I have been very impressed and happy with the Duke in Istanbul program so far. There are a number of reason for this but here I will lay out two. Firstly the program staff are extremely friendly. In your first week of Duke in Istanbul you get to enjoy an awesome excursion from Kapadokya (Cappadocia) to Kuşadası where you really get to know the program staff better. They all work as a team wonderfully and here I will just briefly describe why Duke in Istanbul is in great hands with these people.

The program’s administrative director, Alican, is constantly thinking about how to bring you up to speed as quickly as possible. Upon arrival he gave us a bag of bedroom items which he pre-bought. Things like sheets, pillow case, blanket, plate, cutlery, etc. In the past apparently you were just given some cash and told to go buy stuff. We constantly receive tips from Alican to make our life easier and happier while in Istanbul. He also loves to stress important parts of Turkish culture without ever judging our ignorance. Alican makes the students a priority in his life.

Additionally we have two excellent academic staff, Karanfil and Fazilet. They are extremely compassionate people and thoroughly guide all the students through all academic services such as course registration, getting student cards, orienting us, etc. We actually also attended the international orientation given by Boğaziçi University to all the international students and then realized how lucky we were. Having a personal set of expertise to query and prepare us was tremendously useful to ensure that we integrate smoothly into the Boğaziçi campus.

Although I have not seen other exchange programs I am very sure, even before starting my first day of class, that this program is very strong. It has excellent people involved and an amazing setting.

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Balloons in Kapadokya (Cappadocia)

One of my favourite events of the excursion was a hot air balloon flight in Kapadokya – one of the best places for hot air ballooning in the world. This is a place rich in natural beauty as you will see from the photos. We got a great deal for the roughly one hour flight and altitudes between 1000 and 2500 meters. Shortly after sunrise we rose on what was a very clear day.

The baskets carry 25 people and an instructor who fires the balloon. In the first part of the flight we hovered around the low lying rocks just missing some with our basket by less than a foot. Seemed a bit freaky at the time but the instructor was quite experience and entertaining.

The most interesting formation that you can see from the balloon are called fairy chimneys. These are small stone structures that you can seen in the images below (see captions). They were inhabited many thousands of years ago by people carving into the somewhat soft rock that was formed by the volcanic ash of three local volcanoes. You will see little openings into the rocks where these ancient people lived.

I enjoy science so the explanation of how fairy chimneys are formed was great to hear. This was told to us by our super knowledgeable guide, Sevim. She explained to us that there are two types of chimneys. Some chimneys area formed by general weathering. In particular areas of the hills the rock is tougher than other parts. This rock erodes slower which means that section will remain for longer while the rest of the hill fades.

The second process is even more interesting. Many thousands of years ago a large rock rolled down one of these hills and stopped at a point which is now a fairy chimney. The weight of the rock compressed the other rock under it and so it was more resistant to erosion. These chimneys are obvious because they look like a column of rock with a bolder oddly placed at the peak.

Firing up for lift off.

Firing up for lift off.

IMG_2220 IMG_2222 IMG_2224


Brushing past the rocks.

Brushing past the rocks.


Good view of some chimneys.

Good view of some chimneys.




Notice the highly fractal nature of erosion.

Notice the highly fractal nature of erosion.


Ancient dwelling.

Ancient dwelling.

Fairy Chimneys

Fairy Chimneys

Fairy Chimneys

Fairy Chimneys

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Thoughts from Kuşadası

One of the reasons I got interested in Turkey was because I found it somewhat similar to my home country, Colombia. Nevertheless I was surprised when on several occasions people started talking to me in Turkish on the street. I was entertained to find out I apparently look more Turkish than Ezgi on our program, whose parents are both Turkish. On several occasions I felt frustrated that I didn’t speak the language, but this has just made me more eager to master the language, hoping to fit into this country like a local at some point. Even though Turkey and Colombia do have a couple of similarities, there is one big difference: Turkey’s prominence in history because of its geography. Throughout this first excursion I have been able to experience a lot of this long and diverse history. First we explored the mountains where Byzantine churches and monasteries were hidden  in the Göreme Open Air Museum and Soğanlı. Later on we visited several of the sites built by the Seljuk dynasty in Konya and its surroundings. Finally these last few days we are getting the chance to explore the ancient Greco-Roman sites at Aphrodisias, Hierapolis and Ephesus. Even getting the chance to swim in a pool with ancient Greco-Roman columns. Having spent only a little more than a week in Turkey I already know it’s going to be an amazing semester! I look forward to exploring many more places on this trip!


