The following is a blog post from Nathanael Hovee for the Foundation of Global Scholars 

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When I arrived in Istanbul, Turkey, at the beginning of September for the start of my overseas exchange program, little did I know how much I would learn and experience over the course of one semester. While focusing on my academic majors and taking courses in theatre, television/film production, and photography at Yeditepe University (on the Asian side of Istanbul), I explored the diverse and lively neighborhoods of the city, made strong friendships with a wide variety of international students and locals, and absorbed the amazing Turkish culture around me. I found myself in a foreign location with limitless opportunities for both my academic and personal life, as well as potential career opportunities in the media industry.

One aspect of my study abroad program that I really loved was the amount of independent film and photography work I was able to do around Istanbul. On numerous occasions, I took camera equipment out into the city and created my own projects for media classes at the university. For my editorial photography course, I was instructed to find subjects off campus with interesting stories and lifestyles. Not only did I need to capture these people and their stories visually, but I also needed to talk to my subjects and take time to get to know them. It was definitely a challenge (especially with a language barrier), but I greatly enjoyed working on every assignment and learning through “real world” practice. In another academic course, Final Cut Pro Video Editing, I created my own projects and produced several short videos on Istanbul’s historic sites, traditions, and activities. In my advanced acting course in the university theatre department, I experienced something very unique by working on a one-act Turkish play (translated into English) with a German exchange student over the course of the semester. After getting approval from our director, we performed the piece in mid-December in front of nearly eighty friends, students, and staff members. These types of learning opportunities are truly exciting and beneficial. I know I significantly expanded my academic and career goals by taking my education overseas.

Another terrific part of my experience in Istanbul was making so many new friends from regions around the globe. Talk to any study abroad student, and I’m sure you will hear that the strong connections and friendships they form with such a wide range of creative and adventurous people truly make the experience so incredible. I remember sitting with students from eight or nine different countries in my media classes . Many of these international students, as well as local Turks, became my close friends. On weekends or during breaks, we often traveled together around the city. Something that was very exciting for me was getting the opportunity to share our cultures and traditions with one another throughout the semester. For example, in October my Greek friends organized a “Greek Night” in their apartment. We all enjoyed a delicious Greek meal with traditional music and dancing. It was a blast! At the last minute in late November, I organized a celebration for Thanksgiving. Many of my American and international friends pitched in to help cook various dishes and desserts, and to my surprise, we ended up having more than enough for a holiday feast! A number of my friends from Europe told me that they were very happy they could celebrate their very first Thanksgiving. Holidays and celebrations aside, it was great just to sit down with people from so many countries and talk about our lifestyles, languages, cultures, opinions, and perspectives on everything from religion to politics to favorite bands. For me, it was definitely one of the best learning experiences, and I know I now have a much better understanding and appreciation for people and cultures outside of my home country.

Finally, the part that made my study abroad so adventurous and exciting was just that… being abroad! Traveling to a new part of the world, exploring foreign lands, experiencing very different cultures, and meeting people from a variety of backgrounds and lifestyles were fantastic opportunities I was able to take advantage of in Turkey. I visited many historic and famous sites around Istanbul with new friends from the university, and I became well acquainted with the “pulse” of the city… the traffic, people, festivals, neighborhoods, local arts, sports, music, nightlife, and so much more. After several months of living on the Asian side of Istanbul, I felt much more like a local than a tourist. I discovered secret getaways in and around Istanbul, and I traveled to beautiful regions in western Turkey, including the ancient Roman and Greek ruins of Ephesus and Bergama. Getting this firsthand experience of a nation and culture very different from my own was not only an exhilarating adventure, but it was also a terrific way of learning independently outside of my comfort zone.

That challenge of constantly pushing myself outside my comfort zone is something I truly love about studying abroad because I realize at that point, I really begin to learn, appreciate, and even genuinely enjoy the unexpected encounters and opportunities thousands of miles away from the “safety net” of my own culture. The thrill and adventure in not knowing what to expect on a daily basis (and the amount I learn not only academically, but personally in the process) definitely made my international exchange program in Turkey one of the best experiences of my life.


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