Posted by: Students Worldwide
Published on: 02/09/2021Back to Blog
From January to June 2020 I was an Erasmus student at Koc University in Istanbul, Turkey. My semester abroad has left me a plethora of memories and friends, though it was not without certain challenges given the pandemic.
The university is located in Istanbul, which is the largest city in Turkey and a gateway between Europe and Asia. Something that was incredibly surprising about the university is that it is located in the middle of a scenic forest with a view of the black sea and the bosphorus straits. Istanbul is known for its density and heavy traffic, but the campus is on an island of tranquility, comfortably away from the loud centre. Though this provides a peaceful environment in which to study, it does mean that getting to the centre, where the fun is, can take around two hours on public transport. On a taxi (if you don’t get scammed) it can cost around 50tl, which is only around £5 – one of the great things about studying here is that it is very affordable.
The student dormitories in the university were mostly a pleasure. The dorms are located either next to the main campus, or on the ‘West Campus’ which is a short (free) shuttle ride away. The facilities provided in the campus are nothing less than luxurious: swimming pools, pool tables, gyms, washing machines and wifi among other things all of which are free to use. There is also a canteen which provides low cost meals three times a day, or you can just order from the Turkish version of Deliveroo (Yemeksepeti) if you feel like it. The only possible downsides about the accommodation are that as an exchange student you must have a roommate, and the rules are relatively strict, especially the ban on taking alcohol into the campus – including into your rooms. Fees are also relatively expensive for Turkish standards, I paid around £1450 for the semester.
The dormitories are not the only option, however. Near the dorms there are apartments available to students. Some of the exchange students chose to rent an apartment near the university, and a number even chose apartments in the city centre. My advice would be to go for the dorms, mostly because of how many friends you will make there. The students outside the dorms sometimes complained about feeling isolated, and partly missing out on campus life. In addition, given the distance between the university and the city centre, it is, in my opinion, highly unwise to go for an apartment in, for example, Taksim or Beyoglu, as making an 8am class from there will be exhausting.
As the Covid-19 Pandemic gripped the world, we had to leave the campus at the end of March, but the university did refund us accordingly.
Studies and Modules
I’m a law student, and hence at the university I was able to study modules regarding international law. This mostly revolved around human rights and the laws of war. My professors were highly intelligent and knowledgeable in their fields. All classes had to be in English, and given that they had all studied abroad, their English was impeccable and easy to understand and follow. Though I must mention, I have heard that in some classes a professor may start speaking in Turkish. If this happens, do not worry, just inform the teacher that you don’t know Turkish and they will be happy to switch to English. If you’re struggling with anything in class, professors are more than happy to discuss anything in their free time, and you can arrange video calls as well. In addition to my law modules, I was able to take up a Turkish language module. This proved helpful in my time in Turkey, as many people in the country do not speak English.
Furthermore, coming from England I must admit that I found the education system in Turkey more challenging. There were far more quizzes and midterms in Koc than I was used to in my university in London. That may not be the case for you, but it is worth noting that in Turkey they like to test you a lot.
The exchange mentors organised a week of trips and activities for us exchange students to get us acquainted with the university. This included the typical freshers fair type outings (all involving a lot of alcohol) and administrative necessities. They will also help you apply for your student visa, which is relatively easy and is all done online. After this, you have the only city situated in both Europe and Asia at your service.
Istanbul is truly breathtaking in its beauty, and as a student you are spoilt for choice on what to do when you’re not studying:
If you’re a fan of history, there is an endless array of historical sites to gaze upon and experience. My personal favourites include: the Galata Tower (pictured above), the Maiden’s Tower, the Dolmabahce Palace and the Hagia Sofia mosque – which is an architectural marvel and work of art. It will take you at least two weeks to finish exploring the main historical sites of the city, and you will even be provided with a student museum card providing you with free entry to museums in all of Turkey, not just in Istanbul.
The Galata Tower
If you’re a fan of nightlife, you must be if you’re an Erasmus student surely, then this is the right place for you. The main nightclubs I initially frequented were in Taksim, though some of them were enjoyable, they mostly felt like tourist traps. To really experience true Turkish nightlife, one must venture into Besiktas and Kadikoy. This is where locals mostly go, and as a result they feel much more authentic than what you may experience elsewhere. As a result, I would recommend mostly staying away from the Taksim nightlife, as you’ll most likely be scammed. Bear in mind, if you’re a man to get into nightclubs and many bars, you need to have a girl with you.
Excursions in Turkey
Turkey has a plethora of places to discover and visit. I went on two excursions: to Cappadocia, and to Israel and Palestine. The Turkish students organised a four day trip to Cappadocia (which is an extremely picturesque town in Anatolia) for us, starting on Thursday and ending Sunday night.
I was also lucky to be able to take a four day trip to Israel and Palestine to visit the holy sites in the region. One invaluable aspect of studying in Istanbul is that it is situated between Asia and Europe, meaning that you’ll be able to visit a vast diversity of countries. Israel is only an hour’s flight away! You’re not restricted to exploring Europe, as you may be if you choose to study in, for example, France or Spain.
Though my time in Istanbul was sadly cut short by two months due to the pandemic, the moments I spent there will stay with me for a lifetime. Istanbul is incredible if you’re looking for a truly unique culture that’s a perfect blend of both Asia and Europe. You also won’t be breaking the bank as the cost of living here is much lower than in western countries. All in all, stay alert to any potential tourist traps, be sure to make plenty of friends, travel as much as you can and Koc University and Istanbul will provide you with an unforgettable experience as it did to me.
Credit – Ahmad Farzad Dana