By Emma Neiman
The Istanbul Bing Overseas Studies Program (BOSP) is being offered for the first time this winter in partnership with Koç University, an English-language Turkish university. For the first five weeks of the program, the 16 BOSP participants were some of the only students on campus as most of the Turkish students were away for their winter break.
Partnering with Koç University
This partnership is different from the model that BOSP follows in many of its other programs. At most other sites, Stanford has its own center and is not directly connected to a local university. According to director of BOSP Ramón Saldívar, students in other programs sometimes have to “really work hard” to get interaction with local students.
Stanford students live in the Koç University dorms, and the university has its own gated campus north of central Istanbul. Although BOSP has its own section of the dorm, all Stanford students have Turkish roommates and “mentors,” Turkish students who help them transition into life in Istanbul.
Students take classes with both the Stanford faculty-in-residence – assistant professor of anthropology Kabir Tambar and assistant professor of history Ali Yaycioglu – as well as Koç professors.
Johannah Brady ’16, who spent the fall abroad in Paris and is currently in the Istanbul program, said that in other programs, taking classes solely with Stanford students and professors means little interaction with locals.
“Here, because we have mentors and we’re taking classes with Turkish students, we meet people our age that are actually living here,” Brady said.
Some Turkish students stayed on campus at Koç over winter break to take the Stanford courses. Most Turkish students returned to campus to start their spring semester halfway into the Stanford quarter.
Koç has a few thousand students and a much smaller campus than Stanford. With all students back from break, Brady described the campus as “just abuzz with people.” However, Brady also said that the “buzz” is a good contrast with the dorms, which are not social places like they are at Stanford.
While Brady has enjoyed her time in Istanbul thus far, she suggested that BOSP change the program to take place in the fall or spring to avoid overlapping with Koç’s winter break, since the Turkish students were gone for the first half of the program.
“We had to put everything on hold for four weeks,” Brady said. “We had to learn the environment twice.”
However, the opportunity to partner with Koç University was not the only thing that attracted BOSP to Istanbul.
“Turkey is at the cross-roads of the Middle East, Asia and Europe,” Saldívar said. “[It is an] incredibly important geopolitical site in world business, world economy, and strategic thinking of all sorts.”
Saldívar thinks that Istanbul appeals to a large range of academic interests due to its vibrant cultural life and a history going back 3,000 years. He added that Turkey is a point of convergence for the world’s three major religions and has an emerging global economy.
While the enrolled students come from varied academic backgrounds, they are all required to take one course, called “Istanbul: Space, Memory, and Protest.” Apart from that, they choose from a range of classes that include archaeology and comparative economics. As in most abroad programs, however, the range of classes is limited – there are no hard sciences or natural sciences courses being offered.
Turkish language courses are also offered, though language study is not the key purpose of the Istanbul program. Murat Erdogdu Ph.D. ’16, president of the Stanford Turkish Student Association, said that language study is not the most important part of an abroad program in Istanbul.
“Experiencing Istanbul itself is much more valuable than learning Turkish,” Murat said. “Istanbul is a different city… learning Turkish is not the main thing.”
Saldívar explained that he sees two ways to approach overseas studies.
“One is to prioritize deep cultural immersion, where you get into a new cultural situation, a new language situation, and just steep yourself in it and really become part of that living culture,” he said. “[The other is studying] something very unique happening there… Language study in that case is secondary.”
According to Claudia Dodge ’16, many of her classes encourage her to experience Istanbul as a city.
“[A lot of classes] require you to go to a neighborhood or to certain area, so I think you have to explore,” she said. “And there’s no reason you wouldn’t want to.”
Similarly, Brady said the program directors put a lot of emphasis on using Istanbul as a teaching facility.
“They’ve made use of this city in a very amazing way,” she said. “A few [of the classes] are really unique and couldn’t be offered anywhere else.”
Contact Emma Neiman at eneiman ‘at’ stanford.edu.