George Schieber Keeps Her Wife Legacy Alive Through A Scholarship

George Schieber with Mehmet L. Kirdar, President of Turkish Philanthropy Funds at the Friends of Turkey Gala in Harvard Club of New York. By Cagatay Okutan George Schieber with Mehmet L. Kirdar, President of Turkish Philanthropy Funds at the Friends of Turkey Gala in Harvard Club of New York.

Sena Eken Schieber was a pioneering international civil servant and a role model for many women. After graduating from Robert College in Istanbul and receiving her PhD from Pittsburgh University, she worked at the IMF rising to the rank of Assistant Director, the highest for a Turkish employee in the history of the institution. She died on June 3rd, 2014 in Washington, DC. Her husband, George Schieber established Sena Eken Schieber Economics Award in 2015 with Turkish Philanthropy Funds. His late wife, Sena Eken Schieber’s legacy will now live with the empowerment of talented women from Turkey.

“I am delighted that I found a channel to continue the legacy of my late wife, Sena. She would have been very pleased to see that deserving women from Turkey are being provided the opportunity to undertake graduate economic studies in the United States and fully exploit their abilities. Given the conservative forces engulfing the Middle East and Europe, providing opportunities for young Turkish women to reach their full potential represents the best aspirations of Ataturk’s legacy and social justice. Fostering the development of Turkey’s needed future human capital provides the foundation for its continued democratic, social, and economic evolution, and for Turkey to serve as a model for other emerging market countries,” said George Schieber, a former World Bank Economist and founder of the Scholarship Fund at Turkish Philanthropy Funds sponsoring the award.

The Award will be given to female graduate students from Turkey in the field of Economics in the United States. Several awards will be made annually, up to $50,000 each, to cover tuition and/or living expenses with the condition that the university will also offer the scholarship recipient additional support and the opportunity to work on campus.

How did you meet with your wife Sena?
I met Sena at the University of Pittsburgh, where she was studying for her Ph.D. in economics, and I was an Assistant Professor of economics.  She was my Teaching Assistant.

What did you know about Turkish culture and people before meeting her?
I knew pathetically little about Turkey.  The U.S. education system is highly deficient in teaching almost anything beyond U.S. history and western European civilization.  I knew that Turkey was one of the enemy powers in World War I and neutral in World War II; that Ataturk had transformed the old Ottoman Empire into a modern western-oriented democratic state (but knew almost nothing about the Ottoman Empire beyond the fact that it had welcomed Jews from Spain during the inquisition); and, that Turkey was a member of NATO and an important ally during the cold war, having shown its support during the Korean war.  

When did you visit Turkey first and and what was your expectations before visit?
I first visited Turkey in 1976 to meet Sena's parents as we were planning to get married.  Her family lived on the Asian side of the Bosporus in Erenkoy.  I really didn't know what to expect, and this was only my second international trip, my first being to England, Germany, Switzerland, and Denmark.  

I vividly remember renting a car, assuming as I had grown up in NY, that I could drive anywhere.  The traffic was horrendous, nobody obeyed the traffic rules, people parked on the sidewalks, didn't stop at red lights or stop signs, and unlike in America, where we were taught that the pedestrian always has the right of way, pedestrians in Turkey appeared to almost be considered as moving targets in a video game.  It was the worst traffic I had ever experienced, although afterward I did get to visit worse places traffic-wise like Tehran, Cairo, Jakarta, and Manila.

Yet, the city was 2000 years old and magnificent, spanned two continents, and was incredibly rich historically and culturally.  Coming from a country that was a mere 200 years old, I was really overwhelmed by much of what I saw architecturally and historically.  I was also amazed by the hospitality and friendliness of the people.

In addition to seeing the magnificent historical sights, my interest in Turkey was further enhanced when my future father-in-law showed me a book in his library from 1838 by Allom and Walsh, entitled 'Illustrations of Constantinople', which contained 100 engravings of Constantinople from the early 1800s.  It showed what the city looked like then with contemporary descriptions of the city and its history, and it utterly fascinated me.  In fact, that was the genesis of my hobby of collecting antiquarian historical and illustrated plate books on Turkey and the Ottoman Empire. 

Immediately after my visit, in 1977 Lord Kinross' book 'The Ottoman Centuries' was published.  It reads like a novel and is an enchanting discussion of the history of the Ottoman Empire, its greatness, and the reasons for its decline.  It really helped formulate my views about Turkey.  I recommend this book to everyone who wants to learn about Turkey, and wish it, or something analogous, was part of the American educational curriculum. 

Did you have any objections from your family side when you decide to marry with Sena?
None at all because Sena's Turkish cultural roots in terms of how one relates to people inter-personally, values education, and entertains people in their homes was identical to my family's cultural heritage. 

Would you share one of your nice memories about cultural differences cause?
I was a second generation Jewish American, whose grandparents immigrated to the U.S. in the early 1900's from Poland and Austria.  My grandmother had lived under Polish, Russian, and German governments and spoke 5 languages.  In America she was religiously observant, had a challenging life because her husband, who had been a successful businessman, was wiped out by the depression and passed away in his early 30s, while most of her extended family in Europe was killed by the Nazis in World War II in Bialystok, Poland. Despite her multi-cultural European experiences, I doubt if she knew anything about Turks or Moslems and had probably never met one as she spent most of her life embedded in her indigenous communities in Europe and New York.

