Saturday, July 6, 2013

Dr. Kearney's Parting Thoughts

As our Istanbul journey nears its conclusion, the students do course
and program evaluations. I thought I might offer my own general
assessments of these NC State students abroad. First of all, they have
been terrific representatives of their country and university. They
have worked productively in their internships and made friends of
their coworkers. They have applied their research and interpersonal
skills to best advantage and have left their employers wishing for
more. These students have coped with some early adversity in their
stay, they have suffered through noisy, hot nights without A/C in
their rooms, most have experienced intestinal problems, but all have
been unfailingly pleasant in their dealings with others (well, except
maybe with respect to certain individuals on the street in Sultanamet
who accost tourists).

Our students have demonstrated maturity beyond their years. Slackers?
Not a one. Chronically late? Not a one. Whiners? Not a one. What a
genuine pleasure it has been to work with these NC State students. I
am proud of all of them, as their parents and friends should be. My
wife and I thank them for helping make our own experience fun and
rewarding, and hope to stay in touch with them as they complete their
studies and transition to the next phase of their lives.


Tuesday, July 2, 2013

By Carolina

Hey everyone, Carolina here reporting from Istanbul on a rainy monday morning   :)

For the past three weeks Melissa and I have been working at Mazlumder, a human rights organization that aims to protect the rights of oppressed and underrepresented people in Turkey and the world. I had done a little bit of research on the organization prior to our arrival and found out they were a
"right wing, islamist organization", unsure of what this actually meant I was looking forward to learning about issues happening within Turkey, Syria, Middle Eastern women and of course Taksim square. We were welcomed by Abdurrahman, our internship director who is a PhD student and is very knowledgeable of everything regarding Turkey:  politics, social issues, international relations, you name it, he knows.  From our initial conversation with him, we learned a lot about Turkey and got excited for the upcoming weeks. Ahmed is the office manager, he speaks zero english but talks to us all day anyways, not sure what all he says, we like him because he keeps bringing us tea. My conversations with Ahmed consist of about 5 words, were we go back and forth asking each other how we are doing, and he repeats my name over and over again. I am incredibly thankful that Melissa is my internship buddy because her turkish is wonderful and she makes our interactions a bit more meaningful.  So, about the conservative, islamic side of the internship... Men and women are treated and regarded very differently here. We eat separate from the men during lunch and there is definitely a separation in the way we are treated compared to the men. This has been interesting to observe and be a part of, never in my life had I eaten at a separate table or room because I was a woman.There are 2 other women working in the same building, they both cover their hair with a scarf and Emile, wears all black, but not like a burka. She is my favorite at the office, her english is limited but she makes a huge effort to talk to me about islam, women in islam, and mazlumder. We have exchanged music, movies, and a couple of articles, she also gave me a book about prophet Mohammed's life and said it would better help me understand the muslim woman. My understanding of turkish muslim women is a work in progress, is hard to put aside my own views and beliefs and understand the devotion that these women have...still processing lots of information and emotions. I feel very thankful that I've had many women openly talk to me and teach me about their beliefs and ways of life, I feel incredibly lucky to be able to have these conversations and challenge the many stereotypes held by americans. I'm looking forward to going home and sharing all these stories.  Today I was told that Mazlumder does not accept LGBT, this however does not mean that they discriminate or approve of discrimination towards this groups, they just don't accept it because is not part of their religion...similarities pop up with discourse in islam and christianity , interesting dialogue about this subject.

