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Malia Cortez

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Malia Cortez - Stanford at Koç University, Istanbul

Major: Communication

Minor: Creative Writing

College year while abroad: Junior

About the photo: A gloomy day by the Bosphorus during orientation.


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Why did you choose to study abroad in Istanbul?

I chose to study in Istanbul because I wanted to immerse myself in a multicultural city in which Eastern and Western traditions, histories, and peoples mingled and helped define each other.

What were your expectations before you went and how did those change once you arrived in Istanbul? 

As with most experiences in life, I came in with zero expectations or ideas about how my quarter would unfold. Reflecting on my time in this program, I can say with immense gratitude that living and studying in Istanbul has greatly expanded my world, as well as the way I perceive and approach modern issues in my home country.

What were some of the academic benefits from studying abroad in Istanbul?

The Istanbul program is unique in the fact that you are a *true* exchange student who is living and studying at a foreign university! Koc University provided me with many academic benefits, like gaining new perspectives from non-Stanford professors and interacting with non-American students (mostly Turkish and European) daily, both in and out of the classroom.

What did you learn about yourself while you were studying abroad? 

During the program, I enjoyed exploring new neighborhoods in Istanbul alone. I learned that I am extremely curious and independent, and I frequently mapped out my plan for the day, from transportation to food stops to sightseeing and more. However, I also learned to release control and go with the flow -- ditching my solo plans to embark on a spontaneous adventure with my roommates or classmates were just as exciting, if not more!

What was the most challenging experience you encountered and what did you learn from it?

The most challenging aspect of my experience was the language barrier. Most people in Turkey do not speak English, and it could sometimes be difficult to hold basic conversation. However, I quickly learned that people in Turkey are very eager to help, using Turkish and English and Google translate and hand gestures to communicate! I also found value in learning as much Turkish as possible to expand my cultural awareness and to communicate with more ease.

What was the biggest cultural adjustment you had to make?

The biggest cultural adjustment I had to make was my sleep schedule (lol). I am usually an early sleeper, but I found that most people in Turkey study later, hang out later, drink coffee later (even after dinner!), and sleep later. Immersing myself in such culture simply impacted the time I went to bed.

What was your favorite part of your everyday life in Istanbul?

My favorite part of my everyday life in Istanbul was picking a random neighborhood to explore, and trustfalling into the experience. Istanbul is much bigger than most people think, and there are several different neighborhoods with distinct vibes, architecture, histories, communities, etc! I loved noticing and experiencing these differences, as it painted a more complete picture of Turkey and its geopolitical significance.

What was the most memorable experience you had while you were in Istanbul? 

The most memorable experience(s) I had while in Istanbul surrounded holidays! For the 100th anniversary of the Republic of Turkey, my roommates and I drove up and down the Bosphorus in a festive car parade after watching musical performances in Sariyer (area in which Koc University is located). For Thanksgiving, my Stanford classmates cooked dinner with our Turkish student mentors -- the most fun 10 hours together ever! These two memories are cultural exchange in true fashion.

What 5 words would you use to describe your experience? 

Truly once in a lifetime.

What was your favorite food you had in Istanbul? 

Baklava from Karaköy Güllüoğlu.

What was the most valuable item you took with you on the program? 

A camera to capture all the adventures!

What was your favorite music/band that you discovered in Istanbul?

Izmir Marsi by Volkan Konak because it reminds me of a festive night out with my roommates!