A brief introduction to Turkey’s ‘Mathematics Village'
Altuğ KARAKURT* – ŞİRİNCE
Right now, I am hanging out in the “Sleeping Zone” of Nesin Mathematics Village in Şirince/İzmir, trying to decide whether to study Non-Linear Dynamics, Number Theory or Fourier Series and end up with leaving it all and writing this short introductory piece, trying to explain what this place is and what I am doing here.
I arrived at the Mathematics Village 9 days ago and have been documenting my experiences and observations on my Turkish blog, in a series called “The Village Diaries.” Apparently, the Hurriyet Daily News has stumbled upon my diary and they kindly asked me to share my thoughts with you in English. Since most of the diary entries are not up to date anymore, as I am already halfway through my adventure here, I decided to type something fresh and provide a series of more focused and interesting pieces, rather than a direct translation of my diary.
Let’s end this long introduction here and get down to business.
What is this “Mathematics Village?”
It is probably what you think it is: a village dedicated to mathematics. This is where volunteering mathematicians gather and lecture math students on their areas of interest. However, as you might guess from my extended effort on promoting this place, there is much more to do here.
Unfortunately, as an engineering student, I have always been horrible at formal and bureaucratic explanations and definitions. So, if you are interested in the foundation, the background info or whatsoever, you might want to check out their English website but if you are curious about the observations and experiences of a participant, you are at the right place.
The Mathematics Village is located 800m from Şirince Village in Selçuk/İzmir. It takes only 10 minutes to get walk to Şirince, but I have visited only once. Mathematics Village is a self-sufficient settlement, in which I have spent 10 days and never felt any dependent on the outside world.
Mathematics Village and volunteering
I see Mathematics Village as a science-oriented utopia. The key philosophical idea behind this village is volunteering. The participants apply not only for the lectures of some of the well-known academicians around the world, but also to be a part of this community.
Here, all of the lecturers are lecturing voluntarily and all the students, from high school to PhD, are actively taking roles in the sustainability of the village. Every student is assigned to a “Duty Group.” Each group has a leader, who is nothing more than an experienced student and they take care of various things every day to keep the village running. One day the toilets are cleaned, on the other day dishes are washed or the trash is emptied.
Nobody is asked to do something beyond their physical capacity and no “supervisors” examine your work, there is a mutual trust among the members of this community. I guess, at this point, you wouldn’t be surprised if I told you the students also worked during its construction in 2007.
The economics of mathematics village
This is probably the roughest challenge for realizing and sustaining a utopic idea without any deviation from your dream. Mathematics Village is funded by donations made to the Nesin Foundation. You might ask: “how can a scientific project like this attract academicians from all over the world, but is not supported by the government?” and that’s just the way it is in Turkey. When you are talking about science, it is regarded as a non-repaying investment or simply, a loss of money.
My first introduction to the volunteering nature of this village was through the “Accommodation Fees” section of the Undergraduate/Graduate Summer School Application Page. I will try to translate the text into English, I think these words are self-explanatory and perfectly reflect the soul of Mathematics Village.
The daily cost of our summer school is normally 80 Turkish Liras and it is 60 liras for the ones staying in tents. We are well aware of the fact that most of the university students cannot even afford half of these prices. We have an unquestionable policy, prohibiting the refusal of anyone due to economic reasons. However, most of the time, we end our summer schools with unaffordable debts. We hope that you understand our situation and contribute as much as your budget lets. Nesin Mathematics Village is a non-profit organization and the village highly depends on mutual trust and understanding.
I think, the mentality and expectations of the organizers are really summed up in a few sentences and reflects how we perceive social relations here.
This is the outline of what Nesin Mathematics Village is and what it represents. In my further pieces, I will try to explain the lifestyle here and try to answer the questions that are still unanswered to me, for example: “how could such a utopic community survive today without any supporters except for the volunteers and donations? I hope in the end of my series, I will be able to fully demonstrate the realization of a dream and what it feels like to be a part of it.
* If you have any questions about Mathematics Village, you can contact Altuğ Karakurt by emailing to firstname.lastname@example.org and if you are a Turkish speaker, you can find his Turkish Village Diaries at altugkarakurt.blogspot.com.tr