Sammy and I swimming in the ancient pool at Hierapolis


Sunset at Pamukkale


Goreme Open Air Museum


Photo op at Pamukkale


Ancient Pool at Hierapolis


Caravanserai in Capadoccia


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 Today our group went to Ephesus, the most visited sight in Turkey. In spite of a short downpour, our group managed to appreciate the incredible relics of this enormous ancient metropolis. Here are a few pictures from the day:
All of us in front of the library of Celsus.

All of us in front of the library of Celsus.

Something pretty and old.

Something pretty and old.

The biggest theater in Annatolia.

The biggest theater in Annatolia.

The harbor street after the downpour.

The harbor street after the downpour.

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Diplomacy at 30,000 Feet

For our Duke in Istanbul group, the excitement surrounding our first excursion began before our plane had even left the ground.

A few minutes after our group had taken our seats and stowed our belongings on the plane from Istanbul to Nevşehir, two men boarded, both wearing suits, one shorter and older who wore glasses, and the other younger, wearing a suit and an earpiece and acting as a bodyguard. Whispers immediately filled the plane – “That’s the Turkish Foreign Minister!” In a stunning coincidence, Ahmet Davutoğlu, Minister of Foreign Affairs for Turkey, took his seat in the row ahead of me.

The Minister posed with babies for photos as the plane pulled away from the jetbridge and taxied to the runway.

Once we had reached our cruising altitude, several other people came up to the front of the plane to shake Davutoğlu’s hand.  I mentioned to those in our group that the Minister’s position was one I had portrayed in a mock NATO summit last January as a part of a Euro-Atlantic relations course at Middlebury College.

A few minutes later, the Minister’s attention turned to our group, and he leaned over the back of his seat to chat. Alican mentioned to him, speaking in Turkish, that I had done the mock NATO summit in college and had taken on the role of Turkish Foreign Minister. Davutoğlu nodded and asked me what the mock scenario was about.  I explained that it was on the Syrian crisis. He then grinned and asked me what I would do if could have 15 minutes as the Turkish Foreign Minister! Not wanting to seem like I was telling the Minister and international diplomat what to do in his foreign policy, I said that I was not sure and that tough decisions are undoubtedly a part of the job. After shaking hands with us, Davutoğlu said that our group should pay a visit to Ankara.

Ahmet Davutoğlu, Minister of Foreign Affairs for Turkey, chats with our Duke in Istanbul group on the plane.

Ahmet Davutoğlu, Minister of Foreign Affairs for Turkey, chats with our Duke in Istanbul group on the plane.

When our plane landed, a welcoming group replete with provincial and local government officials was on the tarmac to greet the Minister. As we began our tour of sites around Nevşehir, the mayor of the small town we were visiting checked in on our group.  Apparently, he did so because the Minister had mentioned to the governor of Nevşehir to “Take care of these American students,” and the governor of the province informed the mayor. The mayor spoke briefly with Karanfil, our academic advisor, to ensure everything was going smoothly.

All in all, it was a unique experience to have a face-to-face conversation with someone I have studied in the classroom and who is a recurring presence in the pages of The Economist and The New York Times. This spring, I hope to take on a new “mock” role; not that of a NATO delegate but rather a student living in Turkey, experiencing life at a university in Istanbul.

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Studying abroad…sort of…

By Ezgi Üstündağ

Duke in Istanbul 2014 started a little over a week ago, but I think it’s safe to say our group has already learned a lot about Turkey and, at the same time, realized we have a lot more to learn. Although a lot of my friends in the Duke in Istanbul program wanted to spend a semester in Turkey to experience a new culture, my motivations were a lot more personal. Although both my parents are Turkish (and Boğaziçi alums) and I grew up in a Turkish-speaking household, my visits to the country itself have been brief (a couple months at most) and over-scheduled with çay, or tea time, with relatives. Thus, it became increasingly important to me to learn about my heritage and what I consider my homeland on my own terms by living and studying in Istanbul. At Boğaziçi, I plan to take a modern Turkish literature class and Ottoman Turkish in addition to the required history class with Yavuz Hoca. I hope that these two classes will give me a chance to study aspects of Turkish history and culture that simply aren’t available at Duke and most other American universities. I am particularly excited for the literature class, as it covers many of the foundational writers of modern (republican) Turkey whom I have not yet had a chance to read, beginning with Ahmet Tanpınar and wrapping up the semester with Orhan Pamuk. My other goals for the semester include adopting the İstanbullu lifestyle, learning about the city through the eyes of a resident and not a tourist. I’m sure my friends will have a lot more stories and photos to share, but for now I’m going to post a few images from our excursion through Central and Western Anatolia. So far, we’ve visited Cappadocia and Konya and are on our way to Pamukkale with our wonderful guide Sevim Hanım and driver Ali Bey.

Şimdilik hoşça kalın! (Goodbye for now!)

Hot air ballooning in Cappadocia. We got up as high as 850 meters and the views were absolutely breath-taking!

Hot air ballooning in Cappadocia. We got up as high as 850 meters and the views were absolutely breath-taking!

Learning about the terrain of Cappadocia from our guide Sevim Hanım.

Learning about the terrain of Cappadocia from our guide Sevim Hanım.

Joe and Avery getting friendly with one of Boğaziçi's many cats.

Joe and Avery getting friendly with one of Boğaziçi’s many cats.

View of the Galata bridge from the Galata tower in Istanbul.

View of the Galata bridge from the Galata tower in Istanbul.

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So Wake Me Up When It’s All Over




istanbul home

[originally published on Angela’s personal blog]

During my last days in Istanbul, I often felt that I had lived forever in the Superdorm and walked the crowded, cobble-stoned sidewalks to campus. Duke and Seattle felt like another life – what even is West Campus? I know how to drive? Even when I was packing up to leave and my room had reverted to its white-washed jail cell state, it still didn’t quite hit that I was closing up my chapter of studying abroad and flying home to see the familiar Seattle skyline and sleep in my own bed. My last day was spent in the suburb of Bebek on top of an old fortress with a gorgeous view of the golden sunset at the Golden Horn, not in the noisy and crowded Istanbul of the Blue Mosque and Spice Bazaar. My last night was spent not out at Taksim, but watching a movie cuddled up with my roommates. Thus I left Istanbul quietly without much of a fanfare.

FSM Bridge
FSM Bridge
Sunset over Golden Horn
Sunset over Golden Horn
Rumeli Fortress
Rumeli Fortress
My wonderful roommates!

And now that I’m back, it’s Istanbul that feels like a dream. I’ve actually really disliked summing up my semester to people. What can I say besides, “Istanbul was amazing/fantastic/unreal/phenomenal” and every other positive adjective? Those don’t begin to encapsulate my experience abroad in an environment I’ll never be in again. Those don’t tell my friends about the wonderfully interesting and different people I met abroad, both Turkish and international. (If any of you are reading this know that you’re welcome/encouraged to hit me up if you’re in the same area of me and that’s not just me being polite, partly because I’ll probably be doing the same to you even if it’s in years to come). “Great” doesn’t sum up the little or even big moments – yes, cruising in a boat down the Bosphorus at nighttime, but also eating wetburgers at 4 AM after dancing all night with my friends. Admiring the beautiful vaulted domes of the Blue Mosque, but also being surrounded by the call to prayer at sunset, each mosque sending theirs out separately and weaving it into a rich soundscape. Trying traditional Turkish food from döner and kebaps to simits and menemen, but also shopping at the local pazar for the freshest fruits and vegetables I’ve ever had. Taking interesting courses, but also learning first-hand about Gezi from students who had participated in the protests.

When I chose to study in Istanbul, I was a little worried it wouldn’t live up to my expectations – with my major, I was excited to study in a city at such a cultural and historical crossroads of East and West, Muslim and Christian. I wanted to talk about the media, especially in the country’s current volatile political situation, fraught with protests. I worried, though, that I would arrive and the things I wanted to see wouldn’t be a part of the city’s identity. Through this semester, I can confirm that I was actively aware of all these things. It’s evident in the Muslim and Christian decorations hanging side by side in the Hagia Sophia. It’s clear in the protests that the media doesn’t cover, and the relationship between the press and public. Honestly it’s apparent in how the streets feel – not wholly European or Middle Eastern, but exciting in their own way.

