Can you please introduce yourself briefly? How long have you stayed in Turkey? Where do you live in İstanbul?
My name is Kreet and I am from Estonia. I am twenty-five and have been in İstanbul for the past four months now. I came here for one semester. I studied International Relations in Beykoz. I live in Üsküdar, in the Asian side of Istanbul.
“Turkey was the most exciting option to take part in Erasmus”
Why did you prefer to attend Erasmus in Turkey?
Well, I think the main thing is that it is completely different from the other European countries. I could have gone to France, Spain or England but Turkey was the most exciting option to take part in Erasmus. The culture and the religion of the country are so different and since I study International Relations, the current political situation is interesting for me as well. That’s why I chose Istanbul.
How were your thoughts before coming to Turkey?
Actually, before I came here, I had no expectations. I had never been to Turkey before. Estonians generally are not very tolerant towards people from the Middle East or Asia, or towards other religions and people with different skin colour. Mostly it’s because our media channels do not represent positive images about those countries and their people, including Turkey itself. I consider myself very tolerant and open to different cultures/religions and thus, after constantly being forced to see/hear mostly negative things about the country, I wanted to come here to get the reassurance that everything’s actually vice versa. We’re all the some, doesn’t matter the religion, race, skin colour etc. So, I just wanted to come here to experience Turkish culture myself. And I am so happy to be here.
Did you go undergo culture shock in Turkey?
No. However, I think I would have experienced it. I have lived in Australia and France before, so it is not my first time to live abroad. Otherwise I would find it harder because of the different culture, noisiness and chaos in İstanbul. So, it was a little bit easier for me.
How was your first week in Turkey and in the university?
The first week was pretty crazy, I was trying to figure out where to go and what to do. In my school, we were supposed to have our first lectures on the first week but most of the students did not come to classes. I thought that the schools here would be super strict and that I can’t miss any lectures, but almost no one was in the lectures during the first weeks.
What do you think about education facilities in Marmara University?
I studied in Anadolu Hisarı Campus, Beykoz. Most of the exchange students studied in Göztepe Campus, though. I’m pretty okay with my campus. It has a big Olympic swimming pool and a nice gym. About the classes – you have to write your name on the attendance list every time you attend classes. In my school, the attendance is not compulsory, for most of the lectures. Here you have to attend 70%, otherwise you fail the course. Also, my professors luckily had pretty good English. There was this one class where the professor lectured in 50% Turkish and 50% in English. But, that was fine because the students were helpful and translated the needful.
“When professors speak to students or students go and approach the professors, they talk just like they’re friends. This is very awesome!”
When comparing two universities’ academicians, are there any differences in terms of their approaches to students?
I would say that they are pretty friendly with students in here. When professors speak to students or students go and approach the professors, they talk just like they’re friends. This is very awesome! They make jokes, or they just go directly to the professor’s’ office and sit there for thirty minutes and talk about life. It would never happen in Estonia. Students are very respectful towards the professors, though.
How do you find the courses you take during the program?
Some of them were very interesting, some of them were a bit less. Overall I am happy with my choice.
“When they realized that I do not speak Turkish, we communicated by using hands.”
Can you communicate effectively with the local people? How did you manage to solve the language problem?
Use your hands! Body language helped me a lot, especially in the Asian side of Istanbul where people do not really speak English. So, when they realized that I do not speak Turkish, we communicated by using hands. And they were really trying to speak in English, although they couldn’t. I never had a bad experience like “Oh! Don’t you speak Turkish?!?!” I also handled the language barrier by using Google Translator and showing or pointing out the pictures if I needed something. That’s how I did it. It was quite fun, you’ll see!
“What I really really liked is that you can start a conversation with anyone on the street.”
Can you tell us some cultural and social differences between your hometown and the place you live in details?
There are so many differences. For example, in Estonia people are quite calm; you don’t see anyone yelling at the street. But in Istanbul, people are yelling everywhere (not because they’re angry of course). What I really really liked is that you can start a conversation with anyone on the street. In Estonia people might not even say ‘Hello’ to you. But you guys are so friendly and open. You talk to each other, you help each other. For example, in the first week at school I dropped my coffee on the table and there was like 10 people who came with tissues to help out. They were helpful and friendly. That’s what I really liked!
“I really liked the fact that on Friday nights you see people drinking tea, rather than alcohol.”
