Breaking the Rules: Learn to ‘Flex for Culture’ in Turkey

Photo: AntoniO BonvinO

Submitted by Rachel Whitcomb, Global Ambassador in Istanbul, Turkey.


Oh that’s right…I’m STUDYING abroad…

Sometimes you get so caught up in the traveling aspect of being abroad that you lose sight of what sent you here in the first place.  But of course, I’m attending class and doing homework, I would never forget!

My beautiful campus

In the Turkish education system, everyone in high school takes a test (think SATs) and gets ranked across the country.  Over one million students get a ranking (not a percentile, like the USA) and this ranking is the order in which they get to choose their department of study. They have 24 choices, the first 1,000 students get their first pick, and so on. The majors that are “filled up” first are engineering and business.

My advisor was number 634 (yes, you know EXACTLY which number you are, can you are, can you imagine being number one?). He chose computer engineering at what is considered the hardest university in Turkey, which is where I’m studying: the pressure is on to do well. He’s made fun of those of us who “don’t have real majors,” like social sciences and especially me, fine arts/music. At my Jesuit college back home, we pursue our majors for the intrinsic value of knowing more about that subject because we love it, not necessarily because it’s going to give us money or a career down the line. Here, education is career related, and there is legitimately more respect given to those people who were able to get into harder majors.

In front of the painting that literally moved me to tears. So happy to finally see it in person.

But there are advantages of being an art student here as opposed to being in the States: for my art history class, we’ve been able to actually go see the artifacts we are studying! The Anatolian Archeological Museum in Ankara was so overwhelming it moved me to tears. I’m not looking at slides of images, I’m standing in front of paintings and stone carvings from thousands of years ago. So while my major doesn’t make me look too impressive as a student here, it’s greatly benefiting from being on this side of the world, the source of so much art and history!

Delicious combination of bread, yogurt, meat and onions.

Now another extremely important part of university life is food. At Seattle University I have been able to easily uphold a strict vegetarian diet for over 2 years. I knew coming here that I wouldn’t be saying no to eating meat, but I had no idea just how much I would be eating. It was a little hard on my body to get used to, but people here eat it with nearly every meal. There’s consolation in knowing that all the animals used to make the food are killed Halal to follow the Islamic religion, think Kosher for Jewish people. To experience the culture, it’s worth breaking a few rules!



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