Istanbul trip: brief but memorable
‘This trip gives you the chance to experience at first hand what you learn about in your study programme,’ says Lars Moll, third-year student of Middle Eastern Studies, and one of the students who joined the April excursion to Istanbul organised by Professor Hans Theunissen from Leiden's Department of Turkish Studies.
What was the purpose of the visit?
Lars continues: ‘It’s a good opportunity to get to know your fellow students better. As I’m also studying Turkish Language, it gave me the chance to practise my Turkish.’
Fellow traveller Aryan Jamshidi, third-year student of Modern Middle Eastern Studies and second-year student of Law, adds: ‘It was a short, but very intensive trip. After a week I felt as if I had been away for a month! This year, as well as Istanbul, we also visited Edirne, a small town that has an enormous number of impressive mosques built in the Ottoman period.’
What differences did you notice between Istanbul and Leiden?
Aryan: ‘Istanbul is an enormously busy city, but it feels super safe. What I particularly noticed compared to the Netherlands, for example, was there was little or no security in the shops; the mentality of the people is that it just isn't necessary. And wherever you went the streets were filled with photos of Mustafa Kemal Ata Turk. After Princess Diana, he seems to be the most photographed person in the world!’
For Lars, the Tarlabaşı area made an impression: ‘This is one of the areas that falls under the government’s ‘gentrification’ project. Whole areas are demolished and then rebuilt as trendy, modern districts for the rich people of Istanbul. The poor residents who used to live there are forced to leave their homes and move to the outskirts of the city.’
A moving experience
When asked about any particularly memorable experiences, Aryan recalled a painful occasion at the station, when a man of around 55 with his wife and son seemed to push in at the front of the queue. ‘I told him in my best English that I was next in line. I immediately saw his face fall, and the disappointment in his eyes. I realised what I had done: I had been so thoughtless as to point out his mistake in front of his wife and son. For Turkish people respect within the family is very important. I felt so guilty about it. It taught me that it really is important as a tourist to take into account the culture of the country you are visiting.’
And what did you bring back with you?
Lars: ‘This week in Istanbul has made me aware of all kinds of opportunities for thesis research or maybe for work after I graduate. I also brought Turkish books and CDs back, so I can keep the Turkish atmosphere alive.’
Aryan was equally enthusiastic: ‘I brought back a bag full of sweets and a lot of experience. I just love Istanbul. It's a true metropolis, and I would like to spend a lot more time there. Istanbul is the only city in the world on two continents, and you really see and feel that.’