Students spend a month experiencing Turkish culture
July 1, 2010 By Leigh Ivey
(from left) are enjoying everything about the Turkish lifestyle,
which includes frequent trips to shops for Turkish Delights.
Among the many places the students have visited during their
month abroad was Princess Island, above. “Istanbul is certainly
one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever been, so hopefully I’ll
get to come back one day,” Vockery says. “One month is just not
enough time to take in everything Istanbul has to offer!”
From day one, the Centre students enjoyed meeting the locals for
meals and conversation.
Centre College students are no strangers to international travel. About 85 percent of students study abroad at least once during their four years at the College, a percentage that puts Centre among the top five colleges and universities in the nation for students who study abroad.
This summer, three Centre students and one professor are spending a month in Istanbul, Turkey, where they are studying everything from the history of the Ottoman Empire to Islamic philosophy to the sociology of terrorism. The program, sponsored by KIIS, is being led by three Kentucky professors: Centre’s Dr. Tom McCollough, Western Kentucky University’s Dr. Kate King, and Transylvania University’s Dr. Peter Fosl.
As soon as Natalie Pope ’13 of Crestwood, Ky., learned about the trip, she says, “I knew I had to go. I wanted to try sizzling lamb kabobs, see the sunset on a skyline punctuated with minarets and learn to tell time by the calling of the muezzin—to experience a culture so different from my own.”
“Who wouldn’t want to go to Istanbul?” Ibrahim Jadoon ’13 of Richmond, Ky., says. “Study abroad is a dimension of life that you simply can’t learn from a book or class. It’s not just that we need to be ‘global citizens’ or ‘well-rounded.’ It’s an essential life experience, like learning how to walk or how to read.”
While spending four weeks in the city, the students are not only studying Turkish history and philosophy but also delving into everything Turkish life has to offer.
“Istanbul is just incredible,” Ben Vockery ’12 of Ashland, Ky., says. “People here are good-natured, genuinely willing to go the extra mile to give us directions, teach us Turkish and recommend the best food. The food itself is delicious, from the Turkish Delights (small squares of gelatin with a consistency between Jello and toffee that are filled with various nuts) to fish sandwiches on the seaside. And some sixth century structures, as well as many from the conquest of Constantinople by Mehmet II in 1453, are just breath-taking.”
Pope agrees, saying that visiting historical landmarks in Turkey has been an extraordinary experience.
“Visiting the Hagia Sophia, or ‘Ayasofya,’ was beyond words,” she says. “I’ve studied this building in depth in several art history courses, yet I was still unprepared for the raw beauty of the mosaics or the soaring dome suspended on a ring of light. My neck is still cramped from looking up so much!”
(The Hagia Sophia is a former Byzantine church and former Ottoman mosque. It is now a museum in Istanbul.)
One aspect of the program that the students are enjoying is how every day they are exposed to a world vastly unlike the United States.
“This is the first Islamic state I've been to,” Vockery says, “so sinking into a culture where you hear the call to worship five times a day or see minarets everywhere you look has definitely been an experience.”
Jadoon says that he loves “everything about the Turkish way of life—the crowded yet neighborly city buses; the magnanimity and sophistication of everyday people; the subtle sweetness of warm apple tea while you're caressed with a gentle Mediterranean breeze; the bejeweled Bosporus at sunset; the diversity so deep that you don’t even know what a ‘Turkish’ person looks like. It’s life,” he says.
The students will return to the Kentucky on July 10, and as they prepare to leave the city with which they have fallen in love, they agree that the experience has transformed their ways of thinking.
“One of the most valuable things I’ll take away from the trip is the sense of how real this place is,” Pope says. “It’s one thing to read about buildings and memorize the rulers and history of a place, but to see the tomb of Mehmet II, to meet the great-grandchildren of the Ottoman empire, to feel the spray of the Bosporus makes the subject matter not only so much more real, but part of you.”
Jadoon agrees. “I think I’ve come away knowing of a history so rich and a city so alive that it makes you wonder if you're making the present worth remembering.”