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Guest Blogger: Dolly Ahmad, Program Assistant at the Study Abroad Office, University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign
I arrived in Istanbul just over 8 hours ago, and have been in my apartment for 6 hours. I thought it would be pretty clever if I posted the conversation me and my sister had just now because I pretty much just recapped everything eventful that just happened, and to answer the question that is on everyone’s mind; is Dolly a regretful wreck like she thought she would be? It would be like the Picasso of blog posts. And would NOT be inspired by laziness, pshh….(goes on to copy and paste convo)
Well that didn’t work out, but believe me I tried, and I am going to leave that paragraph up there so you guys know how much trouble I go through for you all 😉
Lets start with the flight: My first flight landed in London, I had a WINDOW SEAT!!
Aww yehh I never get those. Then then then my neighbor ended up being another study abroad student except she was from Harvard so she was almost as good as me. Kidding, she was actually super super friendly, we quickly started talking. We were even asked to convert to Mormonism together and took the MTD BUS that takes you from one side of London Heathrow airport to the other together. It was quite chill. Then we parted ways, and I felt the cold breeze of loneliness.
When we landed in Turkey, I had the biggest stupid smile on my face getting off of the plane, and that is VERY unlike me so I must have really felt great at the time. Or was it sleep deprivation? Either way, I was incredibly happy to be in Turkey, just immediately. Then my excitement turned into anxiety when I was looking for the lady I was supposed to meet, a good friend of a cousin of mine. But my anxiety was short lived because I found her extremely quickly! Somebody must have done amazing dua for me because I had the easiest time ever in my journey, alhamdulillah. These are really just a few examples.
So the lady I met, named Zehra, turned out to be the loveliest person ever, period. She was SO SWEET and incredibly selfless, it was a true blessing to have met her. We ended up taking a subway (“metro”) then a bus then a taxi to get to my apartment from Ataturk International Airport. Which ended up not being…too terrible…, but, I was not prepared to be plop in the busiest part of the city, lugging my fifty pound suitcase + more luggage through flights of stairs to catch the bus. The number of complete strangers that grabbed my bag and attempted to help me with my luggage was incredible and left me so touched that it ended being well worth the struggle.
We were so relieved when we were finally at the apartment, and I was ECSTATIC when I saw how lovely the apartment was. These pictures dont do it justice, but I will upload them anyways because I promised you fools more pictures. Click here for photos.
Downside; it is ON THE FIFTH FLOOR WITH NO ELEVATOR! But then again, I won’t be spending precious time here going to the gym so we’ll call it my daily workout.
After I put down my bags, me and Zehra went to go eat, which, like the taxi and bus rides, I WAS NOT ALLOWED TO PAY FOR! What a selfless person. Zehra treated me better than I will probably treat my future kids, it was just too nice. Too too nice, I didn’t deserve any of it. We parted ways but made plans for the weekend.
And then I came back to my apartment and I officially met one of my roommates, who is great. And she told me that she is meeting with a lady tomorrow TO GET A KITTY!!! Except they are afraid that the kitten will fall out the window since we are so high up and the house is well endowed [with windows], and said windows do not have netting as a barrier and will be open during warm whether since we don’t have air conditioning…:( I hope I never have to witness that.
I really need to tell you all about the neighborhood and its streets and how much I LOVE IT, it is incredibly charming and reminds me faintly of streets in Saharanpur, my hometown in India. But I want to take decent pictures before I go on and describe it, so please ya’ll wait.
I’m so enchanted by Istanbul right now, its beyond incredible. I can’t even explain, there is just nothing not to love, and so far I’ve had what seems like very powerful duas working in my favor (thanks everyone). So hopefully that answers your question regarding the title of the post 🙂
Please stay tunedd because next time I will grace you with pictures of Rumeli Hisarustu, my lovely but hill-y neighborhood that I am OBSESSED with! I stuck my head out the window and stared at it for 15 minutes, taking it in. The neighbors threw a shoe at me. (jk) I’m actually afraid pictures might not do it justice, it is more of an experience than just a visual. Like you have to be able to smell the kabobs from the hundreds of restaurants here while walking down an acute angle-type hill to really appreciate it. But I will try and convey the beauty of it to you all 🙂
Time for some sleep.
