Outbound Project in Turkey: Celeste Gilman and Ali Onuralp Unal

Written by Celeste Gilman, Deputy Director, WSDOT Regional Transit Coordination

Time keeps marching on since my incredible two week trip to Ankara, Turkey in October 2019. These reflections on my trip are more than overdue. I think I have struggled to put into words the profound impact of my experience, for myself and (I hope) those who I met. The people, places, sights, sounds, and tastes are etched into my memory and I think of them almost every day, even as so much in the world has changed over the past few months.

Workshop for municipal staff
Workshop for municipal staff

My story starts in May of 2019 when I was given the opportunity to host Ali Onuralp Ünal, Ankara’s Director of International Projects. He came to Seattle for one month to learn about sustainable transportation, particularly bicycle transportation. Before my boss approached me, I had never heard of the American Councils for International Education or their programs. I was delighted to learn of their work and thrilled to be able to facilitate the sharing of expertise and experiences to help Ankara shift its transportation system in a direction that will improve people’s lives and reduce their contributions to the climate crisis.

Five months later, I traveled for 24 hours across 10 time zones to be an honored guest of the municipality of Ankara. On my first day there, I met with Mayor Mansur Yavas. Mayor Yavas was crystal clear about the importance of putting people first in the transportation system. The enthusiasm and sense of common enterprise of his team was palpable and infectious. Everywhere I went, people expressed their frustration with the car-dominated legacy of the past. The experience of being in Ankara in October 2019, just six months into Mayor Yavas’ first term, was like being in a drought-stricken meadow after the rains had returned and life was rebounding with a staggering vigor. The openness to change, hopefulness, and enthusiasm was impressive.

Visiting the Ankara Technopark
Visiting the Ankara Technopark

My hosts arranged a packed schedule of meetings and presentations. I met with members of parliament, advisors to President Erdogan, the head of the air quality management department, emerging businesses in their Technopark business incubator, non-profit staff, university professors, and many others. I presented at METU and Ankara universities and for city planning and architecture/engineering professional associations. I conducted a day-long workshop for 20 municipal transportation professionals and met with staff from the US Embassy in Ankara. The information I shared distilled more than two decades of my learning, working, andliving sustainable transportation into an hour-long conceptual toolkit that was simple enough to translate across languages. The majority of my presentations and meetings were in Turkish. I had an incredible translator, Timur Tikriti, and we quickly developed a strong partnership.

While this was a work intensive trip and they fully utilized the opportunity of my being in Ankara, hospitality and culture were a defining theme of my trip. I had a whole hosting team. Isa Coskun was my home base and guide extraordinaire. He not only made sure all the logistics were in order for the day’s work, he spent evening after evening showing off the arts, culture, history, and cuisine of Ankara. Ali Onuralp Ünal and his wife also treated us to the opera to see Aida. Mevlude Sahillioglu is the amazing local coordinator of the American Councils for International Education and ensured everything was orchestrated flawlessly and connected me with past fellows and many others. One memorable night we had dinner with a whole group of PFP fellows. I was highly impressed by the accomplishments, thoughtfulness, initiative, and diversity of backgrounds and interests of that illustrious group of young professionals. My husband was able to travel with me on my trip and Mevlude helped connect him with people working in his field of immigration. We joked that he was having his own outbound trip at the same time.

Dropping in on ney lessons
Dropping in on ney lessons

For me professionally, it was incredibly rewarding to be able to share my expertise with such enthusiastic audiences in a place that is hopefully at the outset of a profound transformation. The municipality of Ankara has recently begun construction on its first 54 kilometers of protected bicycle paths to connect seven of the city’s universities and two of the largest industrial areas with their closest Metro stops. The bicycle has been hugely neglected as a mode of transportation in Ankara, and this infrastructure will start to change that. This new investment in bicycling could not be better timed, as cities around the world turn to the bicycle as a safe and sustainable urban transportation solution in times of pandemic and climate crisis. The city also has a highly utilized public transportation system and retains much of its pedestrian oriented form (even if people are too often marginalized by both moving and unoccupied vehicles). An important part of the foundation of sustainable transportation is recognizing, preserving, and building upon the best transportation facilities and services a city already has, and I brought an outsider’s view to help the people of Ankara appreciate the existing strengths of their transportation system.

Towards the end of my visit, we met with staff at the American Embassy. I greatly appreciate their support and enthusiasm. They spoke of the potential for future grants and organizational assistance for continued collaboration. Their support of the municipality’s work is wonderful to see and I would be delighted to continue my involvement as well.

I look forward to someday returning to Ankara to drink tea with my friends and to tour the city by bicycle with my family. Tesekkur ederim to Ali Onuralp Ünal, Isa Coskun, Timur Tikriti, Mevlude Sahillioglu, Demet Hüsrevoğlu, Davron Mirsagatov and Viktorija Sapundzi at the American Councils, the American Embassy, and all the amazing people of Ankara I met on my extraordinary trip.

Turkish coffee and tea at METU university with friends
Turkish coffee and tea at METU university




Alumni Highlight: Reuniting with Denver Fellowship hosts and Tackling the U.S. Bar Exam

Written by Ketevan Vashakidze, PFP Spring 2018 Alumna from GeorgiaLawyer at the Prosecutor General’s Office of Georgia, Human Rights Division

I am very happy that I managed to visit United States in February 2020, before the Covid -19 pandemic broke out. I had two reasons to go back.

First, I took the Washington DC Jurisdiction Bar exam. A lawyer needs to pass this exam in order to be allowed to practice law in the United States. I successfully passed it and this achievement significantly extends my professional capacity. I will try to make the most of this opportunity and have a larger impact with my work.

Second, after taking the bar exam, I went to Colorado to visit my PFP Spring 2018 host organization – Colorado Department of Public Safety Division of Criminal Justice.

With Colorado Public Safety Department Criminal Justice Division Staff
With Colorado Public Safety Department Criminal Justice Division Staff

I was also looking forward to see my host family: Joe Thome, Cynthia Huerta -Thome and our new family member the Golden Retriever Oscar. The reunion in the Denver airport was emotional. Even though, my life is full of adventures and joy, I have not been that happy very often. It felt like returning home. The fact is, my host family has really become my second family.


Host family
With my Host family

Over these two years my host organization Colorado Department of Public Safety has become a strong professional ally, meeting my colleagues was exciting as well. Some of them have been promoted to higher positions, some retired, while others have stayed in their previous occupations. They invited me to attend Colorado Criminal Justice Forum, where 500 stakeholders gathered to plan ways to adopt best Criminal Justice practices, as long as Colorado Justice System has fair ambition to be prominent and highly responsive to contemporary challenges. I had a chance to meet prosecutors, defence counsels, legislators, community representatives, the governor, and many other specialists involved in justice reform. We were all happy to share our stories, exchange our experiences and plan future activities.

I want to thank the American Councils team, PFP program team, Colorado Public Safety Department, my mentor Meg Handel Williams, and my host family Cynthia and Joe  for giving me the opportunity, and supporting and inspiring me to work with my United States colleagues who remain my reliable contacts when it comes to professional advice and support.

With Colorado Senator Pete Lee
With Colorado Senator Pete Lee

Furthering the Fellowship: Public Transportation Project in Ankara

Ali Onuralp Unal, Spring 2019 Fellow from Turkey 

Coordinator of Projects Department of Ankara Municipality

US Foreign Ministry

After the Professional Fellowship program in 2019, Ali Onuralp Unal returned home to Turkey and began working on major projects in the transportation field. While working as a fellow at the Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT), Unal contributed to the establishment of bicycle infrastructure under the leadership of Celeste Gilman and Roger Miller. After this experience, he brought new ideas to the Ankara city bike path Project, implemented in 2020. Celeste Gilman, supervisor of Unal in WSDOT, visited Turkey for a bike infrastructure Project in this year.

In addition, Unal worked on improving the public transport system in Ankara. He works closely with United States Trade and Development Agency (USTDA) and suggested an optimisation system Project idea to USTDA. Apart from the established methods, this idea was very different to optimise public transport. Ankara Public Transport Authority will increase the capacity of public transport lines, bus stops, drivers and busses thanks to this optimisation Project.

The project plans to implement analytical modelings and integrations, taking into account population density and mobility to calculate the mobile application. After the Project, it is estimated that public transport efficiency will increase 10% in Ankara. USTDA and Ankara Metropolitan Municipality signed a 1.25 million dollar grant to fund these efforts, and the American company SAS also contributed 1.25 million dollars, totalling 2.5 million dollars for this project to date.

Of his experience in the Professional Fellows Program, Mr. Unal said;

“I applied to the PFP program in 2019 and was selected as a fellow. America experience was unforgettable for me. We had very good memories with my team there. After leaving the US, they published a very good article with my name on the official institution blogs. They explained our work in detail. The important thing was to bring the good practices to my country. This project isone of the results of PFP. As a Turkish citizen, I am happy to serve my country. The Professional Fellowship program has been an important milestone in my life. I recommend this unbelievable program to every Professional. I thank the American Councils and its valuable staff. “

Ali unal