While one of my best friends, Tim, was teaching in Istanbul, he asked me to take his class of high school students on a field trip to get to know their own city. The students came from affluent backgrounds and from Tim’s description lived a sheltered life, living in posh high rises in different parts of the city and the extent of their cultural knowledge being malls and reality TV. Our goal was to show them that Istanbul is a very vibrant and diverse city with a rich history, and to get them interested in exploring it.
We took two field trips with very different results. The first one was to the Edirnekapı, Fener, and Balat, to see the Jewish, Greek, and Bulgarian roots of the city. Many of the students had only heard of these minorities in a negative way, and we wanted to show them that the traditions and influence of these groups continues to affect Istanbul to this day.
For the most part, the group was well-behaved and even got a case of culture shock at times. We visited the Kariye Müzesi (Chora Church), walked through Balat past the old Jewish neighborhood and a few synagogues, and then to Fener, where we visited the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople and took a stroll through a street market. We finished at Fatih Camii.
Their eyes were wide open during the entire trip and many of them expressed confusion about their negative thoughts about the minorities (a step forward, in our opinion). They were exhausted at the end of the day, but they all were very positive about their adventurous day.
The biggest culture shock, however, came at a small neighborhood Turkish restaurant. The students begged us not to eat there because it was “dirty”, but we promised them nobody would get sick. They had it ingrained in their minds that eating anything outside of their home or at a “nice” restaurant would make them sick because of bad hygiene. Well, nobody got sick, some of the students didn’t eat, but Tim and I had a delicious meal of kebabs and lahmacun.
Our second field trip was to the Galata area (now Karaköy) and the famous pedestrian street of İstiklal Caddesi. This one took place after the students kept begging Tim for another trip. It started out great, but it ended up a minor disaster with the students being uninterested in the sites and begging us to go shopping.
Our goal for this trip was much the same as the first one, focusing on the Jewish, Greek, and Italian roots of the area. We visited the Zülfaris Sinagogu, which is now Istanbul’s Jewish museum, the Kamondo Steps, Sent Antuan Kilisesi (St. Antoine/Sant’Antonio di Padova Church), and I pointed out some old Greek landmarks along İstiklal.
We also decided to take the students to lunch at an Indian restaurant called Taj Mahal. The students, many of whom had never tried anything other than Turkish or fast food, were apprehensive at first. They dug in and tried to compare each dish to a Turkish one for familiarity. In the end, they enjoyed the food for the most part and talked about what other non-Turkish food they would like to try.
In the end, Tim and I believed the field trips achieved our goals although the second one was a bit of a letdown. Tim said that the class was more interested in other cultures and countries after the outings. The school’s quarterly magazine even printed an article about the trips.