I had not been very open with my family about having a girlfriend, and a Turkish Muslim no less.  My grandmother was in her mid-80s and, as discussed above, had a rather challenging and ethnically focused life.  I had no idea how she would react to Sena, and in fact feared the worst based solely on her life experiences, unfamiliarity with Muslims, and perhaps peoples’ general fears of the unknown.  I was sure she would be disappointed that I wasn't bringing home someone traditional from our ethnic heritage.  The moment she met Sena and talked with her and saw what kind of person she was, she adored her.  Religion and country origin didn't mean a thing in my grandmother's assessment of the person.   

This really affected me and Sena enormously.  I have to say that Sena's parents' reactions to me weren't much different.  They were very cosmopolitan people as my father-in-law had studied engineering in Germany, and my mother in law had spent several years in medical school.  Why can't all religions and people live in harmony?  Why can't we just judge people as individuals, not with labels, stigmas, and stereotypes?   Much of the problem is ignorance, but these days also the disgusting populism for selfish political gains of many of the world's leaders and politicians.

I am convinced that education and economic opportunity are the keys.  For example, just sticking to America, our basic education systems, even now, 55 years after I finished high school, are still terribly deficient in teaching Americans about the rest of the world.  They don't know that Turks, Persians, and Arabs are all different.  They understand almost nothing about Islam, other non-Christian/Judaic religions, and non-U.S./European history.  They have little understanding of Turkey, and the fact that the Turks controlled much of the developed world for hundreds of years, were ravaging the countryside in sight of Rome in the 16th century, and that had climatic and leadership circumstances been a bit different, the Turks would have taken Vienna, and who knows what else in Western Europe?  They don't understand much about Islam except for the 9/11 tragedy and have little understanding of the incredible hospitality and warmth of the people in Turkey and most Muslim countries. 

I would also add here another important cultural factor that I learned from my wife, her family, and friends which is understanding the significance about how America is often perceived in the world.  I (and much of the world) have a profound regard for America in many respects – governance and the rule of law, free and fair elections, opportunity for all, dynamism of its economy, standard of living, creativity, quality of its educational institutions, free press, women’s rights, etc.  Unfortunately, most Americans don’t think about some of the resentments foreigners have about Americans and America because of its size and global influence as negative aspects of American culture and values are deliberately or inadvertently propagated, and often exaggerated by opponents, and these days by some of our own political leaders. 
For example, I remember Turks being glued to their TV sets watching the American TV series Dallas, dubbed in Turkish, thinking to myself is this really the image of America that we want to portray for the world -- all the men are rich dishonest philandering wimps; the women have no moral values; and, every American lives like JR on a huge ranch with big fancy cars?  American music, films, TV, and the English-based internet have an enormous impact on foreigners’ perceptions of the U.S., and can exaggerate stereotypical negatives, while losing sight of the positives.  Unfortunately, this is something few Americans understand and at times do not take into account in their political or individual behaviors, potentially feeding anti-Americanism abroad.  

What would you suggest an American friend who wants to visit Turkey? 
I always suggest they read Kinross, so they can fully appreciate what they will see from a historical perspective.  I usually suggest staying at hotels with a water view (Bosporus, Marmara, Golden Horn), which helps in fully enjoying the phenomenal historical and cultural aspects.  I tell them that Turkish food is very varied and considered one of the three best cuisines in the world.  I tell them to enjoy the handicrafts, particularly carpets, jewelry, and ceramics.  I tell them about how friendly and hospitable the Turkish people are.

What is your favorite city, hotel and restaurant in Turkey?
I love Istanbul, where we had an apartment on the Bosporus near Emirgan.  As stated previously, I recommend hotels with water views.  Turkish cuisine is so good, one can eat quite well almost anywhere, not just at the 'in' restaurants.  

Would you like to add anything?
As I indicated above, I believe education, economic, and social development are the keys for a peaceful and prosperous world.  That is why I established the scholarship in my late wife’s name.  I hope our very limited global governance institutions, coupled with the efforts of national governments, NGOs, CSOs, and organizations like Turkish Philanthropic Funds and TOA can offset the development assistance fatigue, xenophobia, ignorance, and populism being practiced by increasing numbers of governments to the detriment of the world's needy.  

Sena Eken Schieber was born in İstanbul in 1949. After graduating from Robert College in Turkey, she did her graduate studies in England and received her Ph.D. in economics from the University of Pittsburgh.  She married George Schieber in 1976. Sena had a long and distinguished career in the International Monetary Fund (IMF), during which she took a leave of absence to be an Advisor to the Governor of the Central Bank of Turkey in 1987. She has worked on IMF programs in numerous countries, many in the Middle East, Asia, and Africa, and at the time of her retirement was the highest-ranking Turkish national in the IMF.  She is the author of numerous publications including the recently published DEIK study entitled “Turkey 2000-2010: A Decade of Transition.” She has been described by her colleagues and friends as loving, caring, vibrant, sensitive, elegant, smart, conscientious, warm, and courageous; a role model for others; a pioneer for women in the IMF; and, a credit to her country. In addition to being an accomplished international and national civil servant, Sena was a talented photographer and actively pursued her interests in fitness, travel, art, fashion, Turkish politics, maintaining her Robert college connections, and socializing with friends. (FRIEND OF TURKEY IN PHILANTHROPY)