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January 28, 2022

Istanbul’s history makes it a great study abroad destination

By CARTER BANKER | March 31, 2011

So you’ve decided that you want to study abroad and the next question is, where?

Should you go to France? England? Australia? Those are all great choices, but study abroad is a once-in-a-lifetime experience and you want to make sure you have explored all of your options before making a decision. I’m here to help you think outside of the box a little and look at places that are not on your radar. This week, we are going to look at the self-proclaimed culture capital of Europe that is Istanbul, Turkey.

Istanbul, the modern name of the city formerly known as Constantinople, has been the capital of three major world empires: the Roman Empire, the Byzantine Empire and the Ottoman Empire. It is also the only city in the world that spans two continents: Europe and Asia (when you cross the bridge over the Bosporus you are greeted with a sign saying either “Welcome to Asia” or “Welcome to Europe”).

The city is filled with remnants of Turkey’s rich history, from sultans’ palaces and their harems to the Hagia Sophia, the famous church-turned mosque-turned museum. But Istanbul is also an extremely metropolitan city filled with apartment buildings, public transportation and shopping districts. Istanbul is truly a city where east meets west. On Istiklal Street, you can pop into one store and buy a Turkish ceramic bowl and then go next door and buy a pair of designer jeans, grab a shish kabab or some kuru (a bean dish) for dinner and then go drink tea (cay) and smoke hookah at a local bar.

Some people might say “Oh, but Turkey is dangerous. It’s in the Middle East!” Please ignore these people. There are dangers and risks involved in travel and study abroad no matter where you are. Turkey, or at least the western part, is very developed and forward thinking. The state is completely secular and has no tolerance for religious extremism in the least. In fact, for the past decade or so, Turkey has been attempting to join the European Union, and in the process they have made many reforms to bring the country up to European standards. Walking around Istanbul with a group of two or three girls, I felt completely safe, even at night!

So now that I’ve piqued your interest, you might be wondering what types of opportunities there are to study abroad in Istanbul.

For a short visit, the University of Maryland offers a class in Istanbul over intersession called “Turkey: Education and the Islamism-Secularism Debate.” I can personally vouch for this class because I just took it over this past intersession. The class covers Turkish history from the beginning of the Ottoman Empire until present day with a focus on religion and education. The teacher, Kevin McClure, is young, extremely knowledgeable and incredibly relatable. The class was small and we lived in groups of four in apartments on a charming side street right next to the Galata Tower. I highly recommend it!

For a longer stay, you can either enroll directly into a Turkish university such as Bogazici (probably the best university in Turkey — and the classes are taught in English!), or chose a program such as CIEE, which gives students with interests as varied as engineering, business and history a chance to experience Istanbul firsthand for either a semester or a full year at Koc University.

A huge benefit to this program is that no previous language experience is necessary, and they offer Turkish language courses at all levels during the program, which is taught entirely in English.

For scholarship opportunities, check out the John E. Bowman Travel Grants, which are specifically given to students who want to study in non-traditional locations. Minority students should also check out the Robert B. Bailey Scholarship. CIEE also has its own scholarships for students who demonstrate need and academic excellence.

So whether you plan on studying abroad next semester or in three years time, keep Istanbul in mind — you’ll be glad you did!

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