What We’ve Learned in Class

As we were excitedly piling onto the bus and preparing to leave for our Turkish excursion, Mark reminded us of a surprising fact: we have already completed one of our four academic courses for the semester. Somehow, we fit a credit’s worth of reading, lectures and tests into a three-week blitz of scholarship at Boğaziçi University. Although it’s true that we’ve learned a lot from navigating public transportation and deciphering Turkish menus, we have also been working hard in the classroom.

After our two-day course of intensive survival Turkish, we had lectures from Şevket Pamuk, a professor of economic history at the London School of Economics. He used to teach at Boğaziçi and has a long history of working with visiting St. Olaf groups. He gave us a great overview of Middle Eastern geography, demography and history. Most of us found these two days to be some of the most rewarding academic work on our trip so far. We focused on how different countries in the region have changed political regimes following the end of colonialization.

After the lectures from Prof. Pamuk, we had lectures from Prof. Zafer Toprak, a professor of modern history at Boğaziçi who has organized programs for visiting St. Olaf groups since the early 80s.  We learned about the 19th century reforms of the Ottoman Empire that set the tone for the later reformers who would lead the new Turkish republic after the collapse of the Ottoman Empire. Over the next two weeks, Zafer expounded on this history and filled in many details about the transition from Muslim empire to secular republic. During some of the afternoons, Zafer’s wife Binnaz, our Turkish teacher and a member of the Turkish parliament in Ankara, taught us about the political situation in Turkey from the founding of the republic to the current day. Did you know that Turkey is currently operating under its third constitution since it was founded as a republic? For most of us, learning the political history of Turkey has given us a deeper appreciation for the relative stability of the American political system and an admiration for the Turkish people who have lived through period of great political and social unrest.

To finish out our course, we had two lectures on Turkish foreign policy from Professor Gün Kut a professor of international relations at Boğaziçi University. He emphasized to us that because of Turkey’s geographical placement, it is directly affected by any turmoil in the Middle East, North Africa, the Balkans and the Caucasus. This puts Turkish foreign policy makers in difficult situations on a regular basis. Professor Kut lead us in an interesting exercise where we compared the primary foreign policy concerns of the United States and Turkey. For the most part, these two countries have very similar concerns. Syria, Iraq, Israel/Iran, and Afghanistan all pose serious challenges to foreign policy makers in U.S. and the Turkey. Of course, these two countries approach these problems in different ways and have different priorities when they implement their foreign polcies.

As I was writing this post, Matt pointed out to me that one of the most impressive lessons we learned was that a quiet learning area is not a right – it’s a privilege. Throughout our time at Bogazici University, they were doing some serious construction on our building. During most of our class sessions, there was a jackhammer being used about 25 feet away from us. On a regular basis, our professors would have to pause for a moment to let an especially intense burst of noise pass before they continued teaching.

Do you have questions about what we learned in class? Curious about the history of 20th century Turkish political history? Leave a comment and at least a few of us will try to answer your query! Disclaimer: this might take some time.

-John

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About stotime

14 young adults, two fearless leaders, a multitude of language barriers and a world worth exploring.
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