In the first week of May, after months of preparation, 33 first and second year MSc MADE students were finally able to travel to Istanbul for the yearly MADE IT study trip! Accompanied by three teachers, we joined a full program hosted by the Istanbul Planning Agency. It turned out to be an unforgettable experience filled with enriching encounters, diverse perspectives, and valuable lessons. This blog post aims to provide a comprehensive overview of the journey, highlighting key takeaways, cultural insights and personal growth, and the relevance of this trip to the field of study.
The trip began with the journey to Turkey, either by plane or train. The train and bus trip especially had its ups and downs, from the breathtaking views of the Rumanian forests to the late-night two-hour-long border crossings. During our stay, we had the privilege of staying in the brand-new suites of Olivera Suites in the area of the Zeytiburnu, a residential area just a stone's throw away from the historical city center and halfway to Istanbul Planning Agency’s (IPA) campus.
Exploring Istanbul: site visits and immersive experiences
As most students already arrived on Saturday, and the program was officially starting on Monday, May 1st, we had two days to explore and walk around in the streets of Istanbul by ourselves, including visits to the Topkapi Palace, the famous Blue Mosque and Hagia Sophia, and trying Turkish dishes.
The first day of activities kicked off with an exciting excursion to the IPA campus, formerly a luxurious housing complex for Istanbul's mayors but now transformed into an open campus for students and people of all backgrounds, encouraging work and sports activities. We were pleasantly surprised by the warm welcome of the local community. The day began with engaging presentations from both policymakers from IPA and students from Istanbul's Technical University, who shared their projects and provided valuable insights into the area that would be the focus of our research project: Yedikule.
Yedikule is a historic neighborhood of Istanbul, making its development a complex undertaking. The area's rich cultural significance is exemplified by landmarks such as the Yedikule Fortress and the Theodosius II walls. Our primary objective was to propose a range of possible solutions to address the metropolitan challenges that impede the overall livability of the area.
The week continued with a diverse array of activities, including a series of site visits that afforded us the invaluable opportunity to witness firsthand the realities of traversing a city with a population of 16 million. This immersive experience exposed us to the intricacies of urban life, including navigating through heavy traffic and contending with crowded public transportation systems. Notable destinations on our itinerary encompassed the remarkable Roman cisterns, the dynamic Galata neighborhood, and repurposed 19th-century factories that have been transformed into thriving cultural hubs. During one of these site visits we had the unique opportunity to engage in a role-playing game centered around participatory design, organized by the Istanbul Planning Agency. Through this interactive experience, we gained first hand exposure to the intricacies involved in the planning and decision-making processes that are shaping Istanbul's urban landscape. One noteworthy visit took us to the Netherlands Institute in Istanbul, where we had a look into the institute's mission and operations and a very insightful lecture about the evolution of Istanbul in the 20th century.
Presenting Innovative Solutions for Yedikule
On Saturday, our hard work materialised as we had the final presentation, exploring a myriad of potential solutions to the multifaceted challenges in Yedikule. We presented a solution that explored place making, cultural heritage management, economic development and environmental improvement. Leveraging our research and collective knowledge, we proposed innovative strategies aimed to improve the area's livability. The occasion provided an opportunity for fruitful interaction with the Turkish students and IPA agents facilitating an exchange of ideas and fostering cross-cultural network. Following the presentation, we engaged in a spirited game of basketball, and frisbee in an atmosphere of accomplishment.
Spending a week in a unique metropolis like Istanbul provided fresh perspectives on urban challenges and culture differences. The visit to Istanbul allowed us to apply the knowledge gained during Metropolitan Challenges and other courses to a new international and real-world context. Whereas Amsterdam, Istanbul and other cities worldwide might face similar issues, we also identified differences. Especially due to the city's scale, political situation and culture differences, because of this challenges such as segregation, heritage preservation and safety are approached differently.
Broadening Perspectives: Cultural Observations and Exchanges
The trip also contributed to the development of various skills, such as adaptability, effective communication, intercultural competence and open-mindedness. Navigating the city's intricate public transportation system, exploring urban development plans, engaging with locals, and overcoming language barriers challenged all students to step out of their comfort zone. This enabled us to expand horizons and approach future endeavours with greater confidence.
Through daily 15 km walks around the city and engaging in conversations with the locals, we acquired numerous cultural observations. We discovered that religion holds a significant place in Istanