Different Sides of Istanbul

A lovely dinner with Ceyda, my sister’s Turkish penpal from middle school!

Istanbul is a HUGE city, and just when I start thinking that I know something about it, I am surprised by something new.  I think this is because Istanbul is often on both ends of the extremes:

  • Rich and Poor
  • Safe and Dangerous
  • Touristy and “Local”
  • Easy and hard to get around
  • Europe and Asia
  • Quiet and Loud

Here is some evidence that Istanbul can’t be pegged as one single “type.”

Shopping: Yesterday, I visited a famous old market called the Grand Bazaar, located in the Old City.  It was touristy, but it’s been around for years, and is very authentic in many ways. Today, I had a very different shopping experience.  In order to visit a school, I took a ferry across the Bosphorus River to the Asian side of Istanbul.  I came across a mall, and thought it would be interesting to check out.  It wasn’t exactly what I expected for a Turkish mall:

The public school that I visited today

Schools: The public school that I visited today was nice, but some aspects were hard to see.  Most classes have 30-40 students, and many students wore dirty or ripped uniforms.  They were eager to learn about the United States and tell me about their school, but most of them said that they don’t like school. They were also very rowdy, and the teacher had to raise her voice to speak over them. She also told me that most of these students will not attend college.  I’m guessing this is due to financial obstacles.  Despite the challenges, I was impressed by the kindness of the teachers and they were enthusiastic about using project-based learning approaches. The students gave me their email addresses as they are interested in American penpals.  Tomorrow, I am visiting a private school, so it’ll be exciting to see how it is different. You can meet some of the students and teachers in this little video:

The restaurant we ate at has a private boat which took us across the sea (from Asia to Europe) back home from dinner

Public Transportation: I have been spending tons of time on public buses, trams, and ferries.  All of them feel very safe, and I am blown away by how helpful people have been to me.  Since I don’t speak Turkish and don’t have a bus card, I often have to ask for help from locals to get where I am trying to go. I’ve had multiple people pay for my fare, get on the wrong bus in order to help me out, and go out of their way to stay with me and get me help. It’s really amazing. I feel like I’ve got little Turkish guardian angels everywhere, looking after me.  Today was one of the only times that I felt unsafe, when at the end of the day, my bus encountered a riot of sorts. People were celebrating a big football match win (two Turkish teams), but it got out of control a few cars away from where we were, and the police had to come break it up.  I was debating what to do.  Getting off the bus and running seemed like a bad idea, because then I’d be IN the mob. So, I stayed put with my new Turkish bus friends, and got out my camera:

As you can see, Istanbul is full of surprises. What will tomorrow bring?

Categories: Turkey

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11 replies »

  1. that’s interesting to know.
    it was smart of you to stay in the bus. was it exciting to watch the scene with your own eyes? or was it a nervous time?
    i watched the video of the Turkey students, they DO seem pretty rowdy i must agree…. but i wonder, why are the Turkey students like that? the Ukrainian students seemed different. it’s sad how most of them won’t be going to college. i hope they can somehow get a better future. however, the examples of their projects seemed pretty good.
    well, best wishes!!!

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