Temple of Poseidon on Cape Sounion


I dont know what this says! Joe, can you read Greek?

Symantec Service Corps 2015 has been officially over for a week now and the team, other then myself, is back to their respective homes. I had decided to take some time off after Turkey to travel through Greece and see the classical Greece that I had read about ages ago and till now could only see/feel in my minds eye! Fair warning, I wrote part of this post while sitting here (Cape Sounion) and partly here (random beach on Gulf of Corinth). What I was hoping for was some poetic inspiration! But instead what came to me was reflections on my time in Turkey along with a sense of longing for the entire SSC family.  The list of profound (ahem ahem) realizations is sizable, you see I had a lot of time and gorgeous views to ponder things over! But I will keep this post short.

SSC has been a memorable journey of hard work, new relations, and self discovery with a healthy dose of fun. It has taught me to live outside of myself in several ways and how incredibly satisfying it can be. I was happy to be part of an incredible team working for, Doga Dernegi, the Nature Society of Turkey. In one short month we were able to deliver on Doga’s need for sustainable logistics management, marketing plans and fundraising strategies. Our clients were excited and grateful for the outcome and even yesterday I received an email from Ayse saying how glad she was to have us in their office. This brings me to my first reflection – the journey to success will likely be hard, but it does not have to be long!

Before I set out for Turkey, I wrote that I had trepidations. Trepidations that I might not be able to give as much. Even then a friend of mine told me to throw trepidation out the window because just our presence would make a difference! How right she was 🙂 Though I feel extremely enriched by this experience, I feel, no, I know that we have all made a lasting impact for our clients. And this is because we were all singularly motivated.

teamBirdWe all came in to work on projects which we knew almost nothing about. We were grouped into sub-teams with a variety of skills – some applicable and some not so much. We all had the same uncertain butterflies in our stomachs, even the second week in. But we all knew that we wanted to complete what we came here to do. We did, and we did it well! And we did it while having fun and more fun. So my second and third thoughts – A motivated team can solve any problem, no matter how hard it may seem at the outset. And we must always build for change. Nothing that we make will stay the same. Some will change in a few years and some in a millenia. So why fight it!

If you’ve been reading this blog, our first two weeks in Turkey were spent getting to know each other, the city and culture we were in. We found out more about our clients, their Asammission and our respective projects. But till the very last day we were learning something new. Whether it be about the clients or the folks of the SSC team. We all shared stories of our lives and what brought us to where we are. We also learnt where we all want to be and hope to be. So while staring out from over the Gulf of Corinth I realized how important it is to Listen, Learn, See and Feel. It seems obvious, but I realized that I don’t do enough of these. Also everything we say and do, no matter how trivial, makes a difference – so we must weigh each thing carefully. This I definitely do not do enough of and it lands me in trouble 🙂

IMG_2177Lastly, make happy memories – those will last a lifetime at least 🙂 Even though we all have tried to chronicle our time in Turkey on this blog, there are things that just cannot be captured. How do we know that we succeeded in our work – the expressions on the faces of our clients when we made our final presentations.allTeamThe emotions in the room and the tears in the eyes. For a month we worked, played, ate, drank and danced together. We thought that work would be hard, but the goodbyes were the hardest. I definitely lost control of my emotions as did most of us. Even though right now it seems that there will be always be something missing, I am sure that the memories we made together will be able to fill the gap.

What I hoped for when I set out does not even begin to come close to what I actually got. But then again, it seems that even reflections are not the same as you expect!


PS: Ok, so this post was not short!

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Human Peeling

Preface: I am Samet and I have been working with the SSC team as a local consultant from Turkey. The following is a post I would like to add to the blog as a thank you to everybody who are involved.


Sometimes you congratulate people and it is because the tradition dictates it… Like when a sibling gets a new job or a friend finishes building a house of cards.  And then there are other times when you really mean it… Like when a bunch of strangers come together to work in a country on the other side of the planet for a month surrounded by new sights, new sounds, definitely new smells, dizzying sugar rushes, cute smiling foreign faces, erratic sidewalks, emotionally compromised drivers,  awkward social encounters and they STILL MAKE IT HAPPEN.

When I first laid my eyes on these beautiful people full of excitement with their laptops jiggling with potential, I tried to carve the image into my mind.  Because I knew the future me would love to compare the images. Today is the last day and I clearly see everybody lost a tonne of weight. This weight has nothing to do with the human body but everything to do with being human.

