Feel at Home! Istanbul
Istanbul is a city that really takes your breath away. Entertainment, beauty, history, and a mixture of cultures describe a 24 hour action city, always crowded, with numerous clubs, restaurants, bars, cinemas, stores, museums, etc. The city presents many different scenarios, for instance, while some neighborhoods are very conservative, others are quite liberal, and although some areas are considered dangerous, Istanbul is, in general, a very safe city.
The Kadir Has University
The university is amazing: modern, great location, not too big, beautiful, and people in the different departments are nice and very helpful. Members of the international office speak English really well and they are very dedicated doing their best to help you. However, there is still a perceptible language barrier in some departments, for instance, in the cafeteria or copy shop.
Check out the virtual Tour of the Kadir Has University at https://khas.edu.tr/en/university-life/virtual-tour. It is a short movie (5 minutes) showing details of the building.
There are many options to eat inside and outside (nearby) the university. The university is in a famous area, with easy access and open 24 hours for students. In the period of exams many students spend day and night at the university preparing for midterms and finals.
They have a very nice library, a gym, and many “clubs” that offer a variety of activities that you can engage on such as singing, dancing, performing, etc. Again, there is the language barrier but nothing that will hinder you to take part in the activities. The activities offered by the university are almost always free of charge for students. The gym is small but has everything that one needs. The library is great, you can have access to the newest items, it is very cozy, great for research and you can always ask them to purchase whatever item you need, DVD’s, books, newspapers, magazines, etc. It is easy and fast. They are super competent.
The School of Foreign Languages
The School of Foreign Languages is part of the Kadir Has University. It is located just across the main campus and students can have fully access to the facilities of the main campus such as the cafeteria, library, gym, computer laboratory, etc. The School of Foreign Languages (the English Program in which I took part in) has as the main goal:
to provide quality instruction in English language, academic literacy, critical thinking and study-skills in order to empower all our students to become full participants in the University as well as wider academic and professional communities. Furthermore, through a content based approach to learning that utilizes a wide range of intrinsically worthwhile topics and texts, we strive to produce well-informed and open-minded individuals who can thrive in numerous global and local scenarios. Finally, we believe that education and self-improvement are lifelong endeavors; therefore, our curricular aim to develop student autonomy and provide students with the skills to become lifelong learners. (https://sfl.khas.edu.tr/en/academic-programs/academic-english-program)
The School of Foreign Languages offers different programs and activities. As a member of the English Preparatory Program I aimed to help students to improve their English skills preparing them for a successful academic carrier. Among my responsibilities, I could mention:
- Analising and leading co-curricular and extracurricular activities for students of the university.
- Utilising technology in helping students to improve language competencies.
- Serving as a cultural bridge between Germany and Turkey.
- Sharing contrasting experiences between home and host cultures.
- Selecting movies and short films for discussion.
- Helping students of all levels of English language competency to improve their language skills.
In addition to that, my main responsibility was organizing and leading debates and workshops, supporting students’ individual English study, and leading conversation groups. The conversation groups are a safe space for students to talk in English in a relaxed and informal environment focusing on their speaking skills. The conversations groups usually take place inside but from time to time we organize events outside, meetings in the garden, eating together, etc. There was a lot of freedom and trust from the part of my supervisor and working with him was a great pleasure and a privilege. They supported me, constantly provided me feedback and were always helpful, friendly and very competent. Here are some pictures of the classroom in which we usually had our meetings.
Do I recommend Istanbul and the Kadir Has University/ School of Foreign Languages?
ABSOLUTELY!!! People around the world have being bombarded with negative and one sided images of Turkey. These are by no means an accurate representation of current Istanbul and Turkish cultures co-existing in Turkey nowadays. As soon as I arrived in Istanbul, I immediately felt at home, and the city and the school revealed themselves to be friendly, welcoming, and open-minded. My predisposition towards Turkey changed entirely, and I am extremely grateful for this amazing opportunity. I have learned and grown so much and my personal experience opened my eyes to many aspects that were hidden through a cloud of preconceptions and second-hand opinions.
Go, have an open mind, experience, ask, question, learn and grow. You will not regret it!
Before you go!
