Kimberley Donohue - 2014 Program Participant

House on the island of Büyükada in Turkey

The facade of a house on the island of Büyükada, an island off the coast of Istanbul.

Why did you decide to study abroad?

I wanted to get credits for classes that I wouldn't have had the chance to take at my home institution. Also, as I focus on Islam and the Middle East with my major, I wanted to be in a country that had a Muslim majority, so I could continue to learn about the culture whilst not in the classroom.

Why did you choose IES Abroad’s program in Turkey?

I chose my program because I had not been to that area of the world before, and I wanted to immerse myself in a culture I did not know too much about. As I said, I focus on human rights and social movements within the Middle East for my major, and it was great to be living in a country where I could delve into the culture more in addition to learning about it in the classroom.

I chose IES Abroad because I liked the way they focused on Education Abroad as redefining you, and pushing you to make the most out of it. I had such a great experience in Istanbul, that almost a year later I'm still sad to have left there!

What was your favorite part about Istanbul? What makes it unique?

Istanbul is a city that is hard to put into words. It is a beautiful chaos, with a complete mixture of civilizations that have been living there for millennia. There is never a short supply of things to do in Istanbul, and even something as simple as the commute home gives you beautiful sights of the city and the people who live in it. The Turks are an extremely friendly and hospitable group of people, and love to learn more about your culture as well as teach you about theirs.

I truly feel that Istanbul is a unique location in itself. An 8,000 year old city with 14 million inhabitants, and at the crossroads between East and West, really gives the city a remarkable feel. I loved the culture and history behind the university I went to, and it was very easy to immerse with the Turkish students, as there were plenty of activities to get involved.

How did local staff support you throughout your stay?

Our program director, Vehbi Baysan, was an excellent source of support. During the first week, he took us around Turkey on all sorts of orientation activities. We had Turkish lessons at a local university, visited the ruins in Izmir, were given local insider tours of places such as the Grand Bazaar and lesser known neighbourhoods, and he was on call for the smaller things, such as helping us figure out how to get water delivered to our apartment or helping us fix our T.V. when our landlord couldn't speak English and we couldn't speak Turkish.

Although he was a great help to have abroad, he also made sure he wasn't breathing down our necks all the time, and would check in with us every week or so (unless you contacted him before then) to see if we wanted to go on a neighbourhood walk or do another kind of cultural activity. When we did go on these walks, he would vaguely tell us where the metro was, which annoyed us at first! However, by getting slightly lost and having to ask people we learnt more about the city and how to get around it, as well as discovered new places on the way. I can't stress enough how great of a program director he was and how easy he made our transition into Turkish culture.

The Blue Mosque in Istanbul, Turkey

The courtyard of the Blue Mosque during evening prayer

Is there anything you would do differently if you could do it all over again?

I have tried the last ten minutes to think of an answer to this, but I can't! My whole program experience went smoothly, and I enjoyed every single day of my summer in Istanbul.

What was a typical day like for you as a student in Istanbul?

Wake up at 8 a.m. by the beautiful call to prayer (or the Azan as the Turks call it), walk 50 meters down the street to get a fresh simit (kind of like a pretzel), and take it back up to my apartment to put olives, cucumbers, and feta cheese on it (a true Turkish breakfast!). Take the metro one stop, and then hop on the bus which drops you off right outside the university. Walk down the long winding hill that gives you a beautiful view of the Bosphorus and the Asian side of Istanbul and get to class. Discuss some political philosophy and whether majority Muslim countries can ever work with a democratic model.

Head back up the hill (which is a lot harder to walk up than down!) and get on the bus. Grab a dürüm döner on the way home and meet one of my roommates at home. Shower (because the Istanbul summer and commuting with lots of people don't mix too well) and head down to the historic center of town with my roommate. Hit a couple of sightseeing spots and then meet up for dinner with a couple of other people from our program. Head back to our apartment, where we hang out for a bit before going to a hookah lounge, where we can catch a World Cup game.

What is your most memorable experience from your time in Turkey?

With the help of Vehbi, I organized a trip to a place in Central Turkey called Kapadokya, which is known for its hot air ballooning over a surreal, moon-like landscape. We visited a bunch of other places in the town that weekend, such as the rooms that monks dug into the soft rock landscape to hide from the Romans centuries ago. But, without a doubt, the hot air balloon ride was the most awe inspiring moment (even worth getting up at 3 a.m. for). To watch the sunrise 6000 feet above this surreal landscape with some good friends was something I will never forget.

What type of accommodation did you have? What did you like best about it?

We had two choices of accommodation: dorms or an apartment. I chose the apartment and ended up being put in there with two roommates who were on my program. The apartment was fantastic. It was in a very Turkish neighbourhood, so we immersed a lot more through our day to day activities, such as having to buy groceries or even getting to sit in and eat at a 300 person neighbourhood Ramadan meal one night on our street. It also allowed us to commute, having to take a bus and train for about 40 minutes, which I think immerses you even more. Our friends who lived in the dorms always ended up coming over to our apartment in the evenings as it had such a nice atmosphere and was closer to the nightlife than the university.

How has studying abroad in Turkey impacted your life?

I think it has impacted me in more subtle ways. I have remained extremely close friends with a few people on my program as well as Turks that I met, and I am still in contact with many others, including Vehbi. I keep up a lot more now with the news of Turkey. The phrase "Either I conquer Istanbul or Istanbul conquers me" by Fatih Sultan Mehmet comes to mind. After a summer of a crazy, inexplicable journey, where there are no more mini heart attacks every time you order food because you don't know what it is, or being woken up by the call to prayer, I think it's safe to say that Istanbul conquered me!

There is rarely a few days that go by without me reminiscing on what I learnt there (culturally as well as academically), the people I met, and the sights I saw. As I am interested in a career with refugee work, I may end up back there considering the situation with the influx of Syrian refugees. I wouldn't be opposed!