Hazal Zenger

Hazal Zenger
ET Ourn

Hazal Zenger `24 is a third-year physics major who will be graduating early before heading off to Stanford in the fall. Zenger will be starting a physics PhD program with a focus on the experimental aspect of the discipline. Zenger said that despite having to live on a college campus for the foreseeable future, the Palo Alto weather is worth it.

Applying to graduate school as a third year was a “daunting task,” said Zenger. Despite the challenges of missing classes and applying to fewer schools than recommended, Zenger’s unwavering determination and hard work paid off with a bright future in sunny California on the horizon.

At Grinnell, Zenger has been part of the physics Student Educational Policy Committee (SEPC) and worked as a grader and teaching assistant in the department. She avidly believes in the value of the liberal arts and advocates for humanities and social science majors to make the often-avoided choice to take a course in Noyce.

Zenger has also enjoyed participating in events hosted by the International Student Organization (ISO). Her favorite ISO event is the annual Food Bazaar, and she said she begins planning her next dish as soon as each year’s event is over. This semester, she also participated in the Cultural Evening event for the first time.

The summer after her first year, Zenger secured a prestigious research position at the University of Iowa with the gravitational radiation and projective geometry group under Dr. Vincent Rodgers. She helped to find mathematical solutions for the diffeomorphism field, presented her research at the university’s summer undergraduate research conference and gave a lecture on campus. She also received a stipend through the center for careers, life and service for which she said she is very grateful as it made the opportunity possible.

In the fall, she continued interning at the University of Iowa, this time with the high energy physics group under Dr. Jane Nachtman, where she still works. Her research focuses on particle physics and simulations, her primary area of interest. Although this position is unpaid, she said she is very grateful to have had an opportunity to do such complex undergraduate research, especially as she is graduating early. 

Zenger said she has taken at least one class that she has absolutely hated every semester, but she regrets none of them and finds value in each subject. However, one of her favorite courses was MAT 321: Foundations of Abstract Algebra, which she found particularly interesting as an avid sudoku player and puzzle lover.

Originally intending to double major in physics and philosophy, Zenger dropped her second major to graduate early. She explained that she did not always want to skip her fourth year, but financial situations made the decision for her.

“I was still not sure if I had made the right decision until they released the tuition for next year,” Zenger said, referencing the 5% increase in tuition and mandatory meal plans.

Hailing from Turkey, Zenger has also experienced additional financial burdens with a significant currency crash occurring in her first semester, which she said has only worsened during her three years at Grinnell. 

Despite this, Zenger said that being at Grinnell has strengthened her connection with her home country, something she is very grateful for. She attributes her previous distance from her cultural identity to growing up in Istanbul and going to an American school.

“Being abroad makes you get closer to your home country –– at least, that was my experience. I wasn’t super aware of my national identity. But when I got here, my differences were emphasized,” she said. 

However, she said being away from Turkey has sometimes been very difficult. During the international pre-orientation program her first semester, devastating wildfires blazed nationwide. This was a difficult start to her college experience, but it would not be the only tragedy she would have to witness from afar.

On Feb. 6, 2023, during Zenger’s fourth semester on campus, a 7.8-magnitude earthquake killed nearly 54,000 people in Turkey. Zenger said it was challenging to see this happen from across the ocean. In a proactive effort to help raise awareness of the situation, she gave a “Middle of Everywhere” presentation focusing on the earthquake. At the same time, she and the three other Turkish students collected donations.

Two significant Turkish elections have taken place during her time at Grinnell. Zenger explained that Turkish students were impassioned to vote, especially after the earthquake. The Wilson Center funded their trip to Chicago so they could vote at the embassy, something Zenger has said she is exceptionally grateful for.

Despite all this, Zenger has been able to go home all three of her winter breaks and at the end of each summer. However, she said that something unfortunate always happens on her way back to campus. Last semester, she got bed bugs after visiting Europe during the Paris infestation. This semester, she got food poisoning on her flight to Chicago and could not attend the first week of classes. Her biggest advice to her fellow international students is to “make sure you get your wisdom teeth out when you are home!”

As graduation approaches, Zenger says she is filled with nostalgia and immense gratitude. She deeply appreciates the support she has received from her professors, academic advising, mentors and friends. Zenger said she is particularly thankful to her host family, whose impactful role in her time at Grinnell she cherishes. 

“I have a family in Grinnell now. I have roots here, but I need to grow.”

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