A year before coming to Missouri S&T nearly three years ago, Cagatay “Ty” Atmaca was sent to learn English in America by the Turkish Petroleum Corp., the national oil company of the Republic of Turkey.
“I came to Houston, Texas, the fourth-largest city in the United States,” he says. “I was shy. I had a Turkish roommate. I spoke Turkish, watched Turkish movies. After three months I just woke up and realized I’d made a mistake and said, ‘No, nothing is improving.’ So I told myself, ‘no more Turkish.’ Now I don’t speak it unless I have to. If something is going on that I need to know about, I go to the English version of Turkish websites to get information.”
After learning how to navigate the English language and a city like Houston, Atmaca’s transition to life in Rolla was easy. In his job as a student assistant in the international affairs office, he uses his experience to help other international students find homes, adjust to American culture and find their way around town.
“I try to interact with people from different countries to learn about their cultures,” says Atmaca, a graduate student in geology and geophysics. “For example, before I came to the United States, I really didn’t know much about Chinese food, Japanese food, or their cultures. I knew some things, but interacting with them is so different – they’ll tell you things that Google won’t.”
An accomplished singer and guitarist, Atmaca is often asked to perform in the community and at cultural events planned by S&T’s international student organizations. He also plays with Limited Addition, a band he formed recently with Luce Myers, a lecturer in arts, languages and philosophy, Richie Myers, educational program coordinator in international affairs, and Peter Price, who earned his geology and geophysics degree from Missouri S&T in 1977.
Atmaca used his musical talents to raise funds for victims of the mining explosion in Turkey and of the typhoon in the Philippines. He also helped raise funds for a Miner Challenge spring break service trip he led with 20 students to Biloxi, Mississippi in 2012, to help with early childhood education at Head Start.
That same year he spent four weeks in China doing geological research into the evolution of ancient seas, tropical reefs and life in the Nanpanjiang Basin of Guizhou. He is now working on his thesis “West Waha and Worsham Bayer Fields 3-D Seismic Interpretation,” with his advisor, Dr. Kelly Liu, professor in the geological sciences and engineering department.
When he’s not doing working on his thesis or performing, you might find him playing table tennis. A professional player for more than 10 years, Atmaca won gold, silver and bronze medals at the Missouri Show-Me State Games Open Table Tennis Tournament in June.
“Ty’s Open Doubles win stands alone as one of the most spectacular doubles win I’ve seen in many years,” says Bill Lewis, president of the Ozarks Table Tennis Club. “And his upset over many other higher-rated players in the other events is a testament to his particular style and awesome tenacity.”
Atmaca is an active member of the Missouri S&T Society of Exploration Geophysicists and the C.L. Dake Geological Society and served as president of the Turkish Student Association for two years. He has been recognized throughout campus for his leadership and service work and received Student Council’s 2013 Diversity Recognition Award.
This year he is organizing volunteers for the Celebration of Nations, an international parade and festival that will be held on Sept. 27. He won Best Individual Musical Performance at the festival’s talent show in 2012.
Atmaca encourages his fellow international students to work on their English skills while making friends from different cultures. “If they don’t, once they go back to their country, it will be too late,” he says. “Conversation Partners is one program that helps. I understand international students are shy and worried, ‘What if I make a mistake or say something wrong?’ But they shouldn’t feel like this. People are nice — no one is going to make fun of them. And if you don’t make a mistake, you won’t learn.”
Atmaca says there are many advantages to living in a small town like Rolla. “I don’t think if I were in Houston or another city I would be able to do as much as I’ve been doing here,” he says. “As long as you have good friends to hang out with, it doesn’t really matter where you are.”
By Linda Fulps