My first experience studying abroad was in Istanbul, Turkey. I began studying Turkish at the beginning of my Freshman year at Indiana University and eventually became a member of the Turkish Flagship Program. During my time in the Turkish Flagship Program, I fell in love with learning about the Turkish language and culture. Every week, in addition to attending my Turkish classes, I would meet with a Turkish tutor and participate in the Flagship’s Turkish Conversation tables twice a week. Although I was fully immersing myself in the Turkish Flagship Program, I still wanted to develop a deeper understanding of the Turkish language and culture. Therefore, I realized that studying abroad in Turkey would not only provide me with an opportunity to improve my Turkish but also allow me to experience an entire summer engaging in an entirely different culture.
However, currently the Turkish Flagship Program at Indiana University is unable to send students to Turkey and instead sends them to Baku, Azerbaijan. Additionally, students in the Flagship Program usually do not go abroad until after they have completed third year turkish. Though I was fortunate to find a program at Arizona University that sends students to Istanbul, Turkey to further their Turkish education. The Arizona study abroad program also only required students to have taken first year Turkish to apply. Therefore, I decided to apply for Arizona University’s program which was a very simple and smooth application process. While I was waiting for their response I began researching different scholarships to help fund my trip. The only scholarship that I was eligible for was the Foreign Language and Area Studies Scholarship (FLAS), but this scholarship was more than enough to fund my study abroad experience. Anyone who is taking a critical language and interested in either studying abroad or participating in a summer language workshop is eligible for this scholarship and in addition to covering some or all of your tuition fees, it also provides you with a stipend that can be used for travel/residence fees.
Last summer was the first year that the Arizona University study abroad program sent students to Istanbul Aydin University. Before starting classes each student in the program takes a placement test to determine which Turkish course is appropriate for them. After being placed in the appropriate course, we went to class every weekday for four hours with a break every hour. In my class, we usually started the first hour with a writing prompt and then for the rest of the hours we practiced grammer, vocabulary, reading, and conversation skills. Most of the professors and people in Turkey generally do not know any English. Additionally, I was the only American in my class, and many of my classmates new very little, if any, English. This scared me at first, having only taken one year of Turkish, but after awhile I adjusted and began to improve my Turkish in an unimaginable way. I was rarely using English and became more and more confident in my Turkish language skills. Of course, sometimes I would not understand anything that the people around me were saying, but this taught me how to really observe others’ actions and facial expressions to try and grasp what they were communicating. Learning a new language and immersing myself in a different culture made me feel like a child again, trying to decode and actively analyze my surroundings. It was like I was living on a completely different planet and changed both my understanding of other cultures and my own culture.
In addition to taking courses, a program director from Arizona University took us to the most popular and historical sights in Istanbul. We visited Topkapi Palace, Taksim, Istanbul University, Aya Sofya Museum, Bosphorus, Grand Bazaar, and many other tourist attractions.
Studying abroad in Turkey not only allowed me to further my understanding of the Turkish language and culture, but it also allowed me to make friends from all across the world and develop useful communication and adjustment skills that I can use in my future occupations and classes. I am incredibly grateful for this experience and encourage all students who have the opportunity to study abroad to let go of any fears and just go!