Wednesday, May 23
“When you all have some time, make sure to visit the 7th floor.”
Upon following this advice from Dr. Kalupa, we ventured to the top floor of City Center Hotel. It would have been impossible for our group to prepare for the magnificent view from the roof of the hotel. Several stories high, we were presented with a panoramic view of the city, admiring the beauty of the Bosporus in the distance surrounded by historically famous buildings such as the Suleymaniye Mosque and Hagia Sophia. This was a moment that redefined “breathtaking.” This was unlike any beauty we had experienced before. This was Istanbul.
Our journey in Istanbul started in Istanbul Atatürk Airport after another early morning flight. After our arrival, we were fortunate to have our Harrisonburg travel agent, Brandi Simmons join us for the remainder of the trip. The location of City Center Hotel was conveniently minutes away from the well known strip of shops and restaurants named Istiklal Street. Before we explored the area, a couple members of the group ate lunch at a small café called Cook Time. It only took a few minutes to realize that our lacking skills in the Turkish language might create a little confusion and require a lot of patience.
Afterwards, we strolled down Istiklal Street where we browsed clothing stores and tourist shops in the midst of the chaos of the lively street. Istiklal Street radiated with high energy and magnificent culture which provided an enjoyable few hours of exploration. Additionally, we could not help but notice that Istanbul also served as a dessert haven. After being tempted by several Turkish dessert shops, two members of the group bought dondurma (ice cream) from a street vendor who transformed the simple act of scooping ice cream into an elaborate and highly entertaining performance.
In the evening, the group chose to eat at a nearby restaurant that provided a menu that was translated in English. The ability to read the menu was a breath of fresh air, even if ordering our food was not as effortless. In the end, we enjoyed our meals and headed off to rest and prepare for an early morning.
Thursday, May 24
By 8:00 a.m. the next morning, our group was ready to attend the 10th International Symposium: Communication in the Millennium (CIM) hosted by Istanbul University. Organized by the Association of Turkish and American Communication Scholars (ATACS), the itinerary for the symposium included keynote speeches and presentations on a variety of topics by impressive participants from all over the world. Upon arrival, we were welcomed by Dr. Serra Gorpe and Dr. Adem Ayten who were actively involved in the planning and coordination of the event. After a ten-minute documentary on Istanbul University followed by opening remarks and speeches by ATACS Board Members, Dr. Kalupa delivered a keynote speech about the professional expectations and the preparation of future public relations practitioners for strategically managing social media. He focused on how social media was not about the tools; instead, it was about the people and the content and therefore suggested the term “social media” be renamed “social communication.” He also focused on the importance of meaningful public relations education in order to properly prepare students for the field. After Dr. Kalupa spoke, we heard Dr. Judith K. Litterst speak about evaluative listening and questioning and Dr. Werner Severin present about social media in the political process. During the coffee break, Dr. Adem Ayten arranged for Ghengis, a friendly student who attended Istanbul University, to give us a quick tour around the area. Our group took pictures at the Square of Beyazit and Ghengis led us to the Grand Bazaar. In the Grand Bazaar we were instantly surrounded by an overwhelming selection of items. Each vendor made their best attempt to entice individuals into their store to negotiate prices. After spending an hour in the Grand Bazaar, we made it back to Istanbul University just in time for lunch. The main dish was a mouth-watering Turkish classic, doner kebab.
After lunch, most members of the group decided to take a Bosporus Cruise to one of the Princes' Islands where we once again were astounded by the beauty of our surroundings.
Friday, May 25
On our third day in Istanbul, we were scheduled to visit Istanbul Municipality, APCO Worldwide, and then attend the gala dinner for the CIM at the Social Club of Istanbul University at Baltalimani.
We started the morning at the Public Relations Division at Istanbul Municipality, where Fatma Durak assisted in translation and helped educate our group on the functions of the government in Istanbul. As Fatma explained the process of residents reporting their problems, our group was shocked to learn the types of issues the government was held responsible for assisting. These issues varied from a woman unsatisfied with her hair color to a family suffering after a death in the family. Istanbul Municipality is dedicated to achieve their goal of handling all complaints in order to benefit the city as a whole.
They also explained an ongoing project of creating Communication Corners, which serve as information stations where assistance is available for anyone with questions. These Communication Corners were strategically placed in the busier areas of the city in order to reach a large population of individuals. When we were shown the picture of what these Communication Corners looked like, we realized that we had just visited one the day before in order to receive directions on how to get to the Bosporus cruise. From this experience, we knew first-hand how helpful and efficient these information stations were. One of the most admirable aspects of the Communication Corner was how its function preserved the value of face-to-face communication. As students studying communication in the United States, we understand the worth of face-to-face communication but in a society that relies heavily on technology, face-to-face can sometimes be avoided between individuals due to its inconvenience. Creating Communication Corners is a hard working attempt to keep that aspect of communication alive, and we were extremely impressed by the efforts of the Istanbul Municipality.
Next, Managing Director Zeynep Dereli hosted an excellent visit for us at APCO Worldwide. Although we had visited an APCO Worldwide office earlier in the trip, our visit to the Istanbul office allowed us to understand how the economy of a country could lead to different functions of specific offices. In the Istanbul office, we learned that the APCO Worldwide focuses a lot of time in the area of business diplomacy. Zeynep and her team spent a great deal of time with us discussing the government and the different economy drivers (IT, biomedical, real estate) in Turkey. We also discussed ways that Turkey could improve their brand value as a country and their current weaknesses in doing so. The APCO Worldwide team in the Istanbul office helped our group understand how these factors played a vital role in different businesses. Zeynep’s knowledge of the issues around the world was fascinating and we were privileged to have met with her and the others in the APCO office.
After our visit, our group took a trip to a nearby Starbucks and enjoyed a coffee outside alongside the Bosophorus before we left for the gala dinner. At the gala dinner, there was delicious food, great entertainment, and a lot of dancing. The excitement of the traditional Turkish music and dancing during the reception delighted our group as we talked to the professors and other students in attendance.
Saturday, May 26
On our last day in Istanbul, Tarik Dagdir guided us through parts of Istanbul where we were given the opportunity to learn about the amazing history of the city. Through the rise and fall of many empires, Istanbul is rich with history. On our tour we visited unforgettable sites including the Hipprodrome, the Blue Mosque, the German fountain, and the Topkapi Palace.
After eating lunch with our guide, we headed to the office of the Cumhuriyet Daily, an independent newspaper in Turkey. During our with Hakan Kara, news editor, and graciously translated by Burcu Akkaya, Cumhuriyet travel writer, we learned about the different newspaper publications in Turkey and the history of Cumhuriyet Daily and its progression throughout the years. In addition, we discussed how new technology has played a vital role in the newspaper’s development. One of the most interesting aspects of the discussion was about the issue with freedom of ideas in Turkey. Journalists are directly affected by this issue and many of them have spent time in jail because of this problem. After an informative discussion, we were given a tour around the office. After the visit, we enjoyed the next few hours in Istanbul by taking one last walk down Istiklal Street.