A Tangible Paradox

The most fascinating aspect of Istanbul is its duality and contradiction. It’s the fact that East meets West, where a city is both in Europe and Asia simultaneously, where it is conservative and liberal, where secularism and Islamic ideas in politics coexist. The place where a church becomes a mosque and an identity the national identity can be both Pan-European and Euro-sceptic. The place was an empire long ago but is now a republic.

This in-between state of being and not being fascinates me about Turkey, particularly Istanbul. The tangible paradox is seen in every detail of the city, every neighbourhood, every church, synagogue, or mosque.

And I could never have imagined how profound and extraordinary Istanbul is without the field trip. To understand this phenomenon, which is genuinely one of a kind. Studying within the university’s four walls is not enough; having a tour guide doesn’t give enough context, and hearing from local academics without background does not understand the depth of this phenomenon. And that is why this field trip was so complete and fantastic, as every comprehension step was covered.  

The nuances of Turkish society were highlighted by professors from local universities from a wide range of case studies. We began the lectures with an economic and development comparison between Turkey and South Korea after IMF loans and the introduction of the concept of Cohesion and consensus in society.

Followed by a lecture on Social Change and historical perspective in the 100th anniversary of the Republic. Showcasing the concept of continuity, Kemalist ideology and societal cleavages.

And lastly, there was a lecture on women’s employment nationally, highlighting a pertinent evaluation. Although Turkey is amongst highly developed countries according to HDI standards, female access to work and career opportunities is scarce even though women are a significant portion of the population and finish higher education in bigger numbers. This then raises the question of whether and how development is measured.

As mentioned previously, the conjunct of the module, the guided tour through the city and the lectures from local scholars enabled me to understand Turkey beyond a superficial level.

This, in turn, enables me to understand more of the Middle East, not on a ‘one size all’ approach, but with an investigative one that is eager to understand layers and complexities.

Throughout the module, I was fortunate enough to embark on a guided tour of the city, partake in lectures delivered by esteemed local scholars, and immerse myself in the culture on a profound level. This invaluable experience granted me a profound insight into Turkey, subsequently empowering me to adopt a more intricate and inquisitive outlook towards the Middle East. Rather than depending on a simplistic approach, I now endeavour to comprehend its intricate layers and complexities.

Julia Servidone Sangali

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