Day after day, freshman Ilayda Dincer refreshed her email hoping to get her travel to get approved.
During the summer, the Turkish volleyball player was anxiously awaiting an appointment with her country’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs to get a travel visa that would allow her to come to Philadelphia and start her collegiate volleyball career at Temple University, she said.
“I was worried,” Dincer added. “I was trying to get my visa for three months, and suddenly I got an email, ‘You have an appointment next week.’”
After being cleared to come to the United States, Dincer, an accomplished 18-year-old outside spiker who has played with the U18 Turkey National team, moved to Philadelphia from Ankara, Turkey in August.
She has since been practicing with the Owls in anticipation of the spring season, which could start as early as Jan. 22, The Temple News reported.
Living without her family, speaking a language she occasionally needs translated and eating food she doesn’t like gave Dincer a feeling of culture shock when she arrived on campus, she said.
“The conversations I have with people are so much different, like culture,” Dincer added.
Miray Bolukbasi, a junior from Istanbul, Turkey, is helping her settle in the U.S. by assisting her in getting a new phone number and debit card and translating her coaches’ instructions in practice, Dincer said.
Since Irem Asci joined the Owls in 2015, there has been at least one Turkish player on the volleyball team every year.
“Here, we became like family since we live with each other,” Bolukbasi added. “You’re seeing your teammates like every single minute of your day. So, I think it’s kind of like something that [Dincer] had to adjust to after she got here.”
Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, head coach Bakeer Ganesharatnam never met Dincer before she officially signed her letter of intent to play for the Owls on May 11, he said. The two relied on Zoom and FaceTime video calls to build a relationship before then, Ganesharatnam added.
Many countries, including Turkey and the United States, imposed several travel restrictions this summer to contain the COVID-19 outbreak, Aljazeera reported.
Although Ganesharatnam believed Dincer would eventually be allowed to travel to America, the coaching staff began to realize during the summer her arrival may be delayed longer than anticipated, he said.
“I wouldn’t say we ever gave up,” Ganesharatnam added. “We always had faith that she was going to get here.”
Ganesharatnam is pleased with how quickly Dincer adapted despite being “behind the curve” in practice because of her delayed arrival, he said.
“At this point, I feel like she’s completely integrated into our program, into our team,” Ganesharatnam added. “She looks happy and comfortable.”
On the U18 Turkey National team, Dincer helped the Turkish team finish in third place in 2019, giving her more experience than a typical 18-year-old in the sport.
Ganesharatnam expects Dincer to start and play a major role this season because she’s effective in all three spots of the front row, he said.
“She was trained and played at a very high level in Turkey at a young age,” Ganesharatnam added. “So she was exposed to a very high level of competition, which really allowed her to gain some valuable experience.”
Dincer expects Temple to finish at the top of The American Athletic Conference and take home some individual awards in the process, she said.
“To be honest with you, I want to be the Freshman of the Year,” Dincer added.