Türkiye Çok Güzel

Hagar Gomaa, Koç University Exchange, Fall 2013

Is this school on top of a mountain or something?! That was my first thought as I rode from the airport to Koç University. The university is situated in the northern most district of Istanbul. From my dorm room, I have a view of the Black Sea. It takes about 20 minutes on the minibus to travel from the neighboring district of Sariyer to Koç and the whole journey is uphill.

Activities Fair at Koç University

My first week in Istanbul was a whirlwind of new experiences.  Meeting people from all over the world has definitely been one of the highlights of being abroad.  My Turkish mentor took me and my other exchange friends into the neighboring area of Sariyer to purchase essentials including sheets, snacks, and a Turkish phone. I spent my first couple of days wandering around in Sariyer with the other exchange students. There are many cafes and restaurants on the Bosphorus strait in Sariyer and the view is simply breathtaking.

I visited common tourist areas such as the Blue Mosque, Aya Sofia, and Topkapi Palace. I was especially fascinated by the Aya Sofia which is a church that was later converted to a mosque. It has paintings of Jesus right next to Islamic scripture and I think this is a beautiful image of religions coexisting.

Hagia Sophia/ Aya Sofia

One of the difficulties about being in Turkey is my limited Turkish. Although all the courses taught at Koç are taught in English, most of the staff that works in the student center and dorms do not speak English. I have slowly been improving my Turkish by chatting with the staff in the student center and with people I meet in cafes or restaurants. Turkish people are incredibly friendly and helpful! During my first few weeks I did not have a transit card that is required for all bus and metro services, so I relied on strangers to swipe their card for me and I gave them cash. Most of the people I encountered were happy to swipe their card for me and refused to take the cash when I offered it!

Istanbul really is where east meets west. My university (as well as most major tourist attractions) is on the European side of Istanbul. The Asian side of Istanbul is more residential and many of the Turkish students’ families who attend Koç live on the Asian side. I did not venture to the Asian side until my third or fourth week because it can be a long journey which requires the minibus, a bus, and the ferry.

Both sides of Istanbul divided by the Bosphorus


Taksim square is the center of all nightlife and shopping! The first time I walked through Taksim, I was amazed by how many people were able to walk through one street. I felt like I was in a scene from a movie because every street vendor, club owner, restaurant waiter, and  kiosk owner was calling to us to buy something or to come try their product. Of course, Taksim is also a very touristy area. Many of the street vendors speak some Arabic and they recognized that I was Arab and would  speak to me in Arabic.

Galata Tower near Taksim Square

“Where are you from?” is the first thing Turkish people ask all foreigners. My identity as an Arab American can be an anomaly to some people. I always respond with American and wait until they ask, “but where are you really from?” before explaining that I am also Egyptian. Most of the time they are fascinated to meet a practicing Muslim American and ask me some questions about being born and raised in a non Muslim country and wearing hijab. I am always happy to answer and to refute the stereotype that all Americans are white.

Koç University has a beautiful campus although it is a bit secluded from central Istanbul. To travel to Taksim square it takes about an hour and a half by public transportation and 50 minutes by taxi. I like my classes and especially enjoy my courses in Turkish Language and in Ottoman History. It can be difficult to travel further than Sariyer during the school week, but luckily I have Fridays off so I make use of the weekends to explore Istanbul. One of my goals moving forward is to travel more during the week. In my next blog post I will detail my travels across Turkey during my week off from school.


We’re definitely not in Hong Kong anymore.

Audrey Zong, HKUST Exchange, Fall 2013

One of the coolest things about Hong Kong for students studying abroad is its convenience and proximity to numerous southeast Asian countries. My first travel experience was to Vietnam.

(Tip: For anyone else studying abroad in Hong Kong now or in the future, check out this deal called “Fanfares” offered by Dragon Air and Cathay Pacific. Every Tuesday morning at 8 am, there are 10 or so fantastic flight deals to all different southeast asian countries as well as others that are farther away. For example, last week, there was a Fanfare to from Hong Kong to Chicago for $550 roundtrip! But you have to be quick. Some of these deals are snatched up in less than an hour)

Through Fanfare, a group of 12 exchange students booked a flight to Hanoi, Vietnam, which is the large city in the northern part of Vietnam. In Hanoi, your first and biggest fear is death by motorbike. Seriously, every second person in the city owns a motorbike. So imagine Hanoi’s rush hour as such: driving in LA during rush hour with motorbikes touching tail to head, completely stuck. I think it’s plausible that if everyone left their motorbike and walked home, they could easily cut their commute time. But surprisingly, I did not see one single accident the entire stay in Vietnam. Perhaps it’s the fact that everyone is constantly being attentive to their surroundings because there are so many cars, motorbikes and people everywhere.

