Cultures of Dimensie - A Study Abroad semester in Istanbul
As the deadline for the application for a study abroad semester is fast approaching, we thought it would be useful for you to have a little insight into some more experiences from our Dimensie members that ventured out into the world to explore different worlds and study lives with Erasmus. Carolin Schneider is one of our treasured Dimensie members that did a study abroad semester in the academic year 2020/21, and is here to tell you a little bit about her experience!
So Carolin, ...
… Where did you go to for your study abroad experience and how did you decide on it?
My study abroad experience led me to the Bahçeşehir Üniversitesi in Istanbul, Turkey.
I decided to come to Istanbul because I wanted to challenge myself in an environment that is completely different from what I know. Also, I wanted a city that is bigger than Enschede, close to the sea, that is relatively cheap and offers a vibrant atmosphere with many cultural offerings. Istanbul is literally the only city in this world located on two continents and has around 18 million inhabitants. Thus, you can imagine how many cultural differences you can experience in this city alone. Also, it matches with everything else that I was looking for.
With psychology, there are three different universities in Istanbul that you can go to. I decided to go to the most centrally located one in Besiktas, Bahçeşehir Üniversitesi (BAU). Istanbul is huuuuuge and travelling can sometimes take hours, especially during the rush hour, thus, a centrally located university really has its advantage (at least if the education would have been offline). Also, Besiktas is a really nice and vibrant area with many restaurants, cafes and clubs. Moreover, it is close to the Bosporus and my university even has a rooftop with a great view over it. So, the choice of the university seemed perfect!
In addition to this, I wanted to take courses from different departments and that is possible at this university. BAU has a big offering and you are almost free to take any course you want. Their only requirement is that 50% of the courses are taken from one department, but if you want to do e.g. more business courses, they even changed the department for me. Also, most courses are offered in English.
Moreover, one advantage to other international destinations is that Turkey is still included in the Erasmus+ scholarship, meaning that you receive a scholarship of 330€ per month. Since the country is really cheap these 330 can cover all your living expenses (depending on your lifestyle of course :p).
… How was the process from deciding on studying abroad to actually touching down in your destination?
Before even deciding where to go, I attended several lectures for students who are interested in studying abroad. Also, there is a canvas platform that provides more information, including a manual where the steps are explained in detail. In general, I found it pretty easy to follow these steps and also the communication with responsible people at the UT was usually easy and quick.
For the application, I had to make myself an account on mobility online where you need to write your preferences (up to 6) and I needed to write an email to the international coordinator (Jaap Stout) giving names of courses I would want to take at these universities. As far as I remember this was only necessary for universities outside of Europe so that they know for sure that you will find courses there once you are accepted. I decided Istanbul as first preference, Mexico as second and Indonesia as third. Before I was already warned though, that if I’d really want to go to Mexico I must take it as first because the demand is relatively high. Then, only a couple of days/weeks later I got the acceptance email that I can go to Istanbul which I needed to accept/decline within 5 days. So, from the moment of acceptance the rest of the application procedure started. I found it relatively easy and transparent as everything was explained in the manual.
Then, a couple of weeks later, I got contacted by my Turkish university - Bahçeşehir Üniversitesi. They also explained more or less detailed the steps that I’d need to follow to apply there, which as far as I can remember also went pretty easy. Moreover, the communication with them during the application procedure was usually easy.
Another thing, I would like to mention is that you do not need a visa upon entering Turkey. Only when staying for more than 90 days your life will get a bit more difficult. This means that before the 90 days are over you have to apply for a ‘resident permit’. From what I heard from other people, applying for it can be a big hassle. However, my university helped us a lot and normally, without Corona, the application would have been really easy for us. Also, after 90 days they’ll lock your phone. You can either unlock it (which is quite expensive) or, what most students do, bring/buy another phone to give your regular phone a hotspot. These are basically the only differences to European countries.
… What were some of your best experiences abroad so far?
