Blue Mosque, Galata, Sultanahmet Photos

Friday, September 4, 2015

I haven't had a chance to update lately because the internet in our apartment hasn't been cooperating. Anyway, here are some photos.

Blue Mosque

Our trip to the Blue Mosque was a bit rushed so I didn't have a chance to take a ton of photos. Hopefully next time I go I'll be able to take my time. It's one of those places that you have to revisit several times to really take it all in.


Eminonu, the spice market

The 16th century equivalent of a mall

One of the entranced to the Grand Bazaar

One section of the Grand Bazaar

Hagia Sophia

Galata Tower

Facing north towards the first Bosphorus Bridge

View of the Bosphorus, Golden Horn, and Historic Peninsula

The Galata Tower was built by the Genoese in 1348

Fatih Sultan Mehmet Vakif University

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Last Friday the IES group visited Fatih Sultan Mehmet Vakif University for a lecture. It was founded in the 1590s by a Sufi order as a religious school, and while it is still religion-oriented, students study 'civilization studies.' It is a very prestigious school; only twenty students are admitted every year, and half of them must be non-Turkish. Students must learn at least three languages, and they study civilizations from different perspectives such as history, literature, science, etc. In total forty nationalities are represented in the student body.

The professor who gave our lecture studies Islam as an open civilization. Basically, he said that Islam accepts all other religions and it was this acceptance that enabled Islam to spread so rapidly. One of the commonly held misconceptions about Islam is that they're intolerant of other religions. On the contrary, Muslims believe that Abrahamic religions worship the same God, but that their holy texts aren't accurate because they were written by humans. In Islam, the Quran is the true word of god. The professor also discussed Islam's tolerance of Buddhism and Hinduism, though the Quran forbids marrying or buying meat from somebody who is a polytheist. It was thanks to this tolerance that allowed the Ottomans to manage their religiously, ethnically, and culturally diverse empire for several centuries.

He argued that Western movements such as nationalism dissolved the tradition of an open, accepting civilization and has turned the Muslim world into a closed civilization.

It was very interesting hearing this perspective of Islam, and many Muslims (such as the directors of the IES program), always emphasize that Islam accepts Judaism, Christianity, etc. However, it seems like the concept of an open civilization aligns more with the Sufi tradition than Sunni traditions. Like any religion, Islam has many nuances and means different things to different people. It's fascinating learning about Islam in an Islamic culture and from people who actually practice it, as opposed to learning about it from a Western perspective as it often misconstrues, or completely leaves out, certain details. Not to mention the rampant Islamophobia so prevalent in our society.

One more fun fact: Muslims have vacation Quran camp.

Where the Whirling Dervishes perform. They still perform here, and unlike the many troupes in Istanbul, those who participate at this school still perform as a way to worship God.

The kitchen. Working here and serving others is a way to make a person more humble.

A Beautiful Disaster

Sunday, August 23, 2015

On Thursday, our director of student affairs had planned a walking tour to the Blue Mosque, Hagia Sophia, and a couple other sites on the Historic Peninsula (for reference, my apartment is north and across the Golden Horn from the Historic Peninsula). Unfortunately due to the attack at the Dolmabache Palace our tour was canceled, as Ezgi (our director of student affairs) thought it would be a good idea to avoid sites that foreign visitors often visit.

So that begged the question, what were we going to do with our free time?

Our Turkish teacher had mentioned the Prince Islands, a chain of four islands located off the coast of the Asian side of Istanbul. After doing some cursory research, several other students and I decided to spend the day there.

The ferry ride was absolutely beautiful. It took as straight down the Bosphorus and provided an excellent view of the History Peninsula. It took about an hour to get to the third island, Heybeliada, and in the mean time we enjoyed a view of the Marmara Sea and the coast of the Istanbul.
Upon arriving we made the rather steep and arduous hike to an 11th century Greek Orthodox monastery/school. Unfortunately we got there around closing time so we weren't able to see much, but while we were there we walked through the garden, admired their collection of chickens and peafowl, and the lovely architecture.

We were all hot and tired at this point and were hellbent on finding somewhere to swim. So we hiked back down to the coast and spent a good hour and a half trying to find somewhere we could take a dip. We soon discovered that beaches were very limited, and the ones that were available required an fee to get in that none of us wanted to pay. In the end we gave up and decided to find a restaurant for dinner. All seemed well until our water got pooped on, as well as a member of our entourage.

At that point we were all ready to go home. As we went to the docks we saw that there were four different ferries to choose from, but we had no idea which one to take. In the end we picked one, figured out it was going to the wrong place, ran to another one, only to find out it was the slow, scenic ferry and the original one we boarded would have taken us to the right place if we had waited for fifteen more minutes.

But the ferry ride back was enjoyable and relaxing, and we almost made it back to the apartment without any issues. Except for the fact that we all got hopelessly lost. Thanks to the help of a hotel concierge we were finally able to make it back around ten at night, at which point we all passed out.

Overall, this trip was a hot mess, but honestly I wouldn't have it any other way. The island was absolutely beautiful, and we learned what not to do the next time we stop by for a visit. Heybeliada was well worth the bird poop and exhaustion. All these mishaps simply add to the adventure!


