I should start this post off by saying sorry for being so bad at blogging. It’s been over a month since I wrote, and it’s not for lack of material, but for lack of time. Without further ado, here is a review of what I’ve been up to since early February.
First and foremost, classes started the second week of February. I had to wait another week and a half after that to finalize my schedule, but I did finally get into all the classes I wanted: Turkish Foreign Policy; Politics of Latin America; a seminar on digital media and politics; and my two electives, French language and American Studies. Most of them have been quite good, especially the seminar on media and the American Studies course, in which the American professor draws interesting comparisons between the American and Turkish systems. It has taken me some time to get used to how little work I have to do here in comparison to how swamped I always am at McGill. Most of that is the fact that I don’t need to do as well here; my GPA stays frozen while I am abroad. But part of it is just a different style of learning. While McGill courses demand that you read nearly everything assigned, here it just isn’t necessary. Going back to McGill and having to write my thesis and complete a 500-level poli sci seminar will be interesting, to say the least.
The other major thing that happened was my continued navigation of the Turkish bureaucracy. I mentioned a bit about this in my last post, but the process of obtaining health insurance and applying for my residence permit is worthy of it’s own story. Basically, all foreigners who want to stay in Turkey for more than the tourist visa allowance of 90 days must apply for a residence permit within that period. For me and other students, this means being trapped in the country because our student visas (which we had to get before departure from our home country) are single-entry. Imagine, then, how thrilled we were to learn that obtaining student permits could take anywhere between 1 and 3 months.
Several things are needed for the residence permit appointment, which is about one and half hours from campus: four passport photos, payment of a fee, an application form, and proof of health insurance. Easy, right? If only. As of last April, the Turkish government requires pretty comprehensive coverage of all foreigners. Neither my Canadian nor my American health insurance was even close to being adequate. Therefore, I had to take a trip downtown to a General Health Insurance office to apply. Only the first step could be completed, though, because I didn’t yet have my residence permit. Yes, I know: you need insurance for the permit, but you need a permit for the insurance. It’s all very sensible. Anyway, the single piece of paper with a stamp given to me by the insurance office was (miraculously) enough to successfully submit my permit application. The best part? I am not actually insured until the permit is ready, at which time I must go back to the insurance office to pay the fee and submit, yes you guessed it, more passport photos! So I am currently woefully under-insured. Thankfully, almost everything is over the counter here. There was a nasty bug going around last week, and I got unlucky. While I was shuttling around to various government offices with my suite mate, we stopped to admire some of Istanbul’s famous rainbow steps, found in just one area of the city. Originally painted by a retiree in 2013, the neighborhood quickly fell in love with them. When the government painted over them a few months later, there was an uproar that spread to nearby areas, with residents painting their own stairs in protest. The government finally caved, and residents gathered to repaint. There is great collection of photos at the Huffington Post. Today, newlyweds and tourists alike flock to the stairs. Of course I had to join them:
While the weather continues to be extremely variable here, the warm and sunny days are truly breathtaking. On one such day in early February, we had a leisurely brunch along the Bosphorus, down the hill from campus. It was warm enough to take your jacket off while walking, and the view across the water was fantastic.
On a much colder day, we took a ferry to the Asian side, specifically to an area called Kadıköy. Rainy cold aside, it was an interesting place. Soon after debarking from the ferry, we happened upon a massive opposition protest. Various factions were present, including feminist and student groups. Parliamentary elections are coming up in June, and a lot is at stake, including the very structure of the Turkish system. We also had kumpir for the first time, which is a massive baked potato stuffed with toppings of your choice. For those from Canada, mine was basically the equivalent of “all-dressed”: cheese, sausage, corn, peppers, onions.
A few weeks ago we took another ferry trip, this time to the biggest of what are called the Princes’ Islands. The views from the island were spectacular, although the island itself was a bit disappointing. It is made for tourists, and we were accosted by restaurant employees trying to get us into their establishment during the off-season. Once we got away from the main square, it was a more enjoyable experience. The architecture is very different from what you see on the mainland; it almost reminds me of Cape May, with nearly all wooden structures with Victorian-inspired styles. The walk along the water was nice, too, although the government seems to have stopped right in the middle of constructing what would be a great promenade.
A couple of weeks later a few of us took a short trip north from campus to one of Istanbul’s green spaces, Emirgan. It is a meticulously cared for park that overlooks the Bosphorus. When we visited, the tulip bulbs were beginning to poke out of the ground. I can only imagine what the park looks like when they are in bloom in a month or so. We enjoyed seeing the various water features, including a pond with a black swan and a huge climbing structure, which we obviously climbed.
Just last week I was thrilled to show Elise, my brother’s fiancée, around the city. We visited some of the well-known sites, including one I had not been to before, the Basilica Cistern. Built by the Byzantine Emperor Justinian I, it provided water for the imperial palace as well as one of the Ottoman palaces into modern times. There are two statues of Medusa’s head, one of which is mysteriously upside down while the other is sideways. But the thing we found most interesting is the presence of fish, some of which are quite large, in the remaining water in the cistern.
A lot is happening in the next few weeks. I will traveling to Israel in a few days, followed by Cappadocia (in Turkey) the following weekend.