Our first couple weeks did not go as expected. Its a new program and for many of our internships the first time they've hosted americans interns, this translated into the first couple days being spent drinking gallons of cay (chai) along with a lot of sitting around and very basic turkish lessons with the staff. I think is hard for the organizations to accommodate us because we lack a very important skill needed to accomplish work in Turkey, turkish. Abdurrahman has been very sweet about us being here but he's made it clear that we are very limited in what we can do because we don't speak the language, makes sense... wish we would have taken at least an introductory language course before coming.  It wasn't until our second week that we finally received a project along with 3 other interns who are here from New York. We were to collect as many articles as we could find from international media regarding the Taksim protest, then make a comprehensive media analysis of each media source to kind of get a general understanding of the perspective each source took on the protests (either in support of the protesters or the prime minister etc.) it was interesting to read through all of the articles ,  I learned a lot and feel like a got a deeper more thorough understanding of the complexity behind the protests through this project. Taksim protests are far more than just about saving some trees, its a reflection of the divide in the demographic of the population, a struggle between those who aim to preserve Attaturk's legacy of a secular government and the strong and large conservative half that is currently in power. Its a fight against what some consider an 'intruding' government who is getting involved in peoples lives far too much, is a struggle to maintain things the same and a general fear that the islamic world may take a toll on turkey and affect the lives of many. Its an exciting time to be in Turkey and I have enjoyed listening to the many perspectives and opinions that people have regarding the government and the future of Turkey.

This is going to be a long post, as Im writing Im realizing how much has happened over the past 3 weeks so heres a 'quick' recap!

We live in professor temporary housing that Dr. Ozturk has very kindly provided for us. Its a really simple, hotel style room with 3 beds and a bathroom, everyone at the hotel is extremely nice and accommodating even though they speak very little english, they have been the greatest! We are conveniently located just a short walk to the center of the old city where the Blue Mosque, Hagia Sophia, Topkapi and the hippodrome are. Sultanahmet is a beautiful part of the city and we have many many restaurants and shops really close by, also everyone there does speaks english because we are in the middle of the tourist hub so getting directions and getting questions answered has become an easy task. The only bad things about where we are staying is that is really really hot at night and we have to open our windows which then leads to it being loud because is very loud outside, hot, loud nights get to you after a couple weeks. We are also far removed from the "real" Istanbul. Fatih, the area where we live and work is the most conservative municipality in Istanbul, there is something really beautiful and at the same time intimidating about this. At first, I was surprised as to how muslim Istanbul was, it the opposite of what I had expected taking into consideration that it is one of the largest cosmopolitan cities in the world. However, the second you step out of Fatih into places like Besektas, Ortakoy, Karakoy, Taksim and everywhere else the panorama changes and you see the "western" side of Istanbul. The dynamic of people here is very interesting, I enjoy seeing groups of friends in parks and walking with girls who have their heads covered, and others who dont, women wearing scarves and smoking but not drinking and just doing normal life just like we do in the US. Its amazing how similar we are and how we get stuck in this physical differences that prevent us from really seeing people for who they are. Earlier in the program we went to Istanbul Commerce University and spent some time with 2 female students. They spoke very little english but were so so sweet, they took us to see a museum and gave us a brief tour of the university. Although we had a language barrier, we clicked right away and made plans to have a picnic later... plans still on the workings :)

This past weekend I can say that I finally made up for lost time!!! We got out of Sultanahmet and explored the rest of Istanbul. A city of almost 15 million cannot be understood by just one neighborhoods so Ive spent my days walking and walking, trying all form of transportations, looking for the "hip" and upcoming neighborhoods, seeing islands, daily life commuting, trying foods and seeing the ancient palaces and museums that tell the stories of this region that has some of the oldest history known in history! Is an incredible feeling every time I'm walking by the blue mosque, the Bosphorus and the Hagia Sophia that everything I see is older than the country I live in, and that there has been a series of civilizations and empires that date back to before Christ.  I think of the millions of people who have been here for thousands and thousands of years and how this place is only getting more and more massive and more complex as time passes. It makes me think of evolution and preservation of the past, while adapting to the future, how we all struggle with this same issues but in different cultural contexts. Istanbul is a city of great contrasts that somehow blend together and create something so special and so unique. Is really amazing to be here, and Im so thankful for all that I have learned, all the people I've come across, and all the memories i've made . Turkey has opened its heart to me and I can say that Turkish hospitality is one of the welcoming ones Ive ever experienced! Looking forward to our last week in the internship and in Istanbul but sad that time has passed by so fast, as always just when you are starting to fall in love with a place, its almost time to go home.

