Semester in Turkey

Mustafa Kemal Atatürk (1918)

Mustafa Kemal Atatürk (1918)

I have studied abroad twice in my three years at Arcadia: In spring 2011, I studied at City University in London, England, through the FYSAE program, and then last fall, I was one of the two first Arcadians to study at Kadir Has University in Istanbul, Turkey.

While I had been to London prior to studying there and had a good idea of what to expect while living there, I can’t say that I really knew what I was getting into when I got on the plane to Turkey last September. I chose to study in Turkey largely because of how little I knew about the place. I had previously been toying with the idea of studying in India or China, but when I heard about Arcadia’s new program in Turkey I was intrigued. One night, I sat up doing hours of research about Istanbul and by the morning, after reading so much about the history and beauty of the more than 2,000 year old city, I made up my mind and put in my application to study there in the fall of 2012.

The courses offered at Kadir Has (KHAS) were also a big draw. They included energy security, Balkan politics, geopolitics of Eurasia, nationalism and ethnicity, all of which could count towards my international studies major—not to mention the course on Turkish history and culture taught by Arcadia staff and all the other electives I could take at KHAS. Regrettably, I didn’t learn any Turkish before I went, nor did I know anything about Turkish history, and as an extremely picky eater (easily one of the worst traits to have as an international studies major who wishes to travel as much as possible throughout his lifetime) I was afraid of what cuisine awaited me in Turkey.

Well, firstly, the language barrier turned out to be a bit wider than the folks at Arcadia had led us to believe. Few people aside from a fair amount of students and the professors spoke English at the University, and even fewer people spoke it in the markets and shops. However, we had a Turkish language course with the program director, Alper, and he taught us a great deal of the language, which we honed daily out of necessity while buying our groceries and ordering tea (çay) in cafés.

Secondly, I was able to take a course on the history of the Turkish Republic from the fall of the Ottoman Empire through to today, which opened my eyes to an entirely new part of history that no classes in America had even touched on (other than maybe mentioning the country’s involvement in World War I). Turks, as we learned rather quickly from folks like Alper, are also very quick to give you a lesson on Turkish history anywhere, anytime, or to chat about the revered Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, the first President of Turkey and founder of the modern Turkish Republic.

His picture can be found almost everywhere you look in Turkey; I’ve never seen a historical figure as beloved as he is by the Turks. In fact, Turkish Law 5816 (“The Law Concerning Crimes Committed Against Ataturk”) which was passed on July 25, 1951, protects Atatürk from being insulted by any Turkish citizen. In 2011 alone there were 48 convictions for “insulting Atatürk,” and insulting Atatürk’s memory is punishable by up to three years in jail. By the time we left Turkey, we too admired Atatürk and the glorious Turkish Republic.

Lastly, while Turkish cuisine wasn’t really my style, I was able to find food I enjoyed in most places. However, there were numerous occasions where I survived on only bread or french fries, and I learned to keep some ketchup packets in my backpack with me at all times, just in case…

Overall, my semester in Turkey was unlike anything I could have expected and it was far more life-changing than I could have ever imagined it would be.

Photo courtesy Wikipedia Commons