Tuesday, August 18, 2015

My first day and a half in Turkey has been pretty tiring! My flight from Toronto to Istanbul arrived around 9:30 AM Istanbul time which was 1:30 AM Texas time, so needless to say it was a bit difficult to stay awake. But I made it to the apartment and was able to relax for an hour before my roommate moved it. Since we know each other we (thankfully) didn't have to go through the awkward, 'how are you? how was your flight? etc." She's been here for the last month and has already made some acquaintances, so her friend took us to one of the malls so we could grab some necessities. 

Today was technically the first day of the program, and we spent the morning meeting the director and everyone participating in the program, as well as an overview of the program and a couple cultural things. After lunch we took a walking tour of the area around our apartment, which includes Taksim and Sisli. Some students took the time to get phones and Turkish numbers, and we all bought cards to use on the Metro (the public transit system in Istanbul). After that we took a bus down to the Bosphorus Strait, and then rode over to the Asian side of Istanbul! We ate lunch at a delicious restaurant on the Asian side, and then headed back to the apartments.

Now that I'm writing about it, I realize that we accomplished quite a bit today. Crossing the Bosphorus was probably my favorite part. It's absolutely beautiful; the strait is lined with historic buildings, plenty of trees, and the water is as blue as can be. While you're on the ferry you have a fantastic view of one of the bridges, all the boats, and both sides of the city. It was also a lot cooler on the water, which was a very nice reprieve. 

We ate a late lunch that was very generously provided by the IES director. The first course consisted of fried dough stuffed with seasoned ground beef and onions; the second was rice and chicken cooked inside a flaky pastry that was then cut up and distributed. The third dish, pictured below, is called Iskender, and it's ridiculous. Flatbread is placed on the bottom, which is then covered with thinly cut grilled lamb, a tomato based sauced, a few grilled vegetables, and then topped with yogurt and butter. As a Southerner, the abundance of butter really resonated with me. As of right now, I'm digging Turkish food. 

One of the things that's surprised me about Istanbul is how green it is. So many cities in the U.S. are extremely monotone with a park here and there. While Istanbul is very urban, there are trees on almost every street and various kinds of bushes and shrubbery elsewhere. Another interesting addition are the minarets. One of the first things I noticed while we were driving from the airport to the apartments were how prominent the minarets are in the skyline. Even among the tall buildings in the cities they're pretty easy to notice, and they make great landmarks!

The European side is on the left, and the Asian side is on the right
Istanbul is certainly overwhelming, but not in a bad way. It's a lot to take in, and sometimes it's difficult to balance your desire to go out and explore, and to stay in and take some time for yourself. But as of right now, all is well, and I can't wait to experience more of Istanbul.

And the total is...

Friday, August 14, 2015

...just under one hundred pounds! Sans the dog, of course, though I wish I could bring him too!

It's weird to think that I'll finally be on my way to Istanbul tomorrow morning. Even since I submitted my application in February it's been an uphill battle to make sure it actually happens. When my family went to file our taxes and my FAFSA in March, we discovered that someone had filed a fraudulent tax return in our name.This led to my family becoming very friendly with the IRS and a delay in receiving my financial aid package from Sewanee. The second it looked like we were making progress, something else happened; one step forward and two steps back.

Until three weeks ago I felt like I was in a perpetual state of whiplash. A form would be approved and I would get excited and start mentally preparing to go abroad, and then the IRS would need another form, or the processing would take another two months, and it looked like I would be stuck stateside. Not to mention that by the time August was about to roll around I hadn't even received my acceptance from Bogazici, which had its own set of problems!

At long last the IRS was able to process our tax return and Sewanee sent me my financial aid package. Three weeks ago I was (finally) informed that I had been accepted into Bogazici's history department! I was ecstatic that things were going to work out, but was simultaneously overwhelmed. Many of my friends who are also going abroad had their stuff figured out before the semester ended, and thus had several months to prepare for the adventure. I had three weeks.

And boy have those three weeks gone by quickly. I was able to spend a little under a week in Savannah, Georgia for a much-needed vacation, but when I got back to Texas almost every day was spent preparing for my departure. We booked my flight, bought new luggage, an adapter, and several other things that are stuffed in the depths of my suitcase. I've spent the couple of days enjoying Texas, which entailed a trip to my favorite stores, eateries, and museums.

I leave tomorrow at seven in the morning, and I still can't quite wrap my head around it. For so long it seemed like I wouldn't be able to fulfill my dream of studying abroad, but in 32 hours I'll be in Istanbul. I'm incredibly grateful for the opportunity, for the people who supported me when it didn't look like it would work out, and for my family who did everything they could to make my dream a reality. I can't wait to experience a culture that's so completely different from what I'm used to, and to gain a more empathetic understanding of a society that's so often demonized in the United States. As I write this blog, my goal is to provide a thoughtful and insightful account encompassing not only my studies, but my journey to obtain a more nuanced understanding of Turkish culture and Middle Eastern society, and to encourage understanding and acceptance of a culture foreign to our own.

Here's to enjoying my last night of Say Yes to the Dress and the beginning of a new adventure!