Puh, there were many amazing experiences. First of all, I decided to move to a big house with 26 other Erasmus students. Due to Corona, I think this was the best decision I could have made. Moving to a new city during Corona can be scary if you do not know anybody. But because I was living together with amazing people from all kinds of places who are open and super fun, I was never lonely. Together with them, I explored the city and went on amazing trips. For example, Cappadocia is a place that many people just know from influencers because of the hot air balloons that start there every morning. By bus it takes around 12 hours to get there from Istanbul (you can also fly, but the bus is more adventurous :p) and once you are there you are in a truly magical mountain area, formed by volcanoes.
But besides from my house, there were of course many other possibilities to meet new people and meeting Erasmus people was definitely also related to MANY positive experiences. So some tips to meet awesome people:
First, there are many other Erasmus students at the university from all different departments. Some even attended the same courses which was really nice for group work.
Also, Erasmus networks from other universities are usually pretty open. For example, if one network throws a boat party and you know somebody you can almost always join. And since there are many Universities with Erasmus students in Istanbul, there is almost always something going on.
Third, there are many Facebook and WhatsApp groups where people meet almost every day. Then, there are maaaaany parties – the nightlife is amazing - and what is a better place to meet people?
And lastly, Istanbul has around 18 million inhabitants and many are really open. Altogether, you never have to worry to get lonely or bored!
About the city, there are many fun things to do. Besides the historical sights (many mosques, palaces, museums, …) there is much more to explore such as nice parks, colourful street art,… . Also, all the activities that are usually relatively expensive at home (go-karting, escape rooms, …) are really cheap here. Last but not least, there is so much amazing food to try. Many things are different from what you’d eat at home but that makes exploring even nicer. The Turkish and Arabic cuisine offers a lot for every palate! (It just might get difficult for people with special diets, for example vegan, because when you go out, you cannot always know what it is inside the dishes and asking sometimes also doesn’t help.)
… Were there any downsides to or difficulties with your decision and experience of going abroad?
Of course, such a journey is not always easy and there are some barriers. First, unfortunately, Corona caused that I did not receive the Erasmus grant. Previously to my departure, it was said that people who would go to ‘orange’ countries would not receive the funding. However, since it is a relatively cheap country, this did not hit me as hard as for people who went to more expensive countries.
Next, as people might expect, the level of education in Turkey is lower than in most European countries. Especially, English education. I was actually surprised by how few Turkish people understand English. Additionally, Turkish is quite different from Germanic or Romance languages such as English, Spanish, or German. Thus, finding similarities is relatively difficult. However, in the introduction week of the university there is a “Turkish Survival” course offered where you can learn the basics. Also, the university offers the course “Turkish for Beginners” which is a 3ECTS that is also approved by the UT.
Another thing that people often think about when thinking of Turkey are scams. It is especially known that foreigners regularly get scammed no matter if it is in the Taxi, in the market or on the street. My advice: Do not worry about it, because it will happen anyway. You can only give your best to learn from it and keep it to a minimum. Sometimes though, it helps to contact Turkish people (as for example your buddy) which can help you if you need to get your phone fixed, need to go to a doctor or stuff like that.
Lastly, as aforementioned, it can be a hassle to get the ‘resident permit’. However, the university has a buddy system. This means that there will be a student as a direct contact person for you to help to get around. Including to get the resident permit.
.... Any tips for other students facing the same journey?
After everything said: Just do it!
.... How would you describe the overall experience in a few sentences?
It is an amazing experience that I would not have wanted to miss out on. I have seen beautiful places, met amazing people and broadened my horizon. Erasmus is an awesome opportunity and in Istanbul you can experience a huge diversity of things. It will never be boring!
We hope this “little” insight into the world of a study abroad semester was useful to you, and if you have any further questions to Carolin, wise from her experience, you can contact her on instagram under the handle @caro_schne
In hopes of all of this having convinced you to apply or making you even more excited about the plans for it you already had, we wish you safe and happy travels!