Greetings from Istanbul!

On Wednesday of this week, the students spent their third day in Istanbul attending classes at UAA. After going to a special English-based history class on the founding of the Turkish Republic, our students also had the chance to attend a program devoted to the celebration of the battle at Canakkale.

Occurring exactly 100 years ago, the battle at the western coastal city marks a proud moment in Turkish history, when the Ottomans defeated Allied forces from Britain and France, thus sparking a rise in nationalism and eventually leading to the creation of the Turkish Republic in 1923. (The defeated nations call this the Battle of Gallipoli.) Every year Turkey commemorates this historical moment and of course this year’s centennial was even more eventful.

At UAA, students and faculty created a special assembly with enacted scenes, songs and other tributes; our CA students attended are were able to follow most of the program, although about 75% was in Turkish.

On Thursday, the exchange students from both schools travelled to two of the most prominent universities in Istanbul. Just north of Uskudar is Bogazici (pronounced Boy-ya-suh-gee) University, sometimes referred to as Bosphorus University in the west. With 13,000 undergraduate and graduate students, this is probably the most well-respected and well-known university in the country. Situated on a beautiful piece of land overlooking the Bosphorus River, the university was actually founded by Americans in 1863. (The whole history of the founding–the place was initially called Robert College–is truly fascinating and worth exploring if you like educational history as I do!) Not surprisingly, the facilities and campus reminded us all of a New England college and we all appreciated the magnificent water views from high atop a hill. The many stray cats and dogs on campus were also quite intriguing to our kids. (Ask your students about this aspect of Istanbul life.)

Next, we went to a very modern new university further north called Koc (pronounced Coach) University. The Koc family in Turkey is a prominent one, known for their varied business interests and philanthropy, and this university of around 6,000 certainly had all the modern appeals one could ask for, including a state-of-the-art student center and magnificent tree-lined grounds. The sense of “elbow room” on the campus is unusual in the packed city of Istanbul and we also noticed that the progressive nature of the course offerings and student behavior paralleled that of any major American or other European setting. Our UAA students saw and greeted several of their school’s graduates there.

On the way back we dropped the students at an enormous shopping mall somewhere amidst the sprawling metropolis and of course they were excited to be able to roam through the shops. Their host families picked them up from there.

On Friday, we travelled to the most prominent tourist area in Istanbul, in a district called Sultan Ahmet. (Mr. Thorpe and I are staying in a small hotel nearby, within 200 yards of the Sultan Ahmet Mosque, also known as the Blue Mosque.) We spent a couple hours in the historic Topkapi Palace, where the ruling Ottoman dynasty of Turkey lived from 1281 to 1922. The 47 different sultans (emperors) lived quite luxuriously as one would imagine; the only comparison I can make is to the Forbidden City in Beijing if anyone has seen that. The grounds and buildings are mostly in peak condition, with a few undergoing restoration. The facility also has many museum-style rooms and features, including housing one of the world’s largest diamonds.

Although we posed for a group shot outside of it, the Sultan Ahmet (Blue) Mosque was closed for prayer by the time we got back to it. It is still an active mosque so tourists can only enter at certain designated times.

Students admired the incredible architecture of the building from the outside and planned to return to go inside next week. (I later had the chance to go back inside and the interior is truly breathtaking; the “blue” name comes from the millions of blue tiles inside. This mosque is truly an architectural wonder.)

Instead we went to a famous local eating establishment where most of us sampled a Turkish meatball dish called “kofte.” After that we headed to the Grand Bazaar, an enormous maze of shops selling everything from scarves to jewelry to t-shirts to trinkets of all kinds. The stores were a strangely compelling blend of high end and tourist junk vendors, and all of us engaged in the age-old Turkish tradition of bartering. No one left empty handed. From there it was off through the maze of streets again, with a brief but necessary stop at one of the many Starbucks in the area.

The next destination was the Spice Bazaar, another large open-air cluster of shops, with a greater emphasis on foods and spices. Students made a few more purchases there. We concluded our adventure for the day around 15:00. In either pairs or groups, students headed home to be with their host families once again.

The kids and families are pretty much on their own until Monday morning when we all spend another day touring the sites of Istanbul. Once again, I can say I really admire the enthusiasm and maturity of our five Colorado Academy students. I am proud of all of them!