Suzan Gurkan – Alumni Interview
Dear Members of IICS Community,
It is a great joy to announce that the Alumni Office of Istanbul International Community School has recently been established.
The Office will work towards maintaining stronger ties between our alumni and our school.
As a celebration of the establishment of our Alumni Interviews section.
We are always looking forward to hearing more stories from our alumni, revealing the history of our more than 100-years old school and staying in touch to provide opportunities for collaboration with our alumni.
Contact Ms. Pelin Küney to join our alumni community and to get in touch with former IICS friends and other members of our community.
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Pelin Küney: Mrs. Lewicky Gürkan, thank you very much for meeting me for this interview. It is exciting to meet you and to be able to listen to our school’s history from you.
I’d like to start by introducing you to members of our community. You are a member of our staff who’s been admitting students to our school for a long time, so most of our alumni would probably know you. What they might now know is that you are also our alumni.
Can you tell us your story at IICS?
Suzy Lewicky Gürkan:
I started IICS in 1969 in the middle of Grade 3. We had just moved to Turkey and had been traveling as an expat family. My mother being Turkish led to the decision to settle in Istanbul since my mother found it so
difficult to relocate from country to country. IICS was the only option as an international school at the time.
It consisted of one building, neighboring the current Hisar Campus, which unfortunately burned down in 1984. At the time, we were about 100 students from grade 1-9. It was a beautiful, old, wooden building with a huge garden.
I remember the old wooden windows and desks in our classrooms.
Our classrooms were also small, approximately 8-9 people. I remember our teachers yelling at us as we ran up and down the wooden old stairs. They compared us to a herd of elephants. It was such a small community, like a large family.
The teachers, majority being Americans, worked at the school for many years.
It was a great learning environment; plenty of personalized learning. Also, emotionally and socially it was a great place to grow up in.
How was the daily life in Istanbul?
We lived in Bebek and my mother would allow me to walk there by myself. No traffic, we could walk everywhere. Our days at home were spent outside, mainly on the Bosphorus University campus climbing trees, biking and roller skating– we grew up with nature.
Every weekend I visited my grandmother who lived on the Asian side. Of course no bridge at the time, only ferries. Sometimes we would go to the cinema to see Turkish movies.
I also remember that we used to have dance parties on Friday nights, someone would host a party every two or three weeks.
What are some of your fond memories at IICS?
I remember our teachers very fondly. I used to admire them a lot. For example, Mrs. Greenwood, our History teacher, was a woman who took care of herself very much. By the way, she and her children lived here, and they became teachers at the Robert College.
At that time, our school was only up to Grade 9, and after that, most of the children who were not going to continue to boarding school, transferred to the Robert College. We were 8 people who graduated, and I was the only one to enter Robert College. For our graduation, we had prepared a show from the 1920s, a charleston dance show!
The sad thing about those times is that, we didn’t have many options to stay in contact. We used to write letters to each other. When social media arrived, it was too late to catch up for us, so we lost each other. Kids today are lucky in that they can get to stay in contact.
What did you do after graduating from IICS and how did you come back here?
I went to Robert College and after that I went to the United States to study in the University of Michigan. I studied Psychology because I thought that was my passion.
Now, I always say to parents that IB gives the opportunity for children to find their passions. We didn’t have that chance.
So, after graduating from the University of Michigan, I came back to Istanbul to study my Master’s at Bogazici University.
At the time, I still thought this was my passion. After working for 10 years as a Psychologist, I realized that was not what I wanted to pursue.
I started working for IICS in 2005 and in a short time I realized that the environment was the perfect place to work and be part of a community, so I’ve been here for the last 16 years.
At that time, I was working part-time when I had applied to IICS as a substitute teacher. Omer Kipmen was the Substitute Coordinator at the time, and he used to call me in as needed.
The following year, I became a full-time substitute. After two years as a substitute teacher, I was offered the Community Relations Officer position.
I used to work with Jennifer Gokmen from the Development Office. Later the Admissions and Development departments were combined forming the Community relations Department.
As a long-term employee of the school, I became one of the faces of the school. Through the years, I developed a rapport with many companies, embassies and even individual families who came to Istanbul as an expat.
I believe that my background in Psychology also allowed me to excel in my job.. It’s a great opportunity to be working in the school environment, it keeps me motivated.
As the IICS Admissions Director, can you summarize why parents should send their kids to IICS?
I always start by saying IICS is the best international school in Istanbul and then I explain the many reasons behind this.
Firstly, we are a non-profit school. This is a very important consideration when you are picking an education institution.
Secondly, our staff are highly qualified, and we have a great teacher profile. Thirdly, being one of the oldest IB schools in the world, we offer a great IB Program. We even have a lot of contributions to the IB
program. But let alone, we are a community, strong staff-student relationship.
What do alumni and leaving students do after IICS?
I could say 99% of our students move on to university. There are only a few who take a gap year. Our alumni are all over the world..
I think our students become very global, so they continue to be globally-minded individuals.
They get accepted to great colleges all around the world, especially in countries like the USA and the UK.
Do you have any messages for fellow IICS Alumni?
Unfortunately, we haven’t been able to stay in touch with our alumni very much, apart from the Centennial event we organized in 2011. It was a lot of fun then and I
believe we can create that spirit continuously. I know that the Alumni Office has launched a new alumni network and it may assist in the building of strong relations with our alumni.
I’d like to call out to our alumni to contact our Alumni Team and to join our new online alumni community – IICS Alumni Network.
Dear Alumni, come visit us when you’re near, let us know what’s been going on in your life, and tell us your stories. We always miss you!