Guest Blogger: Alicia Daniels, Program Assistant at the Illinois Study Abroad Office
Here at the Illinois Study Abroad Office we get an array of questions ranging from “what schools are most similar to the University of Illinois” to “what city has the best student life?” However, one of our most frequent inquires is the age old question “how do I even get started trying to study abroad!?” Well you are in luck, from the comfort of your own couch I will tell you four ways that helped me plan my international abroad experience!
- Decide what you want out of your academic experience.
Studying abroad is a once in a lifetime experience. You meet people from around the world, visit breathtaking monuments, and (depending on your location) can travel to other countries as well. However, we must remember the study in study abroad. You don’t want to end up at an institution you don’t like for 4-6 months just because it is in Italy! Figure out how studying abroad fits in with your academic goals. Ask yourself, do you want to take general education classes or fulfill major requirements? Does your college restrict you from taking certain classes away from campus? Thinking about your academic future can definitely help you narrow down your choices for which program you would like to apply to.
- Speak to your advisor.
Your home university advisor is not around to just send you pesky e-mails about class registration! Use their guidance to help you decide which classes you can take abroad and how this will affect you once you return from overseas. Here at the University of Illinois we have a specific set of advisors in each department that specialize in helping students choose classes that will keep their academic career going. Click here to see this great resource and contact your Study Abroad 299 advisor today!
- Where do you want to live?
The study abroad experience allows students to enjoy a variety of locations in over 60 different countries. So many options can provide a variety of living experiences. Think of what type of environment you want to live in abroad. Do you prefer something similar to your home university? Would you like to be in a small rural city or large city? How comfortable you are with figuring out public transportation? Would a host family or dorm life be a better fit for what you want out of your study abroad program? Questions like these helped me choose my perfect host university!
- Visit your Study Abroad Office!
It is true that the study abroad experience is a lot of independent research and decision making; however, your Study Abroad Office is always here to help you! One of the best ways to get started is visiting your local SAO advisors and staff. Sometimes talking to someone is the best way to figure out what you really want in regards to leaving the country. Program Assistants at the Illinois Study Abroad Office are students just like you who needed guidance on how to study abroad and now we look forward to helping you out in the same way! Please come visit to talk about your study abroad experience today!
Guest Blogger: David Silberberg, Program Assistant at the Illinois Study Abroad Office
Study abroad is an opportunity not only to learn in foreign institutions, but also to learn outside the classroom. Taking a step outside your comfort zone into a place unlike anywhere you have been can be a learning experience that cannot be replicated in any school, at home or abroad. When I studied and interned in Senegal for a semester, I realized that while my classes were certainly great, what made the experience invaluable was the time I spent in places that where far different from anything I was accustomed to in the US. The most profound of these experiences was the time I spent with my internship or host family in rural areas–villages that often lacked electricity or running water and usually had no more than a few hundred residents. Coming from suburban Los Angeles and the University of Illinois, this was something I had never encountered. Even for many Senegalese people, this lifestyle is foreign. The World Bank estimates that 43% of the population is urban, with that number becoming larger each year.
For Americans, hearing or seeing pictures of these villages may evoke feelings of disbelief or pity. For some, this is the quintessential image of sub-Saharan poverty–the small village with simple huts and no utilities. However, being able to visit some of these villages and those who live there reveals a far different reality, showing that these conceptions are deeply misguided.
Village life for many is a exactly as they would like it. Everyone works together: farming, raising animals, building houses, taking care of children. Everyone knows their neighbors, and lives are free of the distractions that have come to define our lifestyles. Without television, cell phones, lights to keep us awake all night, car exhaust, noise, and more, life becomes much simpler, but also much more relaxing and, for many, more rewarding.
Several of my host family’s relatives would live in town to go to school and then return to the villages whenever they had a break. My host father would often go spend time (sometimes taking me along) in the village where he was born and where his mother and brother still live. My host brothers often talked about how after they worked in the city and made enough money, they would like to retire and live in a village.
This is not to say that rural life is better than city life. Of course, there are many challenges and issues facing those who live in villages. But what makes life in villages enjoyable is the lack of the things that we cannot imagine living without in our daily lives–TVs, cars, smartphones, computers, etc. Even more, however, is the lack of rent, boring corporate office jobs, mortgages, loans, debt, bills, and the list goes on forever. To sum it all up in one word, rural life is relaxing. Which is something that I think everyone could appreciate, even if it means no iPhones.
These are only a few of the incredible activities I was able to do in Zadar, and it was truly an phenomenal experience that allowed my friend Jessica and I to wholeheartedly immerse ourselves in the Croatian culture and to explore a country that was previously somewhat unknown to us.