The first activity for us was a Ha Long Bay Cruise. The Bay was very scenic and cool, but the picturesque aspect of this Bay was tainted by the hundreds of commercial cruise boats, like ours, out on the water. During the cruise, we were able to explore a cave, kayak in the bay, learn to make traditional Vietnamese spring rolls, and tan out on the top of the boat. The more interesting part of Vietnam was hidden in Mai Chau, a rural village 180 km to the northwest of Hanoi. We went to Mai Chau with no tour guide and no plan, but it turned out to be fantastic. We stayed in a stilt-house homestay, where our bedroom is a floor with 12 pads laid out, each with a pillow and blanket, and a mosquito net around all 12 pads. It wasn’t the most comfortable sleep we’ve ever gotten (especially because of the roosters at the crack of dawn), but in comparison to where the host stayed, we were very lucky. The host and her entire family lives in one single room, with a mattress in one corner, a small table at another, and the kitchen at the third corner, and the door at the 4th corner.

The most exciting and exhilarating part of the trip is riding motor bikes. With only a helmet as protection, we were able to go as fast at 80 km/hour. Doesn’t sound like much, but when you’re out on a windy road with only a helmet and an unpredictable road of animals, your life feels very precious. We explored up and down, left and right, and found a small, untouched lake, where we were able to jump into the water from the bridge. Roaming through Mai Chau through foot and bike made us all recognize how different these people’s lives are, and perhaps they don’t know what else is out there, or maybe they do but they prefer the simpler life better.

Below are a few pictures from Vietnam:

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Upgraded Biking



Horse races and mooncakes

Audrey Zong, HKUST Exchange, Fall 2013

Among many other firsts, Hong Kong has unveiled to me the sport of Horse Racing. The Hong Kong Jockey Club is quite famous, especially for horse races at the Happy Valley Racecourse every Wednesday night. A few exchange students and I found our way to the public, lower-level part of the racecourse, and we were met by a sea of fashionable, young working adults, casually hanging out with other young, hip, working people. Granted it was the opening night of the night horse races, the racecourse was packed with people, and the area we were in (the lower-region) doesn’t even account for the numerous VIP tables and booths in the upper region.

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Looking completely lost, we made our way to the bleachers to watch the first horse race begin. There are a total of 8 races per night, and each race has 10 – 12 horses racing, but each horse only races once a night. After watching the first race, some people we were with were ready to try their luck and place bets, but we had no clue how to. On the bleachers and in the area where you place you bets, we discovered a very different demographic of people; we saw many older, local men, clutching to a wad of sheets where you write down your bets, along with newspapers scribbled with notes and marks. Many were also plugged into the handheld radios; their concentration would not be broken. The contrast between these older locals and the posh, younger crowd was startling.

With no idea of the difference between quinellas, tierce, quinella place, win, and place, bets were somewhat blindly placed 15 minutes from the start of the next race. From the bleachers, we watched the horses run on the large screen, but were able to see them on the track while they sprinted in the last straight-a-way.

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Some won, some lost, but by the end of the night, most came out to zero.

Another first for me is celebrating Mid-Autumn Festival, the second biggest holiday in China – the equivalent of Thanksgiving or Christmas for many people in the United States. To celebrate, I went to a Mid-Autumn Festival. There were a ton of lanterns at the festival, but not as many as the number of people. Thousands of locals and tourists alike gathered at the park where the festival took place to see the lanterns and a few traditional Chinese dance and song performances.

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Besides observing the hundreds of lanterns, I ate THE food of the Mid-Autumn holiday: the Mooncake. It’s a dense pastry filled with red bean or lotus cake paste, and generally has an egg yolk in the center. In the historical context, mooncakes were used to smuggle messages to overthrow the Mongol rule. While it was neat to see the lanterns and try traditional foods, the congestion and heat got the best of me and I called it a night.



Going to Paris: Re-connecting with my past

Romain Sinclair, Sciences Po Exchange, Fall 2013

Hi all,

My name is Romain, and I will be going to France in the fall as part of an exchange program with Sciences Po in Paris. I hope to take advantage of the school’s reputation in the social sciences in order to better frame my political science studies at Northwestern. I think it will be very interesting to diversify my method of education. Doing so in a in a place with a profoundly different take on education and where the teaching is done in a different language, seems like just the opportunity to do so.

