Sunday, June 22, 2008

Journey to Istanbul

As I was deciding to apply for the Istanbul, Turkey, study abroad trip I took many issues into consideration. As a recent graduate with a B.A. who is possibly looking at graduate school, I know that any opportunity would be welcome to further my historical knowledge on a first-hand basis. I am very interested in the ancient civilizations that have resided in Turkey and other Middle Eastern countries, and I have read quite a bit on the archaeological sites in this area. When it came to the Byzantine era and the modern day country of Turkey, however, I was very unsure of what to expect so I knew that this was a chance that I needed to take now or I would regret it. I have always wanted to travel and Istanbul is not a popular destination among my friends and family. But I have been consistently hearing that the world is beginning to become so globalized in terms of languages, restaurants, and shopping that there is the fear that certain places will lose their original culture--so I wanted to go and see it now!

Financial obligations were also an issue as to whether or not I would be able to go. I applied for a study abroad scholarship first to see if I could receive any financial aid because without it the chances of me being able to go were slim. Fortunately, a few weeks before the application deadline for the study abroad program, I received a letter congratulating me on receiving a $2,500 scholarship towards this trip from Northern Kentucky University, my alma mater. Money was the biggest issue with my decision, but I do know that even without the scholarship I would have tried to find a way to come because I am always looking for a new way to experience the rest of the world.

Not having ever been in a foreign country before is very intimidating, and I was unsure of what to expect. Istanbul is considered the crossroads for Europe and Asia and so I was curious as to what kind of culture I would be experiencing. Plus, there are so many stereotypes about the Middle Eastern countries that I even was afraid that I would be caught in the middle of an undeveloped city. I had no idea of the Turkish culture or status in the modern world, so I was probably ready to believe anything. The excursion that I am most looking forward to is the site of Troy towards the end of our study. Homer’s Iliad was one of my first favorite stories to read as a kid, so being able to actually see the site where the Trojan War took place will be an amazing experience. Of course, I am fully aware that the story was embellished for the sake of a good bard’s tale, but nevertheless, I cannot wait to go there and see the remains of the Trojan people who put up a fight against the Greeks.

I enrolled into the course “Byzantine Art & Architecture” because one of the most basic ways to understand and begin study of a culture is to experience the people’s art and structures. Through art you can typically understand their religious views and morals because the most popular subject of art is religion and the afterlife that we expect. Through architecture you can get an idea as to how grand the city or country must have been and how affluent their monarchs or rulers were based on the expense of the palaces. I have also had a love for any type of art or architecture that is not modern. Modern American architecture is so dull and economical that it is impossible to appreciate any of our city structures. As stated above, I was unsure who the Byzantines really were: were they Romans of the last centuries of the empire, or were they a separate culture group?

The term “Byzantine” does mean much more to me now that I am prepared to intensely study this period for the next five weeks. I have a newfound curiosity into this era that many western history books ignore, and I have created a small pile of books about this empire that I hope to get the chance to go through soon. However, I am considering myself a blank slate when I walk into my first class because I have so little knowledge. From my most recent pre-trip readings I can only make the assessment that the Byzantines were the successors to the Eastern Roman Empire and their culture took a very different turn from the Western Empire in terms of longevity.

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