Guest blogger: Dolly Ahmad, Program Assistant at the Illinois Study Abroad Office
Food tourism is defined as “the exploration of food as the purpose of tourism.” It has recently started being considered an integral part of the tourism experience. What’s little known about it, though, is if you look the phrase up in the dictionary, you will find a picture of me. I’m holding some sort of Turkish food in my hand, face shining with a smile, somewhere in the streets of Istanbul. Yes, I am the long unknown mascot of food tourists across the globe and Istanbul is my kingdom.
All ridiculousness aside, there is something about food tourism that I find so thrilling. And it’s not that my whole life and reason for existence is about food when I am being a food tourist, or at least I hope. I like to think that it just means that when we food tourists embark on our adventures for the day, we like to designate a particular food as the end goal. At the end, however, the day was not about the goal; it was about the path taken to reach that goal. When I set out at 7am one morning in search for Kemalpaşa tatlısı, I ended up not liking the dessert. But that was not a failure of a day because the thing about food tourism is that it is not about the food under pursuit; that was just a fraction of the day’s adventure. It was about the friends I made by asking “want to wake up and get Kemalpaşa tatlısı with me?” It was about the shopkeepers and bus drivers to whom we talked in order to find a café that sold it. After finding the café, it was about the feel of the café’s quaint little street with the street cats playing and the elderly Turkish uncles having their tea. We food tourists are not just children chasing the ice cream truck just to eat the ice cream, but adults using ice cream as an excuse to run. Indeed, we are a tasteful and classy bunch of adventurers [gulps down an entire ice cream cone Homer Simpson style].
There is no place better for a food tourist than Istanbul with it’s, what I like to call, “cay [tea] culture.” Think about cay culture as the extreme opposite of fast food culture. It is about taking a break from your day and sitting down with friends instead of eating for convenience and speed. It is about dipping each piece of your morning toast into a different jam instead of slathering one type on the entire slice so it can be eaten on the go. It is about finishing off the meal with as many glasses of tea as it takes for the conversation to die down instead of pouring it in a to-go mug. (It is also about my professor coming in late to lecture so he could finish his tea). In short, cay culture is heaven for food tourist. While Turkey is not the country with an eminent cay culture, its one of the most unique. Its location across two continents lends a unique blend of European, Middle-Eastern, and Central Asian tastes to the cuisine.
With that, I begin my foray into the top 5 foods I have pursued in Turkey and the best locations to have them. Keep in mind as you read that this is not simply a list of foods, but a list of experiences.
1. Ortakoy Waffle by the Bosphorous
Here in the US, we traditionally have waffles for breakfast. In Turkey, you could have it for breakfast, but it’s a bit like having ice cream for breakfast. You would have a bellyache all day. This is not a limp, lifeless freezer waffle. This is a waffle topped with your favorite spreads, and you get to pick them. Think of your favorite ice cream flavors – now imagine them as Nutella spreads. Yup, it’s real. Now add your favorite fruits. You’re not done yet buddy; you still have to pick your favorite nuts and chocolate chips. Want share the bellyache with a friend? Have it served to you at a rooftop café in Ortakoy. Want to sit on the stair steps by the shore and eat it? Get it wrapped into a cone and grab it to go. That, my friends, is the Turkish waffle that calls to me in my dreams.
2. Ortakoy Kumpir
Now across from the waffles stands in Ortakoy are Kumpir stands. It’s traditional to get a Kumpir before and a waffle both when you visit the Bosphorous-side area, but hats off to you if you can stomach them both. What is a Kumpir you ask? Oh you know, you’re average baked potato. NOT. It’s anything but average; it’s a baked potato on crack. You know those award-winning potato and pasta salads that your aunt brings to family barbeques? Those are your options for the fillings. There are peas, corn, and other vegetable-y delights as well to balance out the fat if you dare. I was never a baked potato buff but my friends who were told me it is heaven. To be honest, I was usually too busy looking forward to the waffle when I was in Ortakoy to shower the potato with the love that it probably deserved.
3. Sahlep from in the Spice Bazaar
Honestly kids, forget about hot chocolate. Trust me and trade it in for an orchid-infused steamed milk drink with a sprinkling of cinnamon on top. If it makes you feel better, think of it as white hot chocolate and chug it down. And thank me for introducing it into your life. This drink was my personal favorite and can be found year round in most cafés. I, however, far prefer to order it at on a cold day in the midst of a shopping expedition through the Grand Bazaar. Careful not to burn your tongue! It happened to my friend and she refused to drink it again. What a shame.
