Jack spent his Spring semester of 2013 studying abroad with CAPA International Education in the fascinating global city of Istanbul. Below he talks about some of his biggest challenges and most rewarding moment, why he chose Istanbul specifically and what he learned about himself and the city during these months he studied abroad.
CAPA World: Tell us a bit about yourself and your background.
Jack Davidson: My name is Jack Davidson and though originally from Seattle, I have spent the last three years living in Boston and attending Emmanuel College. I am a double major there, studying International Relations and History. During the Spring of 2013, I decided to study in Istanbul through the CAPA program.
CW: Why did you decide to study abroad and why specifically Istanbul?
JD: I decided to study abroad because I thought that it fit well with my major, and having studied abroad before, I understood the importance of viewing the world from a new location and through a different perspective. I chose to study in Turkey because I have tried to focus on the Middle East in my studies, and Turkey is a very important country in the region. As a physical and cultural bridge between Europe and Asia, Istanbul is a city unlike any other, and that is why I chose to study there specifically.
CW: Tell us about your first impressions of Istanbul and any that changed by the time you went home. What surprised you most about your host country?
JD: My first impressions of Istanbul largely concerned the size of the city. I have lived in cities my whole life and traveled quite a bit, but Istanbul was certainly the largest city I have ever been to. I also was surprised at how few people spoke English, this being a great cosmopolitan city. I was immediately plunged into an entirely different type of country and environment than what I was used to.
CW: What was your favorite way to spend your free time in Istanbul?
JD: Being so large, Istanbul offers so much to do. Having been the seat of two great empires, the Byzantine and the Ottoman, there are plenty of historical sites to visit in Istanbul and outside of the city. There is also an active nightlife in the city which was a positive thing.
CW: What were the biggest challenges you faced in adapting to your host country? Most rewarding moment?
JD: The largest challenge that I faced was the language barrier, especially figuring out the tax offices, the police stations, and the hospitals in an entirely different language. However, learning to communicate through handwritten notes and body language revealed to me the strength of my communication skills. I would say the most rewarding moment was when I was finally able to haggle and negotiate prices in Turkish, and was able to successfully get the prices I wanted for things.
CW: Did you have a chance to interact with the local community? If so, tell us about one interaction that stood out for you.
JD: I had the opportunity to interact to some extent with the local community. There were a number of restaurants and stores near where I was staying where I was able to go in time and time again to the point where they recognized me, and I didn't have to even tell them what I wanted. The instance that stands out the most is the local barber who by the end of my stay I didn't even have to tell him how to cut my hair because we already had an established relationship.
CW: Talk a bit about CAPA academics. What were your favorite classes and why? Did you participate in any MyEducation events?
JD: My courses were good for the most part, especially because I was taking courses on the local history and culture, and it gave me a much deeper understanding of the city around me. My favorite class had to be Balkan politics, where I finally came to understand that complicated part of the world, and then had the opportunity to travel to Bosnia and Croatia. It is a much more involved and hands-on type of education. The MyEducation events were a good guide of things to go see in the city, and I would say make up a list of the most important things to do and see in the city.
CW: Where would you go in Istanbul if you wanted to experience a few comforts of home? And one favorite discovery preferred by locals?
JD: While I was in Istanbul, I generally avoided seeking out American culture too much, so I never did find the places where American sports, American food, and American people could be found. I thought that seeking this out would weaken the experience. As far as a local place to go, I would suggest going over to the Asian side of the city where there are many places to go to parks and other great viewpoints in the city, nearly completely devoid of tourists.
CW: What advice would you offer other students currently on a study abroad program or considering one?
JD: I would recommend that anyone who is currently studying abroad or intends to study abroad should take advantage of as many opportunities as possible, and to not be afraid to go out and travel within and outside of the country where they are staying. I would also recommend going somewhere where they will not be too comfortable, so that they could learn that it is okay to function with a weaker support network.
CW: What did your study abroad experience teach you about yourself and those around you?
JD: Studying abroad allowed me to gain a richer education that was much more involved than what I ever could have experienced in the classroom back in the United States. While this wasn't the first time I have done something like this, it reaffirmed my confidence in my ability to adapt to new places and to create a new home anywhere.