We’re fortunate to have Hannah M. on board our trip this year. She joined the inaugural group that we brought to Rome and Istanbul four years ago and is back as a program assistant and co-teacher for this year’s crew. We did this last year – bringing back an alum (Rachel!) – and its proved to be an essential part of helping build continuity in the program, adding knowledge, experience and familiarity. Hannah – as Rachel did- helps coordinate, organize, teach, review, critique… herd, encourage. She is a culinary explorer, a logistical aide – and like all who come to Istanbul – a committed Turkophile. Hannah has been maintaining her own blog – writing about some of her travels – prior to coming to Istanbul, and with her permission, we’re going to repost her latest blog entry to our page here. You can read the original post at her blog.
Our students are great. As faculty, the primary reason we work on making these kinds of experiences is for our students – to help bring them out into the bigger world, into new landscapes and situations, to meet new people, to challenge them, to help them grow.
Study abroad helps in so many ways. For our students, it makes them better designers. It helps contextualize images and ideas talked about in class or seen in slideshows in far away classrooms. It makes the visual and social culture of these cities (and what cities! Rome. Florence. Istanbul. Bursa. Edirne. Now Madrid, Toledo and soon Barcelona) palpable, real, tangible – a necessary part of learning and experience. It makes them – because of all these experiences – more human, more empathetic, compassionate. It is precisely because of this, that Hannah’s most recent post finds another home here. We hope you enjoy reading (and re-reading) it as much as we have.
Thanks for waiting as I took my time updating you. I could try to tell you it is because I’m on a Spanish time schedule now, but that wouldn’t be true. It is more about wanting some personal time to reflect.
The program has been moved to Madrid for the remainder of the semester due to horrific events that have affected and continue to affect far too many around the world. On March 19th, 2016, a suicide bomber on İstiklal Caddesi took the lives of 5 people and injured 39 people. All of the students, both undergraduate and graduate, Prof. Brad, Prof. Vince, and Prof. Ozayr & his family and I were on a day trip to Edirne at the time of the attack. We were at a rest stop when live updates of the attack came through. There we were, a group of yabangees sitting among native Turks, looking on at the broadcast en masse with shock and confusion. Some students used their survival Turkish to inquire with those around them, sharing the feeling of concern with natives. Eventually we parted ways and continued on our trip.
İstiklal Caddesi is one of my favorite places to be in Istanbul. Being the most captivating public space I’ve ever spent time in, it is part of the everyday of Turkish people, my everyday during the months I called Istanbul my home, and in the experiences of most everyone who visits Istanbul (if you’re doing it right). This was the route I took to get to my favorite restaurant in Istanbul. This was part of my morning walk to the study center, and where we would unwind after the day among throngs of people and discover ıslak burgers, the warmth of Turkish people, get simit from a street vendor, dodge the nostalgic tram, and redefine our understanding of public space. It is where, three years ago, Ozayr and his family introduced us to the city of the world’s desire. It was my first taste of Istanbul, and in no way my last.
And so this act set in motion the tireless efforts of Prof. Ozayr, Prof. Vince, Prof. Brad, and those at ACCENT and the College of Design to coordinate our move to Madrid. I thank them immensely, and I know the students appreciate their efforts to keep the program abroad. Muchas gracias. Çok teşekkür ederim.
As I reflect on these events, I realize that what is equally gut-wrenching are some of the responses I’ve seen and heard from peers, politicians, and the media regarding these attacks. While some cities are offered Facebook check-ins and “solidarity” flag profile picture filters, others are left to wonder why their tragedies don’t elicit the same response.
This evil has people making decisions about which lives lost should be more mourned. It counts on the media to distort these events. It is sickening and divisive in intent. So don’t let it be. Be smart. Practice empathy and equality. Care for each life. The same evil targets all of these places.
There have been many reminders of Turkey all over Madrid. From advertisements to actual Turkish people, in Spain, speaking Turkish. On our first walking tour we stopped in a plaza and a Turkish tourism commercial complete with whirling dervishes, tulips, and vistas of Istanbul was flashing across a big screen overlooking the square. We tried to orient ourselves in that moment in Madrid, yet couldn’t resist looking longingly at the screen. As we explored the city, a number of restaurants claiming to sell döner and “pizza turco” (pide and lahmacun) kept cropping up. We have tried several. Let’s just say Turkey wins, but the playing ground is also pretty uneven to start with. Turkish Airlines banners advertising flights to Gotham City and Metropolis appear often. A paper Turkish flag fell out of a student’s sketchbook during a review and landed face up on the floor, making us all a little teary.
Don’t misunderstand this as a failure to appreciate what Madrid and Spain has to offer, because it is a lot! Plazas, tapas, vino, churros con chocolate, endless sunlight, siesta, a vibrant social culture, and more architecture, landscapes, and history. I just think Istanbul is special, and after just having been there, found myself reminiscing.
The biggest snapping of our heartstrings happened while we were in Toledo on a day trip. A group of us turned to leave the choir space in the Toledo Cathedral, just after Ozayr pointed out a brass eagle resembling the Beşiktaş J.K. mascot. There they were, a group of Turkish tourists led by a Turkish guide, speaking among themselves, Turkish filling the space. For that brief moment, we were all back in Istanbul.
I’d like to link to both Ozayr’s post about leaving Istanbul and the compiled post of student reflections about Istanbul on the U of M Rome Istanbul Study Abroad 2016 blog page. I highly encourage you to read them. Creating the program in Istanbul has been a labor of love for Ozayr, his family, Brad, friends in Istanbul who helped get the center and program started, Accent, the college, and without their efforts I wouldn’t have gotten to know such a beautiful place, complex history, and loving people. It was an emotional experience to leave Istanbul in the way we did and it deserves a moment of reflection.
Below are two photos of the Selimiye Camii. This was architect Sinan’s masterpiece, and one of the places we were in Edirne to see the day of the attack.
A couple photos of Madrid below. Look at that blue sky.