An erasmus student who studies at Halic University, another private university in a predominantly Muslim part of Istanbul, recently said that she belongs to the small minority of female students on the campus who don't wear a headscarf, something which she finds very alienating. Although covering your head in public spaces in secular Turkey is forbidden, headscarves are tolerated at most universities. My university is an exception here, as it is in so many cases. Muslim students wearing headscarves take them off when they come to the security officers in the entrance area and often don't appear to be particularly unhappy about this.
Although covering your head in public spaces in secular Turkey is forbidden, headscarves are tolerated at most universities
Talking of entrance areas. These days the bag of every single student is painstakingly searched in the entrance area of Yildiz University. The reason: a few weeks ago there was a fight between two political student factions at which the police had to step in. Another erasmus student I know who studies at Yildiz told me that she came out of the seminar building on the day in question and saw the campus clouded in gas. The police, who actually had no authority to enter the campus, bombarded the brawlers with tear gas until they were driven apart. The mode and manner with which the state uses violence against its citizens is not just interesting for students who deal with the theme of power and state but is also to be seen and experienced in day to day life.
The condition for this is that you get out onto the streets. Erasmus students who live for example in student halls on the secure, clean campus just under two hours away from the centre on the Asian side of the city, as is frequently the caseat my university, sense little of all this. Because of the distance they seldom travel to the European side with its vibrant lifestyle and their contact is mainly limited to the other erasmus students at their university with whom they go to the pub in the evening and consume as much alcohol as their wallets allow.
Teaching in most universities is in English
Their exertions to integrate themselves into the life in Istanbul are confined to a minimal degree which is rarely enough to learn the language. This has quite pragmatic reasons. Only a few erasmus students live with Turkish speaking flatmates. Even when they live in a shared flat – a concept which, particularly in the two sexes variety, has long not been as popular here as in our lines of latitude – they share these with other erasmus students. 'At the start I wanted to move in with Turkish people too, but then the other erasmus people found the flat here. I don't think it's worth moving out now,' is often the answer when I ask why they don't live with Turkish speaking students if they want to learn Turkish. The situation isn't helped by the fact that teaching in most universities is in English.
Language is the first step in a culture. If you want to learn a language you need to speak as much as possible, with people on the street, when shopping, with the bus driver. This is mainly extremely amusing but sometimes also frustrating. After nine months in Istanbul I still often understand no more than half of conversations and can't read a newspaper but I can at least follow the context and make myself sufficiently understood. The better I master the language, the deeper I penetrate into the culture, into the lifestyle, the more information I catch. This motivates me to continue. Another erasmus student I know had not managed to learn the word 'bye' in Turkish when I arrived in the Bosphorus metropole – and he still hasn't. Instead he has had a lot of fun in his international flat and the many parties and says that he wants to come back as he 'has had the best time of his life.'
When most of the erasmus students at Yeditepe university returned home at the end of the first semester a few held a goodbye party. The event was set up as a sort of Miss and Mr Whatever. All erasmus students were called to choose their favourites in the following categories, among others: Absent (I never see you around), Fashion (When you walk, everyone says: Wooooooooow), Cool (Yeah man, I'm pissing ice cubes), Patriotic (In my country...), Wise (What was first, the chicken or the egg?), Altruistic (Are you OK???), Sexy hot (Ooops! You are burning, baby!). As at most Erasmus parties I was glaring by my absence but would have personally had a suggestion for another category: No brain, no pain (I do not know anything about the life in Istanbul but at least I had the best time of my life).
Read the first part of Harika's erasmus account, featuring hair straighteners and all, here