Novemebr 2015 issue

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Part of

Tempting Turkey

Turkey is winning acclaim as a go-to destination for study, travel and cultural insight. Nicola Hancox explores the land where east meets west.

Modern Turkey is a relatively new country; it was only established as a republic in the year 1923, in the aftermath of the First World War. However, with one of the oldest permanently settled regions in the world – the Anatolian Peninsula (which dates back to the Paleolithic period, with structures still standing from as early as 12,000 BC) – it’s an advanced country in an ancient land, abounding in both historical significance and cultural distinctness.

A bridge between Asia in the east and Europe in the west, 97 per cent of Turkey’s land area is on the Asia side but it’s this unique duality that appeals greatly to visiting students, says Melissa Abache, Global Engagement Coordinator at Koç University in Istanbul.

As a country of two halves, Turkey “connects a rich cultural heritage with modernisation and innovation, creating a unique environment where students are able to study whilst experiencing a vibrant culture and a rapidly expanding economy,” Melissa explains.

Voted third in TripAdvisor’s Travellers’ Choice Destination in the World Awards, Turkey’s most transcontinental city, Istanbul, is growing rapidly in tourist appeal. According to Deniz Gokce, PR Manager at Istanbul Bilgi University, part of the Laureate International Universities network, the city is thriving economically, socially and culturally and welcomed over two million tourists in the first quarter of 2015. Quickly laying foundations as an educational hub, “It is also gaining more attraction with its top-level, internationally-recognised education institutes,” Deniz adds.

Once known as Byzantine and later Constantinople, Istanbul has a history spanning back some 5,000 years, says Utkan Sertkaya at Horizon Education Group, which represents a number of international schools in the country, and there are examples of Roman architecture in the city walls, the Basilica Cistern and the Hippodrome. These architectural highlights are in addition to the much grander and well-known Byzantine and Ottoman structures such as the Hagia Sophia – a former Christian patriarchal basilica and later an imperial mosque – the second most visited museum in the world.

Students shouldn’t be put off the tourist hotspots. After all, they’re hotspots for a reason! Melissa recommends Sultanahmet in the old town – where the Hagia Sophia is located – as well as Taksim, Örtaköy and Kadiköy, all on the European side. She adds, “Istanbul is a city rich in festivals of all types and for all tastes. Highlights are the annual jazz festivals, summer festivals with excellent international and Turkish performers, as well as a number of film festivals that take place in the city throughout the year.”

Dive into the Grand Bazaar while enjoying a glass of çay [Turkish tea] and experience the crowded Istiklal Street in Taksim with its working tramway, suggests Pinar Elbasan at Istanbul Aydin University. A sunset cruise across the Bosphorus, the peace and tranquility of the Prince Islands and eating Baklava are other Istanbul experiences not to be missed, she adds.

Atilim University is located in the Turkish capital of Ankara and must-see sights include Ankara Castle, a fortification dating back to the Turkish Medieval era, and Cappadocia, a historical region with unique geological features two hours outside of the city, “where you can take a hot air balloon ride,” according to Yigithan Erdogan. The entire area of Cappadocia, which is easily accessible by train, is pierced with volcanic peaks and spectacular so-called ‘fairy chimneys’; enormous natural towers formed from volcanic rock. Ankara is right in the centre of the country and, according to Yigithan, it is extremely safe, has a relatively young population and a large and vibrant student community.

As the Turkish part of the eastern Mediterranean island of Cyprus – the island has been divided between Turkey and Greece since the late-20th century – Northern Cyprus is a growing study destination, according to Valentina Nikitina at Cyprus International University. Out of a population of 300,000, every sixth person is a student, she notes, and the very infrastructure of the island is dedicated to education progress. Political division aside, Northern Cyprus boasts some wonderful cultural landmarks such as Saint Hillarion Castle, Bellapais Abbey and world famous beaches Kyrenia and Famagusta, says Valentina. Selimiye Mosque, with its antique design, and the modest yet impressive Panagia Asinou Church are on her personal checklist. Segway tours in and around the capital city of Nicosia also promise plenty for visiting students.