What do you think about the Turkish cuisine?
To be honest, it’s not my favourite since some foods are overly sweet or very oily. Although there are some things that are pretty good, such as menemen, lahmacun. I really liked the fact that on Friday nights you see people drinking tea, rather than alcohol. Although meat is used pretty much everywhere, you can survive here being a vegetarian as well!
“You can feed the seagulls! How awesome is that!”
How is the city in terms of living conditions as an Erasmus student?
I must say that the transportation is quite nicely organized here, you can go to pretty much everywhere. My absolute favourite was taking the ferry though, it takes only about 5 minutes to cross from the Asian side to the European one (from my place). And you can feed the seagulls! How awesome is that! Plus the transport here is pretty cheap for a student. With 80 liras you can use your travel card for 200 times.
What do you think about the social life in Istanbul?
Comparing to Estonia, it’s different. During the evenings, about 80% of people on the streets are men. You see that girls don’t always go to the same places as men. However, Istanbul is quite European and it’s not wrong for a girl to go out at night. Before I came here I thought that young Turkish people don’t drink much alcohol or don’t really go to a bar. But I was wrong. You do go to bars and drink alcohol too.
How is the social life in the university campus?
Well, I have to say that at my campus I communicated more with other exchange students. Amongst the locals, there were friendly people who came and chatted. But most of them were used to speaking Turkish with their native friends all the time. There were people interested in going abroad to study and they are asked questions about it.
How is the city for sightseeing?
Very good! You have so many things to see in here. With the Museumcard for the students you can go to many places later for free. It costs only 20 liras, so it’s very cheap for a student.
How is the nightlife in Istanbul?
I went to just one or two nightclubs. I’d rather go to bars to have a drink than go to very loud and crowded places. But as much as I saw, there are fine clubs in Kadıköy and Taksim. And there are so many pubs to go to.
Which cities and places have you visited in Turkey so far?
Cappadocia, Samsun, Trabzon, Ordu (Black Sea Region) and Kesan.
“The city has its own magical vibe.”
What are the things that you liked the most in Turkey as an Erasmus student?
The local people’s openness and their hospitality. All my friends who came to visit me in Istanbul were amazed by the unique atmosphere in the city. The city has its own magical vibe.
What are the advantages and disadvantages of Istanbul?
The disadvantage would be that it’s extremely crowded and quite noisy. Other than that, there is nothing else that I can say as negative. The major advantage for Istanbul is the Bosphorus strait – you can just sit by it, drink tea and watch Europe (or Asia, depends on which side you’re on). And then you can take the ferry to go over to the other side – not many cities can compete with that.
What are the difficulties you encountered and the happy moments you experienced during the program? Can you tell us a memorable moment you went through?
Since I was living with local people, I didn’t have so many difficulties getting around. I was always asking them for directions, or they could translate something for me. The bureaucracy during the first month created some frustration – such as when getting a transportation card, filling in all the paperwork, choosing your courses, applying for a visa. But once that’s done, you’re all good. For the memorable moment, once on a bus, an old lady approached me and started saying something in Turkish. When I told her “Sorry, I don’t speak Turkish”, she took my hands into her palms, then put her hands on my cheeks and said something in Turkish, just like a grandma. Then she left. It was so sweet. It happened more than once by the way!
“I am definitely going to start coming back in here. So, you can’t get rid of me anymore!”
How did Erasmus in Turkey change your life?
It definitely changed my view on Turkey. As I said, I didn’t have any expectations before I came here but now I am definitely going to start coming back in here. So, you can’t get rid of me anymore!
Did the Erasmus Program meet your expectations, why do you think so?
I was a bit worried before coming here, since I’m twenty-five and thought that I’ll be the oldest one here. But it wasn’t like that. Anyway, it doesn’t matter – you hang out with other exchange students in either way, doesn’t matter if they’re younger or older.
“Have an open mind and just come here. “
Do you have any recommendation for those who are planning to attend Erasmus in Turkey?
Have an open mind and just come here. You will have a lot of fun here. Istanbul is one of the safest cities by the way, the crime rate here is one of the lowest in Europe 😉
Tell us why the others should choose Erasmus in Turkey!
Because it is different than rest of the Europe! It will open up your mind about other cultures and religions.
Please complete the sentence: I love Erasmus in Turkey because it is awesome!