Serefe to lasting friendships and great memories!

Monday, July 1, 2013

Teddy's Perspective

During my time here in Istanbul I have been interning with the Istanbul Municipal Government in the Urban Planning Department. On the first day I was unsure about what the department's expectations would entail but soon after my 3rd serving of tea I was ready to get started on whatever they had in mind for me.
Most of the first day at the City Planning office consisted of paperwork, so the four of us interns were introduced to our future overseers and the Director of Urban Planning. As we waited for our paperwork to go through we were introduced a man named Murat who appeared very friendly and he began to teach us some basic phrases in Turkish. One thing that I could not help to notice was the hospitality that everyone provided us. We were repeatedly offered tea and Turkish coffee. I was quick to learn that in Turkish culture it is imperative to make any visitor feel welcome and greet them with tea.
On the second day we were each assigned our roles and our assignments for the coming weeks ahead. Each of us were given a separate city to research for one week and draw comparisons and ideas from their urban planning departments. The city assigned to me was New York. I researched the history and future of planning and also urban solutions for redevelopment. I prepared a slideshow and presented my work to the entire Urban Planning Department, including the Director. This was a great experience for me. It added some public speaking time to my log and also helped me learn how to work around a language barrier. It felt very rewarding to help provide information to a government office about how we operate urban development in the U.S.
I find myself to be very fortunate to have this opportunity to work in a foreign country, environment and government. Not many people can say they have worked in a foreign government office, especially in a place as historically relevant as Istanbul, Turkey.
The people of Turkey have treated all of us like royalty and I have gained an intangible set of values that can only be developed through cultural immersion. I am thoroughly grateful to have been given this opportunity.

Teddy Hobbs

Sunday, June 30, 2013

Through Natalie's Eyes

Here is a post from Natalie Sanchez, who is working on urban planning in Istanbul's municipal government...

Sitting at my workstation, on the fifth floor of Istanbul's Municipal Government building, I have to pinch myself to remind me this is real. The office environment is much like any American one. You have the "talkitive" narcissist, the shy ones, the skeptical ones, and the outgoing ones. Then you have Murat. He's great! As our internship "coordinator," he has welcomed us graciously into our foreign work environment with open arms. At hard task given the lack of continuity...we are the first foreign students to work in this office, let alone the building, ever. Without Murat, our time at IBB (İstanbul Büyükşehir Belediyesi), we'd be utterly lost. He has tasked us with assignments that will help IBB in the areas of urban planning to include: tourism, building codes/legislation, and marketing to name a few. We have given presentations to the top officials of urban planning 

Despite a huge language barrier, positive energy, laughter, and friendly gestures go a long addition to food. To break the ice after an awkward first week on the job, I brought in some fresh Turkish cookies and offered them one by one in my best and (rehearsed) Turkish. All partook except for one, the "diet" girl.
I've also made acquaintances with Yasin and Pelin. Two hip Istanbul-ites who speak excellent English and want to show us the "real" Istanbul. The real Istanbul includes 38 other districts. The district in which we live and work, the Fatih district, is the most conservative and distant from the fashionable ones. This has  forced us to utilize the excellent public transportation available to locals! I can proudly say I've used all of them. The tram, the metro, the ferry, and the bus! 

Trying to grasp exactly how smart my colleagues are and how the work they do at IBB affects so many, nearly 15 million, is no easy task. IBB, the crux of what makes Istanbul thrive and survive, has provided me a greater appreciation for even the smallest services of cities I've lived in.

Like most trips abroad, by the time you feel ready to conquer the city, it's almost time to go home. Days are numbered. What felt like an eternity on day one has dwindled down to a handful. My time though at IBB has been eye-opening and I'm looking to forward to what my last week has in store. 

