This past week I went on my long study tour with my core course to Istanbul, Turkey! In class we have been discussing the various ethnic, religious, and political groups in Turkey and we got to see these groups firsthand during our trip. As a class we were divided between the following groups to study: Political Islam, Secularism & Kemalism, Non-Muslim Minorities, The Kurdish Question, and The Muslim Alevi. Our final assignment will be writing a new constitution for Turkey that our assigned group would enjoy. My group is the Non-Muslim Minorities, aka the Armenians, Greeks, and Jews.
I was very excited to go to Istanbul. Istanbul is very populated and is a predominantly Muslim country. Istanbul is also where Asia and Europe meet. I have a good friend from SMU that is from Istanbul, and I had heard many wonderful things about the city from him. Right when I walked off the plane (to take a bus to the baggage area), the sun shined in my eyes. It made me smile. My first impressions of Istanbul were great. The people seemed nice, and the area was beautiful. Also, because local elections were a week away, there were many political flags hanging around Istanbul.
At this time I would like to note that all of the photos in this post were taken by my amazing photographer classmate, Uzma, unless otherwise noted.
The first thing we did was take a boat tour of the Bosphorus, the strait that separates Europe and Asia.
Later on that night we saw a belly dancing performance. All of the dancers were very talented! I had never seen a male belly dancer before, but he was amazing. I imagine it is even more difficult for males to belly dance than females since they have smaller hips. My favorite performer was the solo female belly dancer. Her first performance was amazing and I didn’t think her second performance could top it, but it did! Her second performance was in the dark and she wore a glow-in-the-dark outfit. Very creative! All of the outfits in each of the performances were very beautiful.
The next day we went to the Spice Market. Lots of Turkish delights, teas and spices were sold there. I found the vendors to be very charming while trying to sell you their merchandise. Many used pick up lines such as:
“You dropped something… my heart”
“It’s free… if you’re from heaven”
Then there were the non-pick up lines, but still blatant and funny:
“Come spend your money!”
The next day we toured the Hippodrome, the Blue Mosque, the Hagia Sophia, and the Topkapi Palace.
There were many academic visits throughout the week although I am only highlighting a few.
On Monday we visited the Soroptimists, an international organization that works to improve the lives of women. The word Soroptimist means “Best for Women” in Latin. They were so nice and cooked us lunch. I had my favorite meal here: homemade Turkish pasta! It was so delicious, I want more already!
We also saw the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate, where the head of the entire Orthodox Church resides. The picture below is of the golden wall inside the Patriarchate.
In the evening we met with some students from Bilgi University. They had also been divided into groups so we were able to discuss with them more about the group we were focusing on. Afterward we had a nice dinner with them. It was nice to meet Turkish people our own age and bond with them. They were a bit shy (mostly because of their English), but very friendly!
Many groups had meetings on Tuesday, but my Non-Muslim Minority group had most of the day off. We decided to go to the Grand Bazaar. I thought I would like the Grand Bazaar more than I did, but it turned out to be very expensive. Of course, you are supposed to bargain, but once you did you were left with maybe a fair price, but definitely not a bargain. Perhaps I am just not good at haggling. I did get a nice pair of earrings, though.
The next morning my Non-Muslim Minority group went to the Hrant Dink Foundation. The Hrant Dink Foundation is based on an Armenian man named Hrant Dink’s principles of dialogue, empathy, and peace. Hrant Dink tried to improve the relations between Armenians and Turks, but was prosecuted for criticizing “Turkishness”. He was assassinated by a 17-year-old Turkish nationalist. The Hrant Dink Foundation works toward equal opportunity, recognition of cultural differences, cultural relations, and more.
Later in the day our whole group met with the Turkish Youth Union. This group disliked the American mindset (they called it imperialism) yet they seemed to want separation of church and state and equality for all, just like the way America was founded … not to mention they showed a video of a model of President Barack Obama being beaten on the ground in a mob. Everyone is entitled to their opinions, but that is just disrespectful and violent.
For dinner, our whole group enjoyed a meal on the rooftop of a nice restaurant that later turned into a club. Our professor is so good at social engineering. He purposely had us eat there so we would dance together instead of going off on our own in groups. It was so fun to dine and dance with everyone!
Other than the planned events, I liked walking around Istaglal (the walking street), trying new foods like the chestnuts being sold on the street, drinking the amazing fresh juices, $2.50 shawarma! (It is around $7.50 for shawarma in Denmark) and Taksim square:
Turkey was an amazing experience. I am so lucky.