By COLLEEN CURRY
When I ran into Zebu last week to meet with Kasandra Ekin Red Bank Regional‘s highest GPA-ranked senior from Red Bank I was a little nervous. Besides her class ranking and advanced-placement-loaded transcript, Ekin was on varsity volleyball, majored in dance, choreographed an entire musical, led the French club and still found time to volunteer over 100 hours in nonprofit work. She’d even gotten a resolution honoring her from the Red Bank council earlier in the week (download 08-136.pdf.) I was barely able to make it out of bed in time to meet her for an afternoon interview.
I arrived out of breath and began frantically asking each female patron if she was, in fact, Kasandra. A few nos and more than a few strange looks later, I saw a girl sitting quietly on the side of the restaurant. She looked up, took off her glasses and waved my way. She was not only on time, but put together and ready for whatever I was going to throw at her. Score: Kasandra: 2 Colleen: 0
As I got my act together and started to launch my questions her way, however, I was caught off-guard. Sure, Kasandra may do more in a week than I do all year, but she also told me that New York Trends just got in some new cute clothing I should check out, and that she was nervous about her upcoming orientation at the University of Virginia. Maybe we weren’t from such different ends of the spectrum after all; maybe we were just two Red Bank girls grabbing coffee and talking about well, everything.
RBG: What was your favorite thing about life at RBR?
I think the school offers a really unique opportunity to students there with the performing arts academy. I spent a year of high school in Jackson, and when I transferred to RBR I realized how lucky I was to dance right there in school. We also got to work with some of the other majors there, and it really is a whole level of professionalism in the arts that go on there.
You did a lot of volunteering. Why was that such a big part of high school for you?
Ever since I was young, my parents told me I was lucky to have what I have and other people aren’t as lucky as me, and the normal spiel parents give their children. So they thought of getting me involved with my community and asking me to give back.
And actually, one of the biggest events that I’m involved in is the Marc A. Zanichelli Scholarship Foundation. That’s actually my uncles foundation; he was shot and killed at a holdup in his Nassau auto parts store. My family decided we were going to take that and turn it into a scholarship foundation for children whose parents were victims of violent crime. And we put together a generous scholarship for one or two students with partial scholarships to college. It’s a great cause and it hits so close to home, and taught me more about the volunteering aspect of it. It taught me how volunteer organizations like that work. My entire family sits on the board for the foundation, so I saw firsthand how much work and blood and sweat goes into setting up something like this.
I read that you come from a multi-ethnic background. Are you Turkish?
Yes, my father was born in Turkey and came here when he was about twenty-three. My mom is Italian, grew up in New York. Her family is typical New York Italian family. And my parents both went to work after I was born, so my grandmothers took turns taking care of me. My dad’s mother actually came over from Turkey and practically raised me. She didn’t speak any English, and she was a schoolteacher, so she taught me Turkish.
I’ve gone over there every summer since I was six. When I turned 12, I started going over by myself and staying with my aunt. Istanbul is a lot similar to Red Bank actually. It’s not as metropolitan as New York; it’s more small-town charm. But then outside the city is just desert and nothing all around. Istanbul is pretty western; besides the mosques calling for prayers and all that, it’s really just like being in any other European city. There are McDonalds on every corner, Louis Vuitton stores. The further East you go the capital is actually in the center that’s less westernized, but still metropolitan.
So you’re fluent then? Just like whip out your Turkish in class ever?
Yeah, I actually was pretty embarrassed once when I turned a paper into my French teacher and it was in Turkish.
I was really tired and I just slipped into Turkish instead.
So you want to go into international studies is that because of all this?
It actually is, yeah. When I was younger I wanted to be everything. I wanted to be a singing, tap-dancing lawyer who could also perform brain surgery while arguing a case. But when I got older, I started to realize this gift I had of living overseas, and my ability to speak languages. And I wanted to be a doctor and look into something like Doctors Without Borders, but when I looked at the obscene amount of money you need to be able to do that, and the lack of money you make, I started to look at law instead. I was always arguing as a child, and my parents always told me I should be a lawyer. Then, in my European history class, I started to realize my fascination with other cultures and my interest in other places.
So what do you want to do?
If I stay in this country, I would love to work at the UN. Or if I decide to double major in economics at UVA, I want to work for the World Bank. But I really hope I don’t get planted here. I’d really rather live overseas.
OK, time for some less serious questions. What’s your favorite thing to do in New Jersey in the summer besides the beach?
I think my favorite thing to do is really to spend time in Red Bank. I also love in the summer going into the city, seeing shows for cheap. Or just going to theaters around here and seeing shows as often as I can. I love hanging out at a place and having fun. I really dont enjoy just sitting around and chilling with friends. We like to be doing something. So we’ll go into the city and see a show or Two River Theater or Count Basie. We always go to movies in the park. I really just love to hang out downtown here, its such a great place.
Yeah I was going to ask you, whats your favorite store or restaurant in Red Bank?
Thats tricky. Where do I spend most of my time? Well out of things to do, I love Clearview Cinemas over there on White Street. I think they show great independent films you wouldnt see at Loews. I love the Bistro. My parents took me there twice for special occasions. Such good food. As far as my favorite store, I love Funk and Standard down the street, and I like to shop around New York Trends. Theyve gotten some great new stuff in there lately, more clothes and stuff. So I like to pop in there.
Whats one thing kids at RBR wouldnt know about you or wouldnt expect of you?
I don’t think they would know exactly the experiences I’ve had in my life, whether it’s overseas or the reason why I volunteer with the Zanichelli Foundation. They know Im Turkish and they know I go over there, and that my dad’s from the country. But they don’t know the extent of it, that I don’t go on vacation over there. My aunt has a working farm and it’s my job to get the eggs in the morning from the chickens so we can eat. So I think they tend to think, you know, I go to the metropolitan areas.
A lot of them do too, especially from the more upscale parts around here, they go to countries and they see the sites on vacation. That’s not what traveling is about to me. We went to Paris and I saw the Eiffel Tower, and I thought it was beautiful. But I preferred when I got to leave the group and go off into the towns where civilians lived, and see how they lived; rather than going to the metropolitan areas with the tourists with vendors talking to you in your own language. I like to be isolated in places I dont know with people I dont know so I can get a chance to watch them. I’m a big people-watcher. I remember going to a café and just sitting in a side street in Paris, away from the tourists and watching people around me.