Before the semester, I was also concerned that I had made the wrong choice on not studying in a European country (I had been between Istanbul and Copenhagen). I didn’t think I wanted to travel all over Western Europe this semester, but what if I regretted it after seeing all my friends’ photos? After all, I couldn’t even go to Oktoberfest thanks to Turkey’s strict rules on their residence permits. But although I didn’t get the chance to travel to Paris, Amsterdam, or London, I explored most of Turkey, parts of which I would never have thought to go to if not for my program. I hiked rural mountains (and sprained my ankle for the first time ever), saw ruins of churches, observed the sacrificial bayram holiday in the most conservative areas of Turkey, rode in a hot air balloon, and watched the sun set over the stunning calcium flats of Pamukkale. Outside of Turkey, I got to travel to places less frequented by the Western traveler – Budapest and Sarajevo, both of which had a unique Central/Eastern-European feel, a rich history, and a charm I hope I’ll return to someday.

“Study abroad” is always something, like “college”, that has seemed like an idea. I want to study abroad in…when I go abroad, I will…I can’t wait to go abroad and do…

But after four months in Istanbul I had to pack my bags. I put my passport away – at least for a while, I’m done traveling. It was a wonderful time but now I have to return to Seattle and Duke. I won’t say “return to reality” because although my semester was a unique experience for me, I’ve learned how many different paths a life can take that are all very much real. And hopefully in years to come I can take a path that leads me back to Istanbul.

İstanbul, memnun oldum and görüşürüz.


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Eating Turkey in Turkey

I usually spend Thanksgiving in my own bed with my worn-out Pokémon sheets (don’t judge, you wish you had ‘em all). Instead of stuffing, the turkey I eat at the typical family friend potluck is filled with Chinese sticky rice. So admittedly, it was very strange being away from all those familiar things this year. But what better way to have spent my first one away than by eating turkey in Turkey?

There are so many things I’m thankful for, but this Thanksgiving especially is full of them.

Seeing familiar faces 

My family came into town this past week! It was more than a little weird walking on campus with my parents and brother in tow, but it felt great to show them the life I’ve been living this semester. And while Istanbul is no Paris in terms of travel convenience and popularity, I’ve had a surprising number of friends drop by town. Showing them around a maze of a city that I’ve only slightly begun to understand has been great for my non-existent navigational skills. I can now tell you how to get around public transport that will maybe be obsolete once they complete the metro system.

The great thing about my family and friends visiting is that I’m seeing Istanbul through fresh eyes. Things I’ve stopped noticing or started doing out of habit stood out in stark relief: I don’t even hear the prayer calls anymore, I drop tamam (Turkish for OK) on the regular, and it’s not called jaywalking if you and the car have an understanding that you’re crossing whether they like it or not.  I walk to campus every day and I still admire the phenomenal view, but usually I’ve got other things on my mind. Ordering çay or Türk kahvesi has become second nature, but I forget that not everyone drinks tea so strong they water it down, or coffee with grounds still in it. Being able to spend time with people who have just started experiencing Istanbul just reaffirms that I made the right choice to study abroad here…especially when overlooking the Golden Horn from the Galata Tower at sunset.


Also, is it just me, or is the abroad world a very small place? Or is it just that in this temporary microcosm of 20-something college students, everyone knows one another? My worlds have been colliding – my friends from home and Duke visited and met, they brought friends who I had mutual friends with…at the same time, though this will sound banal, I’m just realizing how big the world is, and there will always be more people to meet.

Opportunities to do the coolest but most random things

 The #studyabroad hashtag exists for a reason. I’ve done so many things that I would never have done even if I were in Istanbul at the same time, were I not a student with the resources I have.

I’ve gone to my first live futbol match, with one of Istanbul’s favorite teams, Galatasaray, vs. another Turkish team. The energy was akin to that of Cameron, which is impressive since the whole stadium is many times larger. I’ve done Ebru (marbling), which is an Ottoman style of artwork that involves oil paint on water and chemistry and density and all that great stuff. It’s beautiful and satisfying to work with.

I’ve stood in a crowd when a random band started busking with traditional Turkish music. People soon joined in dancing, and an older man even stood up on a nearby platform and jammed on his own. I’ve been in a music video shoot for the Turkish equivalent of Cher – that was an experience I’m sure I will never have again.