Education hub
Although Turkey may not be top of the list of study destinations, it is growing in popularity with students looking for quality, English-medium education that is cheaper than more traditional destinations such as the UK or the USA. Melissa says, “Turkey is a new emerging hub for world-class education, reflected in the steady increase in the number of international students over the last five years.” Pointing out that 22 per cent of the country’s national budget is devoted to education, she adds, “International students are attracted by the opportunity to obtain a world-class education at significantly lower costs, in terms of tuition and living expenses, in a safe, welcoming and culturally diverse environment.” nicolahancox@studytravel.network

Traditional food and drink

“Here are our top five recommendations of must-try Turkish food for students: the king of all breakfasts, the Turkish breakfast served pretty much anywhere with eggs, cheese, bread, tomato, cucumber, olives, parsley, honey and marmalade; a night of fish, seafood, meze and raki in Taksim’s Nevizade or Kumkapi; a late night/early morning meal of any of the tasty Turkish soups in Taksim; Savoury winter dishes like manti [Turkish ravioli]; fresh and very cheap summer fruits sold at street stalls like watermelon, figs, grapes, cherries and others.”
Melissa Abache, Koç University

“You can find a great variety of mouthwatering dishes in Turkish cuisine. It is the mixture and refinement of Central Asian, Middle Eastern and Balkan cuisines. We would recommend international students try out a Turkish traditional breakfast, gozleme [Turkish flatbread], kofte [meatballs], manti [dumplings], lahmacun [Turkish pizza] and the famous doner kebap [kebabs], as well as sweet baklava [pastry] and kunefe [sweet cheese pizza] or Turkish Delight. No matter if you are vegetarian or you prefer red meat or sweets, you will find plenty of small restaurants on the streets of Istanbul where you can have a meal at a reasonable price. With a strong Turkish agricultural sector, food, vegetables and fruits are extremely tasty and cheap in Turkey, in comparison with other European cities.”
Pinar Elbasan, Istanbul Aydin University

Five things to do in Turkey

1. Galata Bridge
“Watch the sunset on Galata Bridge and Uskudar with a balik ekmek [fish sandwich] in your hand,” says Deniz Gokce at Istanbul Bilgi University. The Galata Bridge is the fifth bridge to have been built spanning the Golden Horn in Istanbul and was completed in 1994. Pinar Elbasan at Istanbul Aydin University agrees that the view of the city at sunset is a must-see spectacle. “The views over the Galata Bridge are stunning and looking up on Hagia Sofia during the warmth of golden hour is nice. But being on a boat watching the Istanbul skyline in silhouette against an orange sky is our absolute favourite moment in this city.”

2. City soundscape
“Experience the sounds of Istanbul,” says Melissa Abache at Koç University. “From traders boisterously selling their wares in centuries-old markets, to street musicians playing Ottoman-era instruments, the sounds of Istanbul are a complex and colourful mix, orchestrated at all times by the deep overtures of the ship horns in the straits of the Bosphorous. Koç University has even produced a soundscape of the city!”

3. Father of the Turks – Atatürk mausoleum
Army officer, revolutionary, and the first President of Turkey, Mustafa Kemal Atatürk is perhaps Turkey’s most famous historic figure having liberated the country from Allied forces following World War 1. A monumental mausoleum sits high above the Turkish capital of Ankara and millions of people, both Turkish and international, make the pilgrimage every year.

4. Cihangir Stairs
“Watch the moon rise from the Cihangir Stairs,” says Deniz at Istanbul Bilgi University. The Rainbow Stairs linking the districts of Findikli and Cihangir were created in 2003 when a retired forestry engineer, Huseyin Cetinel, spent four days painting the concrete stairs in rainbow colours as a piece of street art. The rainbow colours were subsequently repainted grey but have been restored by the local people and are now a popular tourist attraction.

5. Explore the Old City
Istanbul has a rich history and visitors should explore the Old City with remnants of its place at the epicentre of three great empires – the Roman, Byzantine and Ottoman. Utkan Sertkaya at Horizon Education Group recommends Topkapı Palace, a major residency of the Ottoman sultans. There are also several historical Turkish baths, known as hamam, located in the Old City around Sultanahmet. Çemberlita Hamamı is one of the oldest and dates back to 1584.
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