4. Eminonu Balikli Ekmek
Picture from baycc.org
Eating fish right after it is caught is only a dream for us chummy Midwesterners. Alas, we will always have to frozen fish imported from somewhere off of the East coast. In Istanbul, however, a town famous for its fishing, frozen fish is not an option. Especially when there are boats where you can buy freshly made fish sandwiches from. Even if you are not a fan of fish, which I am not, you have got to eat a balikli ekmek sandwich in Eminonu for the experience. Do it just because you will never get to eat fish so fresh. You might get to eat the eyeballs too if you’re lucky.
5. Maraş Dondurması by the Blue Mosque
I know you. You think that you’ve eaten ice cream. Listen buddy; you haven’t. You’ve only had the watered down, artificially flavored lifeless remains of what ice cream could be. You will only have experience ICE CREAM when you’ve had Maraş Dondurması. And you will only have experienced ice cream when you’ve had it on the courtyard of the Blue Mosque with the prayer call sounding and pigeons landing around you. Let me tell you what makes Maraş Dondurması special; it comes from a special region in central Turkey where the goats are sent from heaven (kidding about the last part) and is infused with mastic. Mastic is the same ingredient that gives chewing gum its chew, so as you can imagine, the Turkish ice cream has a very thick consistency. It stretches like melted mozzarella when you take a bite and, if you get it served on a plate, requires a fork and knife to eat. If you could only try one food in Turkey, his would have to be it. Try it as the traditional orchid or pistachio flavor, the better.
Guest Blogger: Crystol Dejohnette, Program Assistant at the Illinois Study Abroad Office
Why Travel to Jordan? Well… if you want to challenge yourself and perspectives during study abroad, Jordan is a great option. The culture is very different from U.S. culture, Jordanians often have very different values than we do, and the country is majority Muslim. With all this difference there is still an element of comfort. Many students find Middle-Eastern culture to be very friendly and hospitable. For example, it’s not uncommon for you to be invited for tea after chatting with a stranger.
Jordan is also a place of great diversity. It’s found in it’s culture, it’s religions, and even it’s geography.
As a majority Sunni Muslim country, Islam and its values are reflected virtually everywhere you go. But Islam is not the only religion practiced there. There is a significant population of Christians as well as a much smaller population of people practicing other religions. Jordan is included in the region known as the Holy Land which features sites that are significant to Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. So when traveling and meeting people in Jordan you’ll soon learn that there is a strong culture of respect for others’ religion and beliefs.
Often called the heart of the Middle East, Jordan has a central location and has seen the rise and falls of some the world’s greatest civilizations and empires. Because of this it also maintains a very rich historic legacy.
The region that is now the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan was once a part of the Byzantine Empire and many of its remnants can be seen today. In fact, it’s quite easy to find ancient ruins in Jordan. The most popular ones are the city of Philadelphia which is in the capital city of Amman.
Other civilizations also flourished under the Romans. One of the most famous one is the Nabatean Kingdom which is responsible for building the city of Petra in the southern region of Jordan. Petra, a city carved out of rock has to be the most glorious site I’ve ever been to! If you go be sure to go early in the day because it’s huge and there is oh so much to explore!
While in Jordan I was amazed because despite it being in midst of the most politically heated and war-torn regions of the world, it is safe and people there can retain a sense of normalcy in their daily lives. We visited an area in the north of Jordan where you could see the Golan Heights of Israel and very far in distance the border of Syria and it was one of the most peaceful and humbling experiences I had while there.
We also got a chance to swim in the Dead Sea as well as the Red Sea and each time we were able to see Israel on the other side. At those moments it was hard to imagine that a major conflict was occurring but it was really nice to see people coexist as best they could in light of the situation. I encourage any students interested in learning about the Middle East or Jordan specially to consider studying abroad there. While in Jordan I learned about a region and a society where there’s way more to see than what usually meets the American eye. In Jordan you’ll find a culture that’s rich in history and diversity and is also very eager to meet you!