Yet, studying abroad is about much more than the formal education. Though going to one of best Universities in Europe is definitely a good incentive, there are other goals I’d like to pursue while abroad. For instance, I’d like to soak up the culture and immerse myself in the Parisian lifestyle- riding the metro system, eating at cafés, and waiting until 6: 30 to eat dinner. The experience will definitely be grounded by and focalized on my endeavors to write papers in French and increase my knowledge of the French political sphere.

Most importantly though, aside from schoolwork, I’d like to revive my French roots. Before coming to Northwestern and attending high school and middle school in New York, I spent most of my youth in France. It’s there that I learned how to ride a bike, how to read and write, and all the other elementary skills that are necessary in life.  But beyond these clear, learnable elements that made up my childhood, there were many things, less distinct, that combined and worked together to make me French. I wasn’t only genetically French, but I also acted and behaved like a French boy. Now that I have lived in the U.S. for a while, this old part of me grows more distant and the memories associated with this childhood become more fleeting. I’d like to go to France to sow these two parts of my life back together. In going to Paris, it’s my hope that I can reconnect with my past.

Welcome to Hong Kong

Audrey Zong, HKUST Exchange, Fall 2013

My name is Audrey Zong, I am currently a junior studying Mechanical Engineering at Northwestern University. I will be spending this fall at Hong Kong University of Science and Technology (HKUST), and I absolutely cannot wait! I am a transfer student; having spent my first year at the University of California Berkeley, I thought studying abroad would be a challenge due to the issue with credits and graduating within four years. When I turned to the IPD office, I learned about science and technology schools that would make it possible for me to graduate on time, and the Hong Kong school stood out to me in particular.

To me, study abroad is an opportunity to get cultured, to open my mind to new cultures, customs and people, and what better place to do that but in Hong Kong. I have always taken an interest in Hong Kong, for its cosmopolitan, hustlin’ and bustlin’ feel. It seems like a city that unites people from all over the world, and pretty soon I’ll be joining in. From businessmen on business trips to couples on vacation, to local students from Beijing, Zhejiang, Shanghai and non-locals from Europe, Africa, Asia, is no saying who I will meet in Hong Kong, and I can’t wait. The most recent report states that Hong Kong University of Science and Technology has hit a high of 18% non-local students. While it’s true most schools in the United States have a significant percentage of international students, we tend to fall back to our comfort zones. However, there’s less of a “comfort zone” while studying abroad: while there will be students with similar backgrounds, I can safely guess that there will also be a large portion of students who are from different backgrounds. I am so excited to learn more about these students, where they come from and their background. After all that, I hope to bring back my experiences and share them at Northwestern to inspire more people to partake in the study abroad experience. But for now, I’ll be sharing my HKUST episodes through the IPD blog!

This is the school. Yep, my school looks out to the ocean!

Before I leave for Paris, France

Amy Glazier-Torgerson, Sciences Po Exchange, Fall 2013

I am excited, and anxious, to say that this fall I will be studying abroad in Paris, France in the Sciences Po direct exchange program. At Northwestern, I am studying Social Policy with a minor in Psychology, and want to go into educational policy, nonprofit management, or some form of legal work. On any given day, you can find me out running on the lakefill or in my red Jumpstart t-shirt working at a Rogers Park preschool with wonderful 3-5 year olds. I’m from Seattle, Washington and am prone to telling people how much I love my city!

It’s exciting and a little scary to believe that I will be spending the next four months in Paris. I have wanted to study abroad for as long as I can remember, so part of my excitement comes from realizing that it is finally time for me to go abroad. I decided to study abroad in Paris because I have always had a fascination with the city. I visited for a week with my family when I was 12 and found myself captivated by everything, even the mundane aspects like where Parisians went grocery shopping. Just like Seattle and Chicago, Paris is a city that thrives on unique neighborhoods, which excites me to explore as many as I can. There are so many nooks and crannies of Paris that I am excited to spend my time in – one of my personal goals for this fall is to really acquaint myself with the city on a personal level. I am also thrilled to be studying at Sciences Po: a dynamic, international university in the heart of Paris for people interested in politics, policy, and law. If I could, I would enroll in almost all of the courses, but of course I want time to pursue all of my adventures!

Although I have been taking French since middle school, I am very nervous about the language aspect of studying abroad in Paris. I am pursuing full immersion and fluency, but taking difficult courses in French will be challenging and overwhelming. In Paris, most people speak English as well, so I do not want to fall back on English as a crutch when I’m there. I hope to get over my fear of having bold conversations in French and I would like to make friends through French, rather than just by speaking English. A bientot, tout le monde!

