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: 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: Ruchi Tekriwal
Nested in the heart of the Rif mountains lies a tiny gem of a city called Chefchaouen. The population of the city is smaller than the student body at the University of Illinois! Despite its small size, this city is famous for its cobblestone medina, its split pea soup, but most of all, it is known as the blue city of Morocco. All the buildings in the old town, or medina, are whitewashed and decorated with bright blue accents. Doors grommeted with brass studs line the narrow alleyways. Instead of the usual French, shopkeepers approach in Spanish, selling their crafts to whoever walks by. Many call it the most beautiful town in Morocco. I had a chance to visit this charming city on a group excursion with other students from my program.
Chefchaouen is also well known for its handicrafts and artisanal workshops that sell goods not available anywhere else in Morocco. Woolen blankets, beaded tapestries, hand-woven carpets, and painted ceramic ware are visible at every turn in the winding medina. However, I was able to experience these shops in an entirely new way. The director of our program had arranged workshops with craftsmen in the city so that we could work with them in their studios to see how they made their goods. We could choose between painting, carpet weaving, brass work, and leather craft. Along with one other student, I chose to work with brass because I knew next to nothing about this art. I entered the tiny shop that was filled with plates, sculptures, and jewelry. There were small tea sets and large hands of Fatima, a symbol representing blessings and protection against the evil eye. The shopkeeper and his son greeted us both, and quickly started instructing us on making a brass medallion. I sat on a small stool and awkwardly balanced my circular piece of brass on the tiny work surface. With a hammer and a pick, the shopkeeper showed me how to make a border around the edge of the medallion. His lines were smooth, curving perfectly with the metal and mine were crooked, disconnected, and uneven.
Using different chisels and picks, I made a border and a design on my medallion, ending by clumsily engraving “Morocco” and “Chefchaouen” on the medallion in Arabic. This small feat took me about an hour and a half to complete. Other students from my program had laced bracelets out of leather, made paintings of the city, and woven a brightly patterned rug. It was amazing to see how these artisans made their products and how much work went into each piece! This experience also made me realize the uniqueness and effort behind every handcrafted item.
I treasure this memory from Morocco because it is so different from anything else I did, or even from what most students get to do. I was able to be a part of this city by working with shopkeepers and participating in the craftwork it is known for. How many other people can say they have worked in an artisan’s workshop, engraving and polishing brass? ∞
Guest Blogger: Ruchi Tekriwal
I chose to study abroad in Morocco because I had been learning both Arabic and French for a few years, and wanted the chance to practice both languages inside and outside of the classroom. Most importantly, I also wanted to continue to contribute to my Linguistics major and my Arabic studies minor. What some may not know is that in most Moroccan cities, people speak both Arabic and French, and many, in fact, are adept at switching between the two fluidly! So with this detail in mind, the program that seemed perfect for my needs was the CIEE Language & Culture program in Rabat, Morocco.
When I arrived in Rabat, the time came for me to choose my classes for the semester. Taking classes abroad is very different from taking classes at Illinois. First of all, classes never included more than a handful of students because the CIEE program that I went on had only ten students total. Secondly, teaching methods weren’t just lectures, but tutorials, seminars, fieldwork, and some even had guest lectures, field trips, and excursions that were relevant to an academic theme. Like some programs, all of us had to take two required courses: Contemporary Moroccan Culture and Society and any level of Modern Standard Arabic. We then had the choice of two English or French taught electives such as Moroccan Colloquial Arabic, Modern Moroccan Literature, and the Qur’an. Eager to learn as much as I could, I took all three electives, including the French-taught elective about Moroccan Literature. I knew I could handle the burden of taking this additional class because my French couldn’t be that bad, right? As it turns out, this literature class was my most difficult. I had majorly overestimated my French-speaking abilities, and even though I had a longer and richer education in French (since high school), my intense focus on learning Arabic since starting college had overshadowed my French skills. Because our class was only five people, it was discussion based. We would spend most days discussing the themes of the novels and how they reflected Moroccan history and society.
I struggled to keep up in class. Although I had some trouble reading the novels and understanding the professor, I had the most trouble with the in-class discussions. I could not articulate my ideas without pausing and stuttering, or even worse, switching to Arabic. I would sit in silence, dreading the moment the professor would ask my opinion. I understood the books and I developed opinions about them, but I just couldn’t voice them. That was the most frustrating part. However, instead of dropping the class and continuing with the other two electives, I stayed in the French class. I knew it was the best way to challenge myself to get better at French. See, I was comfortable with Arabic; I used it with my host family, with taxi drivers, and with shopkeepers. This class was the only thing that forced me to continue practicing French, so I stuck with it. I had to. Over the course of the semester, I improved my French significantly, and all because of this course. Granted, I wasn’t perfect and it still took a lot more time and dedication to keep up in class, but at the end of the semester, it was extremely satisfying to see the progress I had made.
Guest Blogger: Ruchi Tekriwal
There is no way to truly be ready for a study abroad experience. I bought a NatGeo guidebook from Barnes & Noble, I read Lonely Planet articles, and I searched for blogs and forums in hopes that I could somehow envision what my life would soon be abroad. Although these resources may have told me which sites to visit and what to eat, deep down I knew that they could not possibly convey what my experience in each location would be. And this rang true when deciding to visit the small coastal city of Asilah, a destination my sources recommended. This tiny town has changed hands many times. Previous rulers include the Phoenicians, the Portuguese, the pirates, and even the Spanish. It is a popular vacation spot for many Moroccans yet it retains a quiet and relaxed atmosphere.
The most fascinating part of Asilah is an art festival that takes place every summer. This art festival was founded by two men who wanted to bring the forgotten city back to life. Now the festival has grown to include guests from all parts of the world, from Saudi royalty to Japanese diplomats. Hotels in the area are fully booked months in advance. Although I did not get to attend the festival itself, I experienced what was left behind: every summer, artists are invited to paint murals on the massive walls of the old city. The best ones are left up for the next few years. Seeing photos in a guidebook or in a postcard was different than actually being in the town’s reality. Bright, colorful paintings can be found at every turn, down every lane, and every alley. No guidebook could ever do this artwork of Asilah justice. It is simply unimaginable until you see it yourself.
Even the merchants in the old city take on more of an artisan role. Shops sell goods that are difficult to find anywhere else. Most items are handcrafted, making each one unique. You can also enjoy a tall glass of the mint tea specialty while sitting by the old Portuguese fortress walls. Between the sounds of the sea and the magnificent artwork, it is impossible not to enjoy Asilah. Despite all this, Asilah still has not been tainted by the hustle and bustle of tourists. The small town retains an incomparable air of tranquility and serenity.
While in Morocco, I visited this city three times. I discovered something new each time I visited. Even though it was such a small town, I could not explore it in just a day. Even though I had visited it before, I had not truly seen it. Even though I read about it online and in my guidebook, I did not understand it. The encounters you have studying abroad will always surprise you and exceed your expectations, no matter how much you may prepare beforehand. This is truthfully the best part of studying abroad. As many pictures you may see and as much advice you may get, you must experience it yourself to even begin to understand. If I go back again, I will make sure to visit Asilah. And when I do, I’m sure it will surprise me yet again.
Guest Blogger: Ruchi Tekriwal
There are many reasons students love studying abroad. Almost every experience is a new one. Students have the opportunity to travel to new places, try new food, take new classes, meet new people, and learn new things. Like any other student, I reveled in the newness of it all. I walked along the Portuguese fortress in Essaouira and drank the Moroccan specialty, mint tea, on a rooftop in Rabat. I learned about Islam in my Qur’an class , but also from a shopkeeper in the open market of Marrakech. I ate countless loaves of fresh bread dipped in endless bowls of red lentils. Of all the experiences I enjoyed during my semester in Morocco, the most memorable one was living with my host family.
My host family was far from average. For my first few weeks in Morocco, I didn’t know who lived in the house. Guests would come and go all day and often spend the night. I couldn’t tell host uncles apart from host cousins. I didn’t even know who my host sisters were. This was because my host family was a large extended family, and our house was the base of all reunions. Everyone called it Dar Kabira, or “big house.” Every weekend, all nine siblings and their entire families would reunite for a family dinner. I had never experienced this type of large family gathering before. Besides my parents and my sister, none of my family lives in the US. They are scattered across the globe and I only see them once every couple years. I had never had this extended family experience before.
Despite being overwhelmed at first, I came to enjoy these family gatherings and looked forward to them every weekend. My favorite meal was the weekly couscous after the Friday prayer. I liked chatting with all the relatives, and it was a good way to practice my Arabic. I became used to the Arabic name they had given me, Jamila. Having guests over also meant having a lavish tea time with delicious pastries and fresh breads and different varieties of jam and cheese. In the evening, the men would watch a soccer match and argue over their Barcelona and Real Madrid rivalries. All the children would sit at a large table and we would play card games, using gestures and broken sentences to explain new games to each other. Somehow, we all understood.