The whole process in the beginning was a set of plans, itineraries, decisions, guidelines, briefings, preparations, scopes of work and and many other words. However necessary these things may be, they were heavy on ones shoulders. For the upcoming four weeks they would have to climb steep hills, dig deep, reach out and scratch until they killed it. You would expect this to make these relentless overachievers tired or depressed or something. But with every passing week they became more vigorous, happier and more excited. This was not because they were finishing the work. This was because as the time passed, this wild and thorny road that they volunteered to walk on was ripping off the layers and layers of formed dynamics, pre-determined business routines, prejudices, misconceptions, doubts and fears. Thus revealing the real human behind. More intuitive, more inquisitive, sharper, brighter and a tonne lighter. (All you have great teeth by the way, covered by insurance?)

This doesn’t mean any human could have done this. It takes real open-mind and endurance, patience and kindness and a keen intelligence to be able to take this on and I can proudly say these are all things that our team has plenty of. I respect each and everyone of you for doing this and envy you because this kind of opportunity lasts for a lifetime.

I would like to finish by saying that we all have our reasons to want to get out of our comfort zones, but the reasons only matter until we make it out.

Hugs & Love from your tastefully chubby Samet.


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Making progress

Group012compThe 9 of us who came to Ankara as part of this year’s Symantec Service Corps program began our journey together by agreeing upon a name for our team, and the word we chose to best represent our mission was Ilerleme, or Progress.

As our deployment nears its end, it’s clear that there is no better name we could have chosen.

Rather than promoting advancement with a definite end-point, we have encouraged a culture of adaptability and continuous improvement. During the time we’ve spent in the field, we’ve all done our best to share our respective skills and expertise, facilitate constructive change for our client organizations, and to help them to help themselves. We have had to adapt to new roles, in a new context, and to understand our clients’ needs from their perspectives, rather that our own.

Each of us has helped to make our team what it is, and each of us has helped to advance the needs of our clients. It’s an honour to say that, in more ways than one, we have all made Progress. Orient011compI’m glad to say that, moreover, we have made friends for years to come. With the sincerest thanks to everyone on the team, and those who have made this possible, I’ll close by saying that I hope to see you all again; görüşürüz!

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Time flies when you’re having fun…

As we put together our final presentation and recommendations for our client, we reflect on our Service Corps journey and the time we’ve spent in Ankara.

From witnessing the queues of refugees patiently awaiting registration outside ASAM’s offices to our fact finding mission of understanding how things work within the organization and working as a team to put together a plan to streamline processes…it’s been a humbling and rewarding few weeks.

Team Asam

Some of our highlights:

  •  The warm hospitality of the car wash team that greet us and invite us to join in their daily tea and music breaks
  • Our first meeting with the UNHCR team, followed by a return visit to hand out sandwiches to refugees
  • Quiz night at the British Embassy and taking home the winnings
  • Seeing first hand some of the work our client ASAM does at the International Women’s day festival
  • Being assaulted with desserts and food wherever we go as everyone take’s Joe to be a celebrity of sort
  • Our dinners and weekend fun with the broader team

Sandwich Making Day

All of the above has made Ankara feel more like home and the rest of our team feel like family. These memories will be more valuable than any souvenirs we might take back with us.

 Auf widersehen for now 😉


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Time to go home? No! Not yet….we’re not ready!!

We have just passed our 21-day milestone in Turkey, which myth has it is the time span it takes for a new habit to form. Whether you believe this is true or not is beside the point, but the key is that it does take some time to adapt to a new social or professional setting, form patterns of getting through the day in a new place, and establish yourself within your new team and community. It’s starting to feel familiar being in Ankara as we have more confidence with the language, can order in restaurants with relative confidence, have a set workday pattern, and connect with our broader team members in the evenings to catch up on our experiences that day. We find ourselves referring to our hotel as “home” when coming back from work or a weekend away, and our small SSC team has become our family away from our respective ones back home. We all have the strange feeling of finally feeling settled into our life in Ankara but just in time for us to have to start preparing to return back home.

We were sitting in our weekly SSC “staff” meeting the other day and someone mentioned “I can’t believe we’re about to head home!” and the rest of us exclaimed “No, don’t say it we’re not ready to think about that yet!” As we’re beginning our final week in Turkey, it’s impossible not to feel like we’re trying to hold on to every second trying to make it last a little longer, all the while wondering how the past three weeks have flown by so quickly.

SSC group shot

When we first applied to the SSC program, the thought of spending one month away from our daily roles and responsibilities at work and home seemed like a very long time. Now, after spending three weeks working for Doğa Derneği (and the other two groups with their clients) we all keep thinking how we wish we had more time in Turkey because a month flies by unbelievably fast and there’s so much more we want to do for our clients.

