Each night, right after we come back from dinner, the evening call to prayer filters in through the street noise from our open window. It’s one of those stereotypical sounds you’d expect when you think of the Middle East, but I can’t put words to how special it is to hear it echo throughout the city. Yesterday, we were passing by a mosque on the ferry just as it sounded the call to prayer:
Call to Prayer in the Bosphorus Strait
Oh Istanbul, you enchant me more and more!
While so far we’ve been very much tourists, today we had the opportunity to truly appreciate the benefits of traveling through Turkey as a study abroad—using the city and its people as an educational platform.
After another wonderful breakfast at the hotel’s extensive buffet, we drove from the hotel to the Saliya district to visit Koç University. Koç University is a private, English-instruction university that was founded by the Koç Foundation in 1996. Since its founding, the school has had a long education with Georgetown, namely through exchange programs and its emphasis on modeling the Western liberal arts-style of higher education.
The campus itself was beautiful, located high atop the hills overlooking the Black Sea. At the university, we had the chance to meet with both the university president and their director of international programs. We were able to learn about the history of the school, as well as the innovative programs they’ve launched to enrich Turkish higher education.
For example, Koç University offers very strong financial aid to each class of 900 undergraduates. About 40% of the students receive full tuition scholarships, and around 70% get some sort of scholarship. The university recruits from the top 2% of Turkish students, and partners with corporations to help sponsor the tuition of students from otherwise underrepresented districts in Turkey.
Another thing we discussed was how to promote innovation within universities. Traditionally, Turkish universities were not allowed to have their own patents, making them often unable to benefit from their contributions to their respective fields. However, more private universities, including Koç, have created ways to benefit from their intellectual property through foundations that put the profits back to the school. Due to this success, there is currently a law pending to allow public Turkish universities to own patents as well.
Turkish hospitality is the best—we were served some lovely tea during the meeting, and then they gave us some rosewater-covered Turkish delights as a farewell!
My first Turkish coffee!
After the meeting, we had some time to explore the campus. The buildings—let alone the views—were beautiful.
We had lunch in their cafeteria, and then took the bus to meet with representatives at the Istanbul Chamber of Commerce. When we got to their building, we were taken up to the top floor of the building and into this absolutely amazing conference room. Look at this view:
During the presentation, one of the economists at the Chamber of Commerce gave us a basic summary of the role of the Istanbul Chamber of Commerce—which is the 5th largest chamber in the world with some 350,000 members—then gave us an excellent presentation about characteristics of Turkey’s economy, namely how Turkey got out of the financial crisis so quickly and strongly. For example, Turkey’s GDP Growth Rate (% – Annual) went from -4.8 in 2009 to 9.2 in 2010, 8.5 in 2011, and 2.2 in 2012.
For an explanation of this trend, he pointed to five aspects of Turkey’s economy: a strong financial sector, private sector investment, the condition of Turkish public finance, diversification of exports, and a successful monetary policy.
Of course, the sliding Turkish lira, where the exchange rate has reached a new low of $0.50, might threaten this economic prosperity. While the Turkish central bank has said it does not intend to hike interest rates to defend this depreciation of the lira because they believe it is a temporary condition, this could be too optimistic.
Overall, the discussion was a great precursor to the two economics courses that I’m taking this fall. (And at last, those lectures of International Trade and International Finance came in handy!)
Yet again, we were served some pastries and more glasses of tea (this time two rounds!). I even got to take with me a stack of books with statistics on the Turkish economy—I guess for some ambitious free reading?
We then took the bus to Mor Çati, an NGO for women’s rights near Taksim Square. It was one of the first organizations founded in Turkey to fight against violence towards women, and today runs a shelter for women along with promoting women’s rights through political activism.
The woman we met with was more comfortable speaking German than English, so one of our professors, Katrin, translated the discussion for us. We learned about recent developments in Turkish law regarding women’s rights then had the opportunity to ask all sorts of questions about the current situation in Turkey. One of the most interesting comments she made was how the Turkish state is quick in enacting laws to protect women, but slow in enforcing them. As a result, many changes end up being fairly superficial. Of course, this is a struggle for many feminists—the greater structural issues caused by patriarchy that infiltrate both politics and society.
After the meeting, it was back to hotel for dinner. I plugged in my new Turkish cell phone to charge, but about 5 minutes into charging there was a loud popping noise and the outlets stopped working. Luckily, the phone is fine, but the charger they had provided me doesn’t work anymore.
My flashback-to-middle-school cell phone.
Amanda and I went down to the front desk, and after about 15 minutes of very confusing pantomiming and trying to explain the problem, the manager told us he would get someone tomorrow to fix it. But until then, only our bathroom outlets work, so I’m currently sitting on the floor in the hallway so I can charge my laptop.
Tomorrow we’re in for the “greatest hits” of Istanbul: the Hippodrome, Blue Mosque, Topkapi Palace, Underground Cistern, and, of course, the Haghia Sophia!