The Kinesiology Merit Fellowships are given to students from educational, cultural, or geographic backgrounds that are underrepresented in kinesiology in the United States or at the University of Michigan. These students have demonstrated a commitment to diversity in the academic, professional, or civic realm through their work experience, volunteer engagement, or leadership of student or community organizations.
Read on to learn more about Aydin Oelzturk, one of this year’s undergraduate fellows.
Q: What brought you to U-M?
A: When I was considering options for universities, I happened to notice that U-M was number one in the country for my major. When I got in, I was absolutely shocked. It was extremely exciting for me because I’d gone through a really hard path at universities prior to that.
So for me to be able to finally get into what felt like an elite university, to work so hard to get to where I feel I belong — it was such a relief in a sense.
Q: Can you tell me more about what you mean by a hard path at universities?
A: I went to high school in the Bay Area in California and applied to all the different University of California schools, like Santa Barbara, Davis, Santa Cruz, basically all of them, and I only got into my least favorite ones. So I was very disappointed.
Both my parents are European; my mom's Austrian, and my dad's Turkish, so I have European citizenship, and they were really big on me going to school out there and getting it for free.
So then I lived in Vienna for a year and a half. I speak German pretty much fluently because of my upbringing, but I’m not strong enough to be able to study in German. So I was taking German classes there to be able to read, write, and speak in an academic setting. I eventually applied to the Vienna University of Economics, where I took a placement exam and missed out by 1%.
After what felt like so many failures at the time, I decided to move back to the United States. Soon afterward, a shooting happened in Vienna, near the restaurant my friend and I were eating in. It was a crazy traumatic experience, and that accelerated the move home.
Q: Wow, I’m so sorry about that. What did you do next?
A: It was probably two weeks to a month of living back home when my mom told me I needed to get back into education or get a job. I went with a few of my friends to Santa Barbara Community College. It was a lot of fun, but I lived in a house of 10 people, and after a year and a half of that, it became a little much for me. I needed to break through on my own and create my own path, and I felt I needed to do that away from my hometown friends to figure out who I was without everybody else.
That was a huge part of why I ended up choosing Michigan once I got accepted. I wanted to study around people that I felt were more focused and career-driven and to create my own identity separate from everything else I grew up with. I’ve made many mistakes I’m not proud of, but I’ve found my footing at U-M, and I’m thankful to be here every day.
Q: What made you interested in kinesiology?
A: I grew up playing soccer, and I really wanted to be a professional soccer player. After a while, that didn’t pan out. I didn’t know what I wanted to do; I was studying environmental science for a while, business for a while. I ended up getting my associate’s degree in economics from Santa Barbara Community College. But it didn’t feel fulfilling or like something I wanted to do for the rest of my life.
My love for football had started to grow with my friends in Santa Barbara. We were doing fantasy teams and leagues, and it gave me back my love for sports. I started going on YouTube and watching all of these different sports broadcasters like Stephen A. Smith or Nick Wright or Colin Cowherd and watching highlights. After that, I decided to try to venture into sports in a different way.
I’d always wanted to play for Arsenal in London and make a difference for that team, so I figured I could do that if I were a recruiter or a scout, too. I thought about how amazing it would be if I were on the sidelines watching the game and thinking, ‘Wow! I found that guy, and he’s doing that for my team.’ I would have loved for someone to have seen me and brought me to the club, so this would be a different way for me to live my dream. When I looked up how to do that, sport management was essentially the best way to go.
Q: What has U-M been like now that you’re here, especially as a transfer student?
A: It’s been exactly what I’ve been looking for, in terms of connections and networking ability and the town itself. I’m from California, and I really came for the difference. Michigan feels different. Everything’s cheaper. The people are so much nicer. I was really nervous about the three random people I was going to move in with, but they’ve been really nice. The courses have been difficult, but the professors have been great, always helpful. Everything’s panned out in a really positive way.
Part of the reason I moved to Austria initially was because of my dad. He was diagnosed with stage 4 pancreatic cancer, and my parents didn’t want me to see him struggle. He ended up passing away. But now that’s part of the reason why I came to Michigan as well, ‘cause everything I do at the end of the day is to make him happy and strive to always be the best I can be for him. He was always there when I needed a push, and now that he's no longer there, I feel like I have to push myself for him.
Q: What does your mom think of you being here now?
A: I think she’s really happy but also frustrated about the money. She’s always trying to get me to save and be more frugal and mentioning that we’re a little low here and there, especially now that my dad has passed. But at the end of the day, she’s happy because it’s the first time she’s seen me as happy as I’ve been. When she came here, she loved the area, how beautiful it was, how nice people were, the house I was living in. The first week, she’d call me every day and ask how class was and if this is what I wanted to do, but she rarely calls me now. I have to call her.
Q: Has the Kinesiology Merit Fellowship been helpful financially?
A: Yeah, it’s definitely helped me. It makes things easier for my mom, which is the most important thing for me. I mostly use the money for groceries. It’s already stressful enough to be in school and worrying about my classes, let alone how much money I have to get food, so this gives me more of a little sense of comfort.
I wanted to study around people that I felt were more focused and career-driven and to create my own identity separate from everything else I grew up with. I’ve found my footing at U-M, and I’m thankful to be here every day.