their housing supplies, and relocation, so we are still continuing our fundraiser to help these people and I would urge everyone to take a minute to read about what has been happening, it is truly heartbreaking.
What advice would you give to international students at UVA?
Okandan: The advice I would give to international students is that UVA really is a diverse place and you do get the chance to meet people with diverse backgrounds. So go out there and have the best of your time and be proud of your background. My time at UVA has taught me that I really like to help people and I like the challenge that medicine offers, which challenges both your mentality and personality to be a better person every day.