Monday, June 24, 2013


Yesterday was an enlightening day in Ephesus. We first visited the house of the Virgin Mary where Mary was said to spend her last days after Jesus's crucifixion. Then we went to the ancient city of Ephesus. A city that dates back to when disciples walked and life was recorded. In Ephesus, we saw marble cylinders, pathways, theaters, and an ancient library that even now, are still extravagant. Last, we visited the church of St. John where he also was said to live his last days and was buried. A surreal experience to say the least. Words do not do this place justice so I thought pictures would suffice. 


Friday, June 21, 2013


Cappadocia: the land of ancient churches, hand made pottery, and authentic carpets. We had such a great and full day yesterday.

We started out by gazing upon the beautiful valleys and urban rock dwellings of cappadocia. At one of the sites we stopped to take pictures of the valleys that seems to go on forever, there were comments being made left and right on how beautiful cappadocia was... and that it was.

Then we traveled through the rolling countryside to visit some of the earliest churches in the open air museum that dated back to the 5th century. It was amazing to see most of the mosaics were still in tact and the beautiful scenes they conveyed of Christianity. There were multiple churches built in one area, each individually carved into the rocks, representing strength and history.

Next we visited a ceramic cave where the same family has been in business for over 200 years. Now that is a long operating family business.. and  in the same cave to top it all off.  We watched the pottery being made, and then how the family artists intricately painted each detail on the plates, bowls, pots, etc.

We then headed to one of the multiple underground cities in cappadocia. For those who get claustrophobic, this would not be the place for you. There were 4 floors that we could visit and it seems as though they went on forever. Dilek, our tour guide said that these underground cities each housed thousands of people. The ventilation system and rooms are still in tact enough to live there...pretty impressive.

Over all, it was a group consensus that our day in cappadocia has been our favorite thus far... history, good food, air conditioning, and beautiful scenery. It was a day well lived and well learned.

Today we are headed to Izmir, then Ephesus, then back to our home in Istanbul.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

The language of emotion is only one

The internship that myself and 2 other girls (Ellen, and Sarah), are participating in is a program that the disabled services of Istanbul offers, paid for by the municipal government. This program offers low-income families with disabled people or children the chance to “get away” from their challenging everyday lives for a week. There are so many families in Istanbul with disabled people that want to participate in this program, once they attend this “get away” for one week, they are not allowed to go again. Why is this program so special? As you drive into the camp, you can hear nothing but birds chirping and the wind blowing. Hard to believe since this camp is located in the middle of a city of 15 million people: a city three times the size of New York City. There are cottages everywhere, the land is full of green grass, and you can see the Bosphorous in the distance. During this week of serenity, the disabled and their families are provided with an enriching and free one of a kind experience. Their food is paid for, they are provided with numerous activities( Bosphorous boat tours, sports, computer games, playground activities, concerts and other entertainment), and they are away from many of difficulties they experience in their everyday lives. There are also psychologists that are available on call and meet with the families every few days to discuss hardships and figure out a way to make life better in the long run. This program offers a way for disabled people to feel like they are provided for, taken care of, and accepted: what an unbelievable concept and program that I am able to be a part of during my time in Istanbul.
The workers at the main disabilities services office we have come to know very well and love very much. They are baffled by the fact that us three girls not only chose to visit their country, but also chose to work and care for disabled people in Istanbul. We are the first foreigners that most of them have met, and we are the first foreigners to ever work in their office. They told us that if we were representative of all Americans, then they want to visit America because to them, we are such special people. Needless to say, we are dearly loved by these people and they are dearly loved by us. Although only one of the people we have met during this experience speaks English( Yasmine), she told us something I will never forget: “the language of emotion is one,” and this rings true when interacting with the Turkish people. Although we can maybe say 5 Turkish words, there is already a shared special bond with this people. It proves to me that although there are different cultures and different people, we are all one in the same. We all have hearts to love and emotions to speak. The language of emotion is only one.