Home and School
Until this point, I have avoided talking about two very important parts of my life here: where I live, and where I spend 12 hours of my week taking notes. Where you live and where you attend class are the two most important parts of study abroad because they are the places you spend the majority of your time and the reasons you decide to choose your destination (after the city itself). I wanted to get a good grasp of both before I wrote anything so I can give an accurate account.
Unlike many of the larger programs that have their own centers, SU Abroad Istanbul is based in Bahçeşehir (pronounced Bah-che-sheer) University in the neighborhood of Beşiktaş. Students take BAU classes with Turkish professors and students, who have to pass an English exam before being admitted (although only a handful of classes are taught in English). The school’s facilities are very modern- think Newhouse or Whitman throughout the entire space. Class sizes are fairly small, with none of mine attended by more than 30 students. They also run on a different schedule than in the United States. Whereas SU classes meet for an hour or two several times per week, BAU classes meet in three-hour chunks once per week. And because Turkish students take an average of eight to ten classes per semester (we’re signed up for four to five), the workload is lighter. There’s far less homework and essays, although a significant portion of our GPA is based on the midterm and final.
The school’s location could not be better. It’s located right next to the neighborhood ferry, bus, and taxi station, and a 15-minute walk to Ortaköy or Kabataş (where the Tram to Old Town and the airport begins). It’s also across the street from the neighborhood bazaar, a collection of shops and cafes where one can find anything they need (including fresh fruit on Saturdays).
The downside to BAU is the classes themselves. Some are great- my international journalism class is entertaining and lively, and completely discussion-based (our final exam requires us to watch Homeland and The Newsroom, which we get tested on). However, many are very dull. Professors, particularly the older ones, stand at the front of the room and lecture. No power point or other visuals. Thankfully, the three hours include at least one break, and many classes get out early.
On the positive side, textbooks are very cheap here. They’re mostly packets of photocopied chapters (copyright laws are very lax in Turkey) and the most expensive ones don’t cost more than 30-40 lira (about $10-13). One of mine was exactly 2 lira- water is more expensive than that!
Once classes are finished, it’s time to return home. Students on the SU Istanbul program live in Republika Academic Apartments in Ortaköy, about a 25-minute walk (or 10 minute bus ride with no traffic) from school. The building is owned by the school, although anyone can live here. Students live three to a room, and corridors are separated by gender. However, there are many common areas where everyone can hang out. The building includes a coffee shop, salon, gym, café, study room, arts room, music room, infirmary, and laundry facilities. There’s also a roof-top pool and garden for the warmer months- summer students, pack a swimsuit!
The rooms themselves are pretty small, but they’re clean and modern. They include two sinks, a shower (with plenty of hot water), toilet, mini-fridge, desks, and wi-fi. We are fortunate to live in pairs at the moment, thanks to the number of people, and it’s comfortable. I imagine three people in this room would get confined- not much privacy!
The rooms are on two floors- the bottom floor is the living area, with the desks, bathroom, and mini-fridge. A spiral staircase leads to the loft where the beds are. The beds are comfortable and much bigger than the average twin back in the USA (but smaller than a full-sized). SU occupies some of the “premium” rooms because we have a real window that faces the outside. Rooms at the basement level look at a concrete wall, and many look into the indoor courtyard. We are lucky because we have the ability to regulate air temperature. The heating/cooling system is centralized, which means air conditioning only works during the summer, so we just keep the window open at all times.
I brought ear plugs on this trip, which was a wise move. The walls are pretty thin here and there’s a lot of traffic at all hours of the day. As someone who doesn’t like to sleep with noise (even if the roommate is quiet) I am able to get a good rest no matter what’s going on around me.
Our neighborhood is excellent. It’s close to the water, and our school, but has very few tourists. A 15-minute walk gets you to the center, where the restaurants are, and along the way there’s shops and markets where you can buy what you need for your day-to-day life. Wednesday is farmer’s market day, with amazing fruits and vegetables. We’re all hooked on the blood oranges, which are juicy and sweet (and need to be eaten over a trash can!).
When you visit Istanbul, be sure to check out Ortaköy Café Kahvalti, which has some of the best breakfast/lunch food in the city and is our go-to spot. Tuba, one of the main chefs, speaks English and studied in the US. The menu is also duo-lingual so there’s no need to blindly order something!