Guest Blogger: Alicia Daniels, Program Assistant at the Illinois Study Abroad Office
“We should come home from adventures, perils, and discoveries every day with new experience and character.” –Henry David Thoreau
Before I stepped a toe into any airport to fly solo to the United Kingdom, I spent months combing over blogs, government sites, and even Pinterest – I’m ashamed to reveal that last source – in failed attempts to piece together clues about what my study abroad experience may look like. Although I have lived in several countries in Europe before I never visited the city my program was being held. I was finally bursting out of the “campus-life” bubble and, even though that feeling was invigorating, the idea of not being around familiar surroundings was terrifying!
However…I made it sixth months “across the pond” and returned home –for the most part- unscathed (sorry for those impromptu ear piercings in France, Mom and Dad)! The most rewarding moments I had abroad were the times that I traveled off the beaten path and explored the cities I was so fortunate enough to be in. Here are three tips that helped me make the most of my time outside of the classroom:
Talk to the locals. “But what if they realize I’m a foreigner?” Well you are, so embrace it! Don’t worry if you think a native will judge you; chances are they will find you to be a novelty and will want to know more about you too. Plus, you may even pick up a few new friends along the way. Locals are a great resource to understand a city’s public transportation system, the best eateries, and the coolest places to blow off steam after long nights of studying.
Don’t be afraid to look like a tourist. Grab a map, your camera, and just go! Your study abroad program will go by much quicker than you think. Before school starts and things really pick up try to map out some tourist locations you would love to visit around town. You may think you’ll have 4-6 months to see it all but between finals, making friends, and traveling you may miss out on some hidden gems located in the city of your host university.
Travel light on the weekends. If you study in Europe, you’ll soon find out that historic towns with cobblestone streets – although completely gorgeous – are not great for rolling around luggage. If you are taking weekend trips to a neighboring city try limiting yourself to a backpack. You really only need the essentials and it will be much easier to carry if you have to wait for a train or need to pass time outdoors until your hostel room is ready.
Fear of the unknown is absolutely normal but don’t let that deter you from exploring something new! Let’s be honest, you’re most likely going to get lost at one point during your journey but you’re also going to come back with memorable experiences and tons of pictures that will make all of your Instagram followers terribly jealous.
Guest Blogger: Lauren Andraski
I didn’t title my post with easily translatable Spanish, but with a few words in Basque, that translate to “Gracias, País Vasco” or “Thank you, Basque Country.” I could not have asked for a better place or better people to spend our first vacation with. Our original attempt to plan our trip for Semana Blanca was in vain, and kept changing from Barcelona to Florence to Nice to Bologna…until we finally asked our program director for advice, who suggested we go to Bilbao and San Sebastian. At that point, we were so frustrated with booking tickets that he could have suggested going to the US and we almost would have considered it.
Luckily, the US was not his suggestion and luckily we were willing to put up with an 11 hour bus ride to the northern-most part of Spain. We knew that we would spend the first part of the week in Bilbao, but feared going to San Sebastian because we heard news of intense waves and flooding on the news. When we would ask a Spaniard, they told us how terrifying the weather was only before proceeding to tell us that we have nothing to worry about. While in our hostel in Bilbao, the receptionist (probably the 9th person we had solicited advice from) reassured us that it was in fact very safe to travel there. Our minds were put at ease and we couldn’t be more excited to explore the basque country region!
Almost everyone says that the only reason to visit Bilbao is to see the Guggenheim Museum (pictured above). Despite only seeing it from the outside, we were perfectly content with the rest of our trip there. The first morning, I did my absolute favorite thing to do while traveling. I got ready early so that I could sneak away for my very necessary coffee (yes, I have an addiction. Let’s not talk about that). I like wandering around a new town and peering in coffee shops and wading through the ones that are too crowded and too barren until I find the one that is just right. There, I can strike up a conversation with the barista and ask for their suggestions of the best things to do in town.
San Sebastian has to be one of the best places I have ever visited. World famous for its cuisine and lovely beach, I would recommend a trip here to anyone. Though surely the beaches are nicer in the summer, they are also likely more crowded.
As promised, our friend from Bilbao invited us out with her friends for pintxos (pictured above) and drinks, where they introduced us to the term “bote,” which is where every person contributes a small amount of money in order to buy larger plates of food instead of individual servings. They also introduced us to the term “sobre la marcha,” which essentially translates to “play it by ear,” which was exactly what we did. We would wander around, see something pretty, sit and stare at it for half an hour, and do it again.
Everything in San Sebastian was wonderful. We stayed at a wonderful pension, Pension Goiko, where we met wonderful travelers, cooked wonderful food (eggplant and spinach pasta, to be exact), and spent time with wonderful people.