Teresa Olombrada Rodríguez is currently studying a Dual Degree in Laws + International Relations. She has just finished a semester abroad at Koç University in Istanbul, Turkey. IE University’s exchange program provided Teresa the opportunity for her to fulfill her goal of having an experience outside of her comfort zone and encounter different perspectives on politics, history and culture.
Student life is too short and when I was given the option of doing a semester abroad or an internship, I decided to do the exchange program. I was looking forward to going somewhere unknown to me. I wanted to go on an adventure where I could experience things outside of my comfort zone. I wanted an intellectual challenge and to be exposed to different perspectives on history, politics and religion.
That’s why I chose Turkey. I find Turkey to be fascinating—in history and culture, not to mention its position on the world stage at the moment. I could learn so much from living there, what Turkish people say and how they think. For me, for example, what better way to understand the meaning of Ramadan than by having iftar (the dinner for breaking fast) with Muslim friends?
I specifically decided on Istanbul because of how beautiful and historical the city is. Istanbul has a privileged geopolitical position—it’s the bridge between two continents and two cultures. Surrounded by historically and geopolitically important waters, there was never any doubt that it was the capital of three different empires. For me, studying International Relations, Istanbul is simply fascinating. The added bonus for me was that photography is a huge passion of mine and the city was a perfect match because of how beautiful and full of surprises Istanbul is.
Once I had honed in on the city, I picked Koç University because I saw a special opportunity there, and it was exactly what I needed. I picked subjects unrelated to my degree at IE University, but ones that I would have a huge interest in. The athletics department was huge and I decided to join the football team. It was my way to be surrounded by locals and to be able to travel around the country. By spending more time with locals, I was able to learn Turkish more quickly and adapt faster.
Learning Turkish was difficult, but a big goal of mine. By learning the structure of the language and some basic words, I could also better understand their way of thinking. I believe that language and society are intertwined. I learned a lot about Turkish culture through their language. It was extremely stimulating.
That stimulation was ultimately what I think the highlight of my study abroad experience was. The most important thing I am taking from my time in Turkey were the conversations. When I decided on Turkey, I set my mind to making sure I listened to Turkish people. I wanted to know their opinion on things. That’s why throughout my exchange, I talked with so many people from so many backgrounds. I asked as many questions as I could. Those conservations were immensely enriching. I was surprised to notice that learning about another culture makes you more self-aware about your own. Turkish people were always open about themselves. They welcomed me into their culture with open arms and they were very interested in listening about my life and my culture. Those deep conversations felt like we were building bridges, which was intellectually fascinating.
Studying abroad was an amazingly enriching experience. For anyone thinking of studying abroad, it’s important to make a thorough list of what you want to get from the exchange experience. Make it purposeful. Making friends and getting involved in university activities is essential for making the experience better. And the last tip I give out is: be daring!
Overall, my exchange experience was a mind-opening adventure. I’m glad IE University made this opportunity possible for me because I realized that if something is never-ending, it’s the cultures of the world. The amount of information to discover and assimilate is simply unmanageable over a lifetime, and that is exciting.