I’ve had dinner with a woman from Kyrgyzstan, who made my friend and I traditional Kyrgyz food (a sort of dumpling pancake) and cookies with homegrown raspberry jam. My friend and I, both of whom the rest of the group can tell you love babies, had a blast with her two children and their friends, reading French books and pretending to eat Play-doh. It was really nice to be in an actual house after so long – her apartment is near the edge of the city, and walking around drove home the fact that the neighborhood Boğaziçi is in is one of the most affluent in the city, which most of Istanbul does not resemble.

Hard work paying off

I can now say I’ve ran from Asia to Europe! Granted, it was part of only a 10k (only a bridge separates the two continents), but to preface this, I don’t run. I usually lack the mental (and physical) endurance, and I get bored easily. Since there’s a track right by our dorm and since it seems that everyone in our group is insanely athletic, I’ve been running more and actually enjoying it. We did a practice 10k run in Belgrade Forest, which almost felt like home with its lake trail and big, shedding trees. The Istanbul Marathon itself was a wild day – people come from all over the world to run the marathon, but there are 15k, 10k, and 8k options, which makes for huge crowds. There were even participants in wheelchairs! There was so much energy throughout the whole thing, and it was great to run through places that have now become familiar, and really become acquainted with the geography of the city.

Celebrating all sorts of holidays

We even get to celebrate Turkish holidays! Republic Day was hard to miss – flags popped up all around the city, as well as Atatürk’s face. We sat above the water and watched the fireworks and unbelievably massive crowds cheer for the spectacular display. Seriously, the only area Disney has them beat is the magical music.

independence day

Since the group of exchange students at Boğaziçi has its fair share of American students, I was able to celebrate fall holidays, albeit in a different way than at home. It’s a little weird to hear Halloween referred to as an “American holiday” instead of just “October 31st”, if that makes sense. Luckily I was able to scrounge up a pretty decent costume for a pirate, all thanks to my harem pants from India and my roommates’ efforts to make me an eyepatch with a makeup remover pad and black nail polish (so highly unadvisable, the fumes were killer).

My wonderful roommates + a pirate
My wonderful roommates + a pirate

On Thanksgiving, we took lessons at a culinary institute with a graduate from Cordon Bleu and learned how to make traditional Turkish dishes, ate turkey that our director had been preparing for 3 days, and listened to Christmas music next to a big festive Christmas tree. I just reread that sentence and can’t believe that all actually happened!


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Turkey Day in Turkey

Thanksgiving is one of my favorite days of the year. Every year I visit my grandparents, aunt, and cousins in Rhode Island. We eat delicious food, play cards, and spend as much time with each other as possible, because we know we won’t see each other until next year.

This year was different. This year, I was alone in a foreign country while my family celebrated without me. Except that I wasn’t alone. This year I was with my new family: the Duke in Istanbul family. We took a cooking class with a famous Turkish chef and feasted on turkey and Turkish side dishes and for a short while I even forgot that I wasn’t at home. Nothing can beat mashed potatoes and cranberry sauce, but this definitely came close.















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Tomorrow is Thanksgiving in America, but here in Turkey it’s just another Thursday I’ll be kicking off with a 9 a.m. Politics of Nationalism and Ethnicity class.

Was getting a little sad earlier today about not being home for Thanksgiving this year, especially knowing that all my friends from home are on break right now. I’m used to being away from home at school, but I associate Thanksgiving with family and this year I’m pretty far away from mine. That being said, the past 3 months in Istanbul have given me a lot of things to be appreciative of and thankful for. (Ending a sentence with a preposition, sorry not sorry grammar people.) Here’s a sampling of my list: 

1) New friends and new experiences.

2) Safety

3) Free Water

4) Domesticated animals/leashes

5) the Blue Mosque

6) Baklava

7) Efficient public transportation

8) Exchange rates that work in your favor

9) Toilets that aren’t a la Turca

10) People who blow their noses in Kleenexes, instead of in the sink

11) People who help you when you’re obviously lost and confused

12) Ability to stay calm in stressful situations/see the humor in stressful situations

13) The Bosphorus

14) Skype

So many more things but I have 9 minutes until my laptop dies so this will have to be it for now. Shoutout to Mom, Dad, Eric, and Monica. Miss you guys. Eat some apple pie for me tomorrow!


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