Once you decide to go abroad, excitement and motivation are key words to make the stay in your “new home” as pleasant and fruitful as possible. Not gathering enough information and waiting to be surprised can be nice, but some “surprises” can end up being very time consuming, and not as nice as you expect. I would like to list some points that I believe to be quite helpful for your time abroad.
- Please, think that you will be away for at least 3 months. Look into which kind of documents you have to take with you, which contracts you will have to cancel before leaving, phones, credit cards, etc. Make a list just to be sure, believe me, you will be surprised how forgetful you can be.
- Health Insurance: In my case, having insurance in my home country was easier than trying to do it abroad. Certify that your insurance covers your stay abroad and get a letter from you insurance company, ask for a T/A 11 “Deutsch-Tuerkisches Abkommen über Soziale Sicherheit”. Once you are in Turkey you have to go with it to the Genel Saglik Sigortasi (Health Insurance for Foreign Nationals). They will validate your insurance for Turkey.
- Acquiring a credit card before leaving Germany was really useful. In Istanbul you can pay with credit card everywhere. Supermarkets, pharmacies, little stores, restaurants, subway, anywhere. It is better than having to withdraw money over there, as you would have to pay a fee every time you get money from the ATM. The ATMs also charge different fees, pay attention what they will be charging you. The best option for me was to acquire a “DKB-Cash Student account” before leaving Germany. It was definitely the best deal to withdraw money abroad.
- Take many pass photos with you. I took 8 photos with me and they were not enough. They need photos for the transportation card, university card, identity card, visa, etc.
- There are some Facebook pages, Erasmus Istanbul, Sharing Flats in Istanbul, where you can look for accommodation. There you can find hundreds of rooms, apartments, houses in all forms and constellations. Warning: the pictures may not always look like the room you will be renting. So, ask about that. There are usually no long term contracts. You can go, pay, stay for a month, and if at some point you find a better place, it is not difficult to change rooms. It is ok if you just talk to the landlord some weeks in advance so that they can find someone else to take your room. It is usually not a problem because there are always people looking for accommodation, I guess, that is why the landlords do not care so much about people leaving short notice (well, it was like that before the corona crisis).
- Be careful about the neighborhood you will be in. I lived in Gumussuyu, great area, very central, not so far from school, super safe. Other good areas are Sisli, Osmanbey, Cihangir, and Karakoy, I cannot list them all here. They are all in the European side, which in my case was better because it was close to the university. The Asian side is also interesting and Kadikoy is a great place to live. It is alternative, lively, fun. But a bit further from university and you will have to take the boat to cross sides. It is not a big deal, but you have to keep in mind that you will depend on the boat. After 01:00 o’clock there are no boats between the Asian and the European side, only (Dolmus) vans. They are not expensive, but they do not accept your transportation card. You will have to pay in cash and depending where you live it can take much longer than the boat to get home.
- If you need special medication or products it is not easy to find them in Turkey. Back in Germany, I was used to just go to the pharmacy, ask for whatever I wanted, and even if they did not have it, they could order it and I would have it by the end of the day. In Turkey it does not work like that. Only some pharmacies will order your product and it can take days until you have it. If you need any especial medication, do not relay on getting them in Turkey.
- Phone: They will shut down your phone after 3 months unless you pay a fee. The fee is expensive. If you buy a phone in Turkey, there is no extra fee. If your phone comes from outside you will have to pay this fee it at some point to unblock it. Or … you can take more than one device with you. You could use the first device in the first 3 months and once it is blocked you can use the same sim card on you second device. After some weeks/months the first device should be ok again. So, you can use your devices interchangeably (in theory).Pay attention to pickpockets and taxi drivers. Taxi drivers will deceive you as much as they can. Always use google maps, waze, whatever app you have, knowing where you are and where you want to go. Otherwise, they can drive you around for 30 minutes and the only thing you had to do was crossing the street to get to your destination.
- Documents: At the beginning of every term, the university applies for the residence permit for all foreign students. We go online, fill out a form and then turn it in at the university together with all the required documents. The international office will do the rest for you. In case you miss the deadline, you will have to apply for it yourself direct at the Turkish Consulate. It is not that hard but it is much more work. So, do not miss the deadline.
Good Luck and tons of fun!