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Semester Abroad at Sabanci University, Turkey

by Daniel Helwig

Within VŠE‘s English taught International & Diplomatic Studies master’s program the third semester is mandatorily to be spent abroad. Out of a variety of exciting destinations for this stay, Istanbul in my opinion stood out as one of the world’s most vibrant and thriving metropolises, to be located right at the rendezvous of Europe and Asia – in literally geographic, cultural, and political terms alike. Thus, with high expectations regarding the city in the first place, I hardly ever doubted my choice to apply for a spot at Sabanci University (Sabancı Üniversitesi), which – as I should learn – is one of the most renowned schools in Turkey and the Middle East.

Istanbul did all it could to exceed these expectations. The day of my arrival at the city’s European Atatürk airport in September 2012 can easily be cited as example for the initial feeling of simply being stunned and overwhelmed. Since I had settled my accommodation in the popular Asian neighborhood of Kadıköy beforehand via Craigslist.com, I was well aware that I would have to travel ca. 40km through the city in order to reach my new home. What I did not know, however, was that rush-hour public transportation in a Turkish city of 16mio people is not as self-explanatory as the one I had become used to in for me also foreign Prague. Making a long story short, it was the unforeseen but in fact omnipresent readiness to help of Turkish people that made sure that I arrived safe and sound at my house. I shared this apartment – that I had not seen before I actually moved in and that held a couple of unpleasant surprises – with four other exchange students for little under a month, before I decided to make use of Craigslist once more and eventually moved in a wonderful flat with a Turkish woman in the most beautiful Marmara sea-side neighborhood of Moda.

Finally being accommodated well multiplied my enjoying of the stay in Istanbul by the dozen and eased (and ultimately cured) my undeniable cultural shock. Retrospectively, it doesn’t really make a difference whether I think of the massive “classics”, such as Hagia Sophia, Blue Mosque, and the Grand Bazar, or of “everyday Istanbul”, represented allegorically by passionately yelling Simit vendors in the narrow alleys of Moda and Kadıköy – the city as a whole is an attraction that I strongly recommend all of you not to miss. What will have appeared to you as an outright chaos beyond hope in your first weeks turns into your beloved home after you once will have understood how to avoid and/or make use of the countless little things that initially bear extraordinary frustration potential for the common Western European.

Besides rich cultural and interpersonal experiences you, however, have to face the fact that you come to Istanbul to study, after all. Sabanci University is a top-class private university, the campus of which is located far in the Asian hinterland of Istanbul and that particularly on graduate level will never cast doubt on your actual extensive study obligations. Whereas the International Relations Office is extremely (!) helpful in making sure that you get along well in your new academic environment, you yourselves will be responsible to keep up with midterms, finals, and deadlines for numerous papers piling up in front of you. It did not take me long to realize that more than three master’s classes (10 ECTS each) would hardly be properly manageable. Neither I nor any other international graduate colleague of mine did experience any lenient treatment due to the mere fact of being exchange students. Although towards the end of the semester, I admittedly wished so every once in a while. In your own interest, please be aware of that when you decide to apply for Sabanci University as host for your exchange.

To conclude this brief summary of what was a perfectly amazing experience, let me explicitly put on record that the guaranteed chance to spend a semester abroad is a core feature of IDS, of which I am very grateful for having had the chance to benefit from. Moreover, I am more than certain that any of my colleagues, irrespective of wherever they individually may have spent their exchange, would doubtlessly sign this line. As for my very personal experience with Istanbul and Sabanci University, please be reassured that city and school are guarantors for an outstanding time that you will not forget. After all, I have never ever met anybody there who would not have fallen hopelessly in love with the moment beyond words of having a Turkish tea (çay) on the upper deck of a Bosphorus ferry during sunset.

Wishing you all the best and good luck with your studies!