Johannah Brady- Student Profile
Stanford in Istanbul, Winter Quarter 2014-15
Major: International Relations
College year while abroad: Junior
Questions and Answers with Johannah
Why did you choose to study abroad in Istanbul?
I feel as though Istanbul is a point of fascination for many people, a place they hope
to visit in their lifetime, and for me that was no exception. (I recommend watching Turkish Airline’s new promotional video if you don’t yet have this fascination.) Also, one of my specializations as an international relations major is the Middle East and Central Asia, so studying abroad for a second time via the Istanbul program was something I could easily convince myself to do. More than anything, though, I regarded my Turkish friends on campus as incredibly engaging, welcoming people, a trend which proved true in Istanbul once I arrived.
What were your expectations before you went and how did those change once you arrived in Istanbul?
Before leaving for Istanbul, I anticipated that I would find myself in sensory overload when I arrived – the language, the history, Turkish coffee, the sound of 14.2 million people milling about the city. I never anticipated how instantly I would feel welcomed and at home in another culture. Within a week of arriving, I knew that I would return to Istanbul many times in my future.
What were some of the academic benefits from studying abroad in Istanbul?
At Koç, I was lucky enough to take courses with scholars regarded as experts in their
respective fields. In addition, courses that cover the history, architecture, etc. of Istanbul make great use of the city through site visits, using the university’s center on Istiklal as the meeting point. There is no better way to learn than to actually experience what one is reading about. And there is truly no city as culturally or historically diverse as Istanbul.
What was the most challenging experience you encountered while you were abroad and what did you learn from it?
Unfortunately, I injured my foot while in Turkey and because of a language barrier and quite simply a different healthcare system, I wasn’t able to get a diagnosis. Consequently, it was just extremely painful for me to walk for a month. Upon returning to the States I learned that I had severe tendonitis, which caused the pain. What did I learn? My travels have taught me that it’s better to try to stay as healthy and injury free as is possible. Also, I wished at that time that I spoke more Turkish.
What did you learn about yourself while you were studying abroad?
Studying abroad put my culturally inherited values under a spotlight. By the end of my time abroad, I was genuinely able to distinguish which American values I possessed and would continue to treasure, privileges that arise from living in the U.S. In the same token, I was able to question other values, particularly concerning the necessary experiences and material objects a person ought to strive for to live a good life. Learning from other people throughout all of my travels crystallized for me how I want my life to look.
How was your experience living with local families?
Living with my Turkish roommate, Gozda, was a highlight of my experience. I know we will be lifelong friends. As luck would have it, she is now doing an internship in Seattle, so I’ve had the chance to visit her this summer.
What was the biggest cultural adjustment you had to make?
Everyone drinks tea in the morning, not coffee. Thank goodness for the Café Nero at
the university or I would have surely passed out midway through my morning business class. On a more serious note, I think that the biggest cultural adjustment I had to make was not due to differences between the U.S. and Istanbul but between the different neighborhoods within the city of Istanbul. In some wealthier more modern neighborhoods, I felt as though I could have been in any major Western European city. In other more conservative areas, I found myself covering my head, aware that I drew unnecessary attention to myself by walking around alone as a woman. In the end, I suppose the greatest adjustment I had to make was to simply know that Istanbul does not have one single culture and that there was no guide book to tell me how to prepare for the different things I encountered; I watched, listened, used the limited Turkish I could.
What was your favorite part of your everyday life in Istanbul?
Every time I thought I had settled on a definition of what it means to be Turkish or
how the stereotypical Turkish person might look, I realized that my efforts were completely futile. The people of Istanbul are so diverse and the relations between people so complex that I never grew bored of simply observing people interact around me, walking the city and being perpetually surprised by something new. Oh, and the Bosphorus….once you’re in Istanbul, you understand how it gives the city its unique character.
What was the most memorable experience you had while you were in Istanbul?
By far the most memorable experience was a match we attended between Liverpool
and Besiktas. The perfectly synchronized chanting, the anxious smoking, the pure energy – all of it was absolutely riveting and a different kind of look into Turkish culture. And when Besiktas won…I don’t think I’ve ever cheered so loud in my life, nor have I embraced so many strangers around me. But on a side note, when in Istanbul, a trip to a Turkish hamam is absolutely necessary.
What 5 words would you use to describe your experience?
Incomparable, Savory, Unpredictable, Breathtaking, Enriching
What advice would you give to someone who was considering studying abroad in Istanbul?
This program is best suited for someone who has a sense of adventure. If you’re willing to make the effort to explore off the beaten path, prepare to marvel and be amazed by another facet of Turkish culture each and every day. It would take me years to feel as though I had seen all of Istanbul and understood it in its entirety.
If you had to do it all over again what would you do differently?
To be honest, I would take fewer classes so that I would have more time to travel within Turkey. It can take an hour and a half to get into Istanbul from Koç. I could have used some extra time in my day.
How has the experienced changed or enhanced your future academic and career goals?
Currently, I am continuing to study Turkish at Stanford. I hope to do a language study program in Turkey this upcoming summer and would really enjoy having the opportunity to return to Turkey professionally.
What was your favorite food you had in Istanbul?
I could never pick one thing. Turkish breakfast is a cultural hallmark. Some of my favorites include cig kofte (not the kind made with raw meat), baklava, and salep.
What was the most valuable item you took with you on the program?
My iPhone – this is a city you have to capture in pictures. I’m also very glad that I
brought a warm coat and gloves with me.
What was your favorite music/band that you discovered in Istanbul?
The jazz scene in Istanbul is quite commendable. A group of us spent the evening of
Valentine’s Day at a jazz club in Galata. A glass of wine and great live music made for a fantastic night.