What started out as strange and new quickly became part of my routine. I thought nothing of the communal style of eating couscous from the same dish. I became accustomed to new people visiting and spending the night. I knew all the guests and how they were related. Without realizing it, I had become a part of the household in four short months. Originally an outsider, I was now Jamila, a member of Dar Kabira.
Guest Blogger: Lydia Kwon
During the summer after my freshman year of college, I had the opportunity to work in Ankara, Turkey for two months as an English teacher at TOBB-Etu University. Since being back, I have found it hard to justly recount my amazing experiences in Turkey to my friends and family. My descriptions and storytelling always failed to accurately capture what I had seen, heard and felt while I was abroad. Yet, after many opportunities to respond to the question, “How was it?” I realized that there were two, specific experiences I always told people. These experiences, out of the many things that I loved about Turkey, had to do with the people of the country that I met, and the rich history embedded in its nature.
Every weekend, I would travel to different cities with the other members in my group, all from the US. During one of our weekend excursions, we traveled to Kapadokya, southeast about 5 hours from Ankara. I remember so clearly the moment our bus pulled into the town simply because it felt as if we had driven to an entirely different world! I saw huge mountains, peaks of the Fairy Rock Chimney formations, and stones, so many stones, looming all around us. As I spent the next few days exploring Kapadokya, I found that the greatness of that city didn’t merely lie in its beautiful landscape, but in its rich history that has left remnants for its present-day visitors to discover and cherish.
During this excursion, I was able to walk through many ancient churches and monasteries. One monastery in particular struck me because it merely consisted of long blocks of stone that served as pews facing a wall with a simple cross painted boldly on it. I thought about the many people from centuries before who must have sat in these pews and congregated as a religious community, marking this place with a simple cross to symbolize their very own church. Although it was one of the more humble sites, it was the most powerful for me because I felt like I had stepped into a piece of history that, despite its simplicity, held a great importance to the people that visited this same church, in this same location, only centuries before me. Our group continued to look at old monasteries that were located on top of the cliff, and each time I remained stunned with their size and with the beautiful paintings on each ceiling. And still, the historic presence of these churches couldn’t separate itself from me, and I was left envisioning the life that surrounded these paintings, which have all been preserved for centuries. All of this surmounted as I walked outside of the monasteries and saw the view before me. On top of the cliff, I thought I could see all of Kapadokya below me, stretching for miles and blending with the horizon. It may sound strange, but I felt like I was in an entirely different world. Not in the physical sense, but in the mental sense, where you feel strangely but accurately in between history and the present. I knew that I would never forget that city or the presence of history I felt there that day, and I still haven’t. Yet, I can’t say Kapadokya was the absolute best part of Turkey.
I have to say that the heart of Turkey is its people whose warmth and hospitality still amaze me. I was able to interact with many of the locals because as I mentioned, the purpose of my journey to Turkey was to be a teacher in various classrooms, Monday through Thursday. Many of the students were my age, if not older, and we regarded each other as peers rather than as a student and teacher. Everyone was so quick to welcome me and the other members in my group. They were eager to get to know us, and they went out of their way to share their culture and customs with us. Often times, our new friends would introduce us to Turkish cuisine in Kızılay, which was a busier and more exciting part of Ankara. I remember many nights laughing and talking with our new friends over a cup of Turkish coffee, which was followed by a “reading,” or interpretation, of the coffee residue at the bottom of each other’s cups which was meant to tell your future.
Just as amazing as Kapadokya was and is, those simple nights making new friends over a tiny cup of Turkish coffee were equally amazing. I will always carry with me that feeling of timelessness I felt in Kapadokya, as well as the many friendships I made in Ankara. While rehearsed, rewritten, and edited, I still know that my words and descriptions couldn’t convey my actual experiences abroad, but I guess that as a returnee, that’s something we must all grapple with. The majority of our peers, our friends, and our families have no context for what we’ve experienced, and they may not understand how profoundly we were affected and changed by each moment abroad, even the small ones like telling your fortune based on some left-over coffee grinds at the bottom of your mug. But I think that having an outlet to tell our stories, or at least to try to tell them, will help others realize that going abroad, even for a summer, is life-changing, even if words in a blog cannot accurately convey it.
**If you are interested in studying abroad going for the semester in Turkey (no language requirement!), consider studying at Bogazici University. Not ready to commit to an entire semester? Study abroad this winter and learn about the Cultural Diversity in Turkey!