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Stories from Study abroad: A semester in Istanbul

By: Bertug Yoruk


 

For the fall 2019 semester, I studied abroad at Koc University in Istanbul, Turkey. A city of nearly 20 million residents and home to unique historical monuments that range from the Galata Tower, the Hagia Sophia, and the Ortakoy Mosque. For anyone studying history, Turkey is the place to be if you want to immerse yourself in a country that lies between two continents and stands at a crossroad between the East and West. Considering my deep interest in modern history and international politics, studying at Koc University provided me with unique opportunities to broadly explore my interests. From the small class sizes to the opportunities for lively debates about historical phenomena such as the Ottoman Empire's development, Koc provided the perfect blend of theoretical and practical learning that greatly expanded my intellectual horizons while on exchange.


*Photo of Koc University West Campus (Location of my dormitory)

During the orientation week hosted by Koc University, we had an opportunity to tour the campus, located approximately 30 minutes from downtown Istanbul. Koc has many academic resources and services which I had the opportunity to utilize. For example, they had their own writing center where students could book appointments for any advice about completing assignments and improving your writing skills. There were other opportunities to get involved on campus as well! Koc had its own English language conversation circle where exchange students could talk with other local Turkish students to help them improve their English. This incredible program brought together exchange students and Turkish students in a collaborative environment where you could actively engage with the university community. The dormitory facilities offered at Koc were also very convenient and easy to use. Upon arrival in Istanbul, exchange students were paired with other Koc peer mentor advisers who were extremely friendly and answered all of our questions about the university and Istanbul.


A traditional Turkish Breakfast along the Bosphorus Sea

The city life in Istanbul was truly amazing. Even outside the university, locals in the city are always willing to lend a helping hand whenever you need directions to a specific location. Knowing a few Turkish phrases before you arrive will help you out in a city that can sometimes be overwhelming at first. Nonetheless, Istanbul locals are incredibly personable and helpful! One of my favourite spots in Istanbul included the city center and downtown area. There, me and a group of friends would have a traditional breakfast buffet of Turkish food and see the sights. Some of these traditional foods (pictured above) included delicious delicacies such as Sucuklu Yumurta (Eggs and spiced meat sausages), Olives, Pastirma (seasoned dried cured beef), Salami, and Menemen (scrambled eggs with white and feta cheeses).

*A picture of me at the Seven Lakes National Park

in Bolu, Turkey

One of my favourite sights while on exchange in Istanbul included the Ortakoy Mosque, which had a perfect view of the Fatih Sultan Mehmet Bridge and the Bosphorus Sea. The Faith Sultan Mehmet Bridge is primarily known as the bridge that connects the Asian and European continents, as Istanbul is situated on two continents. Such areas are very popular in Istanbul, and they attract tourists from all around the world. Having the opportunity to visit these places was a great pleasure. However, my exchange experience was not only confined within the city of Istanbul. I also had the opportunity to travel to other places around Turkey as well! One of my favourite trips while on exchange in Turkey was when me and a group of friends decided to travel to the city of Bolu (a 3-hour drive from Istanbul). We decided to rent a car, and as a group, we were able to stop at the Seven Lakes National Park, one of the most popular parks to visit near the Black Sea region of Turkey. Here, we had an opportunity to walk around the forest, stop for a light lunch, and take pictures of the lake as we toured the beautiful scenery. Although Turkey is known to be a country with a relatively hot climate, there was a lot of snow around the park, and it reminded me of Canada a bit in a way!

All in all, it is not easy to summarize my exchange experience within a few paragraphs. From the scenery, the food, and the friendly people, my exchange at Koc University was one of the best experiences in my life and is one I will never forget. Of course, one of the biggest challenges when going on an exchange is trying to make the necessary cultural adjustments associated with living abroad in a country. However, as I learned near the end of my exchange, the most challenging part for me was leaving Turkey and all the new friends I made along the way. Istanbul is a great place to go on exchange and is a city with rich histories and a unique past that you will learn more about when you get there.


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