This week has been exciting and frantic as we continue executing towards our deliverables and prepare for our final presentation. As most of us are consulting for the first time there’s a constant feeling there is more we can do and trying to be realistic about the time and resource constraints we actually have feels like the enemy. This week has been full of  hard work, long hours, teamwork, and the strange feeling of starting to say goodbye as we near the end of our stay. Friday was supposed to be the last day in the office for Ayşe, one of our main contacts at Doğa, and this was our first significant goodbye. It was a touching and unforgettable afternoon of conversation over Turkish coffee and Ayşe read our fortunes eerily accurately from our coffee grounds. It was extremely difficult to say goodbye, but Ayşe had a knowing look in her eyes when she said “It’s not goodbye, it’s ‘see you soon’” because she’s convinced that we will meet again soon in the future. As much as we hope that is true, there are many people, places, and experiences that we have to say goodbye to for good and after a month of this being our home and our own little universe, it’s really difficult to do so. We even have to say goodbye in a way to Team Bird, because even though we all work on the same campus, we probably will never work this closely together again. Our experience here has been challenging, exciting, and unforgettable and as difficult as it is to say goodbye, we will cherish the memories that will stay with us for years to come.

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A Tip Of The hat!

When I think of a time where I grew and evolved the most, what comes to mind is my time in college. I had come to US from India, not knowing much of the place or culture, of people or practices or even myself. All I knew was that I was there for a purpose … to learn and to share. And honestly, college turned out to be the most fun time of my life. I made friends, we worked hard and we had a lot of fun together …. just like these past fews weeks have been in Ankara with the team from Symantec Service Corps.


Patty and Rachel



It has been so much like college that the analogy almost writes itself 🙂 The team came in, fresh off the boat, with no experience consulting, let alone for a non-profit. Just like over the course of a semester where you learn, ask questions, make mistakes and take tests, we have done the same. We have evolved our projects, learnt from our clients, developed some solutions and presented small iterations. We’ve been overwhelmed at times, yes, but only to help each other out with our projects and get back on track, just like we used to in college with homework 🙂 Before I get any further let me introduce the student body!

We have Patty and Rachel, who are like those students that seem to know everything on day one of class and wreck the curve! Well, at least I am glad we are on team Doga together.

Then there are Mirabel and Travis, who define work hard and play hard! Way too much fun to hang out with. I still don’t know how they manage to trek a mile every morning to get a good cup of coffee, run up and down the rocky stairs and get all their work done 🙂





There is the resident dreamer, Archana. Kind and extremely driven. And the incorruptible Mr. Niceguy – Amitoj.



Now, remember the lanky genius in college who just seemed to be able to pick up everything naturally and never had difficulty in any class? Well that is Joe. He speaks more than a dozen languages and can pick up and play almost any instrument!



Last but not least, there is the smart foreign student who’s accent isn’t the easiest to understand. I used to be that in college (sans the smart part), but here it is Sohini. Is it ‘mole’ or ‘mall’, ‘race’ or ‘rest’ … I can never quite tell 🙂 It is a terrible stereotype … but her SA accent is still fun!



The place we call home, Ontur Butik Otel, seems less like a hotel and more like a dorm! We hang out in the lobby, the breakfast area or each others rooms! We’ve even had a movie night after a long Monday at work … and no you don’t want to know what the movie was 🙂 Breakfast and dinner tend to be together and is always a blast. And just like in college, I have my morning running route, Ontur to Kocatepe Mosque, a favorite cafe to sit and work – Kafes Firin, a favorite take out place – Cigkofteci, and a favorite bar.

Most of all though, in 3 short weeks this place has become like college because the team came together with open minds to help our clients and forge friendships. And in that I think we have succeeded. Not only will we be delivering on our projects, but simply by being in their offices and exchanging ideas, I hope we will leave behind a fresh perspective for them to build on. As for friendships, a birthday celebration, an opening week party at Num-Num, playing Heads-Up on the way back from Cappadocia, winning quiz night at the British Embassy, reciting Rumi and thanking the academy late at night in the empty amphitheater, wading out into poring rain to find a missing passport (mine, thanks Joe and Travis), watching House of Cards and traveling together, only a few ways in which we all became friends.


Trying to characterize the team with college attributes was unfair … sorry guys 🙂 you are a great bunch and I am glad to have met you.

Thanks Symantec and Pyxera for letting me re-live college!

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Much more than a week in review

Another week, and another set of opportunities to forge friendships and make memories to last a lifetime.

While we continue to prepare our deliverables in anticipation of our final week here, we still find new experiences every day. Since our last update, we’ve our greater team was invited to participate in a quiz night at the British embassy, where we were lucky enough to have won first place.

We’ve become familiar faces in the neighborhood in which we’re working, and have been fortunate to make the acquaintance of many in the area whom we have come to recognize, as well; among these are the mechanics who work below our client’s office, and whom we hear nearly every day singing playing Turkish music, and who just as often invite us to join them.

In what has been a highlight of our time here, all of us on the 2015 Service Corps team returned to the Ankara UNHCR office, and worked with another group of volunteers to distribute lunch to the refugees there awaiting services.

If a picture says a thousand words, we hope that a video might better still convey some of our feelings – enjoy!

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