Imagining Istanbul

Hagar Gomaa, Koç University Exchange, Fall 2013

I just completed the last day of my internship after spending the summer as an engineering intern in Lincoln, Nebraska. I cannot believe that in exactly two weeks time I will begin a new adventure and start over again. I will be returning to my hometown of Fort Wayne, Indiana for two weeks before boarding my flight to Istanbul, Turkey.

A little bit about myself, my name is Hagar Gomaa and I am a junior studying Industrial Engineering. At Northwestern I serve as the Pre-College Initiative Chair for the National Society of Black Engineers and as the Conference Chair for Model Arab League. My only international travel so far has been to Cairo, Egypt to visit my family and relatives.

I knew that I wanted to study abroad and, as an engineering student, I was concerned that I might not have the opportunity to do so. I was delighted when I learned that Northwestern offered an engineering study abroad program in Istanbul. I’m one of those people who secretly love airports; I get a thrill from experiencing new places and meeting new people.  However, I am nervous to leave my friends and family and sad that I will be missing Thanksgiving (best holiday ever), but after hearing about my friends’ study abroad experiences, I know that it will be worth it.

As a Muslim and Arab American, I have always been fascinated by Turkey as a place where secularism and religion intersect. During my time in Istanbul, I hope to have the chance to experience Turkey in a modern sense through university life, as well as explore the history and religious life of the city. One thing I am excited about is observing my religious holiday, Eid al-Adha, in a Muslim country. It will be the first time that I will officially have no school and celebrate my holiday with an entire nation.

I don’t speak a word of Turkish, so I am a bit anxious, but I am sure that in time I will learn. Of course, trying Turkish food is at the top of my list of goals to accomplish. Other goals include learning the history of the Ottoman Empire, expanding my religious knowledge, learning Turkish, and becoming involved with student groups on campus. I also look forward to celebrating my birthday in Turkey.

I have obsessively been checking the Koc University Exchange Facebook group for the past three months. There are exchange students from all over the world who will be studying in Istanbul this Fall, and I find myself in the minority as an American student. I have a flurry of questions running through my mind, but I push them away and try to focus on preparing for my trip. It’s likely that it will take me the next two weeks to pack, so goodbye until then. Istanbul in T-minus 15 days!

Au revoir, Paris!

Audrey Telfer, Sciences Po Exchange, Fall 2014

On June 25, 2013, I returned from Paris to the United States. It had been over 10 months since I had been home, so I was feeling happy and excited about being home for a few days and I was looking forward to having a chance to catch up with my family and friends and tell everyone about my experience abroad.

But now, whenever someone asks me how my year in Paris was, the first thing that naturally comes out of my mouth is “It was great!! I loved it!!!!” And I hate it, because I know how vague and how “typical” this answer is.

But no matter how loud I yell it or how many times I repeat that I LOVED MY EXCHANGE YEAR IN PARIS. That I would do it over a thousand times if I could. That it was one of the greatest opportunities of my life and that I don’t regret a single thing about my experience. No matter in how many different shapes and forms I try to explain how splendid my experience was, it will be extremely difficult to communicate precisely why my experience had such a big impact on my life.

I have thousands of pictures on my computer from all the different places I visited this year. I visited over 11 different countries and 30 different cities. I have hundreds of stories to tell. But even if you look through every single picture on my computer, you will not meet the same people I met, take the classes I took, take the metro as many times or eat as many baguettes as I did this past year. The people I met this year, during my exchange at Sciences Po and traveling around Europe, have shaped my exchange year and have helped me grow. They have impacted my life and have shaped my way of thinking, helping me become a more open person and view the world differently.

Even if I tell you every story and show you every picture from my year abroad, it will be impossible to capture, in full, the essence of my experience, and to live and to grow the way I did— which is precisely what made my experience so spectacular!

Turning 21 in Paris!

Sofia Falzoni, Sciences Po Exchange, Fall 2012

I am happy to announce that spring has FINALLY arrived in Paris, and it looks like it is here to stay! It is already mid-April, and up until last week I was still wearing boots, my winter coat, and (always) a scarf.

