When I was a high school student, my friends and family and I, had a favorite topic of discussion: What kind of a city is ideal for a university student life?
Some claimed that a more manageable city such as Ankara or Izmir is better for the students, since life is relatively easier in these big cities and they still have good universities. Those who favored this option were insistent that in such cities, a student would have more time to concentrate on his coursework without being distracted by the challenges and opportunities of a metropolis. They were mostly the parents who were worried about their children ending up in a vast metropolitan ocean where they risk being lost or being lured into non-traditional lifestyles and the students who were insecure about how well they would adapt to a fast-pace, overcrowded city. I would argue that it was more the fear of the most complex and the biggest that made them shy away from Istanbul and seek refuge in smaller (yet still big) cities.
Some on the other hand, thought that university life should not be limited by what is learnt in the classroom only, that it was an experience on its own and therefore a metropolis such as Istanbul would give the student the best opportunities for developing his or her personality and skills as well as getting a degree. The people who favored this option emphasized more the assets of Istanbul such as the social and cultural richness of the city with its many activities, its status as the center of the business world, as well as its more cosmopolitan and increasingly international character and its fast pace, which prepares the students better for today’s professional life. They were mostly the parents who had a wider worldview and saw university life in this light and the students who had enough confidence in themselves to know that they would survive in this big ocean.
My family and I were of the second kind. I didn’t apply to any universities outside of Istanbul. While everybody complained about the traffic, the crowds, the distances, the prices in Istanbul, although these factors had an impact on me as well, I chose not to sweat them. I focused on what I could get from the city by attending plays, operas, exhibitions, museums, movies, and visiting many bookstores and participating the world class events the city hosts. For all the time I lived here, as a university student for 5 years, later as a professional working in the private sector for 1 year, then when I was back from the USA after my PhD coursework in Boston as a PhD candidate writing my dissertation for 3 years and now as an academic for 4 years, I never even once regretted being a part of this unique and magical experience.
Many of us, unconditional lovers of Istanbul, we see her as a wise but ageless lady who has a lot to offer to those who dare to live life in it. I think of her as one of the greatest professor of all times carrying the history of several centuries, the legacy of many civilizations, the wisdom of a female with her more detail oriented mind and her more fragile soul, the contrasts of life in its most eloquent format and the multiple identities, teaching us much more than a university life could.
I am 36 years old now, and from time to time, I get the feeling that I am getting tired and that I should slow down a bit. Slowing down might also mean moving to another city such as Izmir, where life is slower, easier, where people are more laid-back and where I am closer to my immediate family and my best friend, since they all live in and around Izmir. However, I do not dare to leave behind Istanbul. I cannot leave my tough, highly demanding but yet still affectionate and wise Professor.
I write these lines as a proud student of Prof. Ms. Istanbul all the more aware of what she has to offer for teaching as I and my institution have just hosted Northeastern University students for the last two weeks. I’m sure they’ve learnt a lot from Istanbul, as much as they have from the Professors who lectured them.
Itir is a founding member of the editorial collective at University of Venus.