Last Friday (April 12) it was my birthday, and I went out to celebrate with some friends. We went out to a restaurant called Chez Gladine where they serve basque food. We waited in line for an hour, but it was worth it!  That weekend, my friend Steven (from Northwestern, who is currently studying abroad in Munich and I went to visit in February) and his friend Cameron were in Paris so they joined in my birthday celebration and I showed them around Paris a bit the rest of the weekend.  After some deliciously heavy basque food, we sat outside by some (very typically Parisian) stairs, we opened a bottle of champagne and I blew out some candles. Then, we went out to a club and I bought my first legal drink as a 21-year old, but no one asked for my ID…

The rest of the weekend, I showed Steven and Cameron a little bit around Paris, but I also had to leave them to be off on their own quite a bit because I had a ton of work to do for Sciences Po… The semester is almost over (last week was the last week of classes, and after that I just have one exam in mid-may). So last week I had three final projects due on the same day. I was almost done with two of my papers before Steven and Cameron had arrived, but I did have one paper left, for a class on “multiculturalisme et égalité des chances” (multiculturalism and equality of opportunities), that I had not even started the day before it was due!

I went to the library for a few hours on Saturday and then I woke up really early on Sunday to work on it all day— I think the beautiful weather and sun motivated me to work hard and stay off Facebook, because (for the first time in my life), I wrote a 10 page, 1.5 spaced paper in one day. I wrote non-stop from 9am to 6pm, and then had Steven read it over. He approved.

Because the day was absolutely gorgeous and the days are getting really long in Paris, we had planned to do a picnic in the late afternoon (or whenever I finished my paper…). At around 6:30pm, I met Cameron, Steven, and their friend Mylena (who is doing an exchange in Paris) in front of the Eiffel Tower.

Cheese, baguettes, wine, foie gras, even…

Champ de Mars (the grassy area in front of the Eiffel Tower) was packed with people celebrating the start of a beautiful spring. We stayed pic-nicking, talking, and sipping wine until it was nighttime and the Eiffel Tower started to sparkle (literally it sparkles with some cool lights)

It was a beautiful way to end a great weekend and a great start to my 21st year of life!

The Alps: a spring break with no tan

Sofia Falzoni, Sciences Po Exchange, Fall 2012

Tomorrow marks the end of week 7 in the Sciences Po academic calendar, which means that I will be officially more than halfway done with the second semester at Sciences Po (each semester is 12 weeks long). I can’t believe how quickly time goes by here! Fortunately, I am making every minute of my experience abroad count, as I continue to sign up for new experiences and adventures and continue to meet new people from all over the world.

Just a few days ago I got back from a week-long trip to the French Alps. It was our Spring Break at Sciences Po, and international and French students alike headed for all different parts of Europe and the world— some popular destinations included Italy, Germany, Morocco, and Amsterdam.

I decided to join Sciences Po’s Association Sportive in their annual Ski Trip to a resort in the Alps called Les Arcs. All the information I knew about the trip was what was posted on the Facebook event:

– 6 days of skiing

– 7 nights in apartment style housing for 4 people

– food pack included

– 120 spots

– the time of your life!

So, why not? I convinced my Finnish friend Meri and my Austrian friend Josef to come with me, which wasn’t hard at all, and we stood in line for two hours at 8 in the morning one day in order to fight for the last spots available on the trip. Luckily, we got there early enough to get (literally) the last three spots to go on the trip.

And, before we knew it, we were sitting (uncomfortably) on an 8-hour bus ride with about 117 other people (all French except for a small group of British international students), on our way to our Spring Break in the Alps.

Meri and I ended up sharing a flat with two French students who were in their first year at Sciences Po, Matthieu and Alexis. Living with 3 other people in a flat like that was definitely an experience… I felt like I was a character in L’Auberge Espagnole. We were like a family, and sometimes we loved each other and shared wonderful “home-cooked” meals each night, with French wine and baguettes, but when cleaning time came we often got on each other’s throats.

By the end of the week, we all became really close and we also made friends with some other French people on our floor. Because Sciences Po doesn’t  have dorms for its students, this week felt as if I was living in a residential hall for Sciences Po, because I met a lot of Sciences Po students and we ate together and hung out.

Meri, Matthieu, Alexis and I having dinner:





The skiing in Les Arcs was great. We had some good days and some bad days, but overall it wasn’t that cold and the slopes were magnificent.








And this is Meri (the Finnish girl) snowboarding in her super cool outfit.








On the last day, we had to leave our flat at 10am and then had to wait until 10pm for the bus to leave (French organization is sometimes not the best…clearly…), so we had to wander around in Les Arcs for 12 hours. During this time, we ate (a lot), and also bought some cheeses  and “saucisson” at this really cute cheese place:








After a full week of skiing in the mountains, I came back to Paris and Sciences Po, back to the pile of work that is characteristic of the second half of the semester. However, I came back to Paris with yet another adventure under my belt, with another experience, having seen another wonderful, beautiful place, and having met more nice, sympathetic, and amiable people in this country, who I will continue to share experiences with. Now, back to working on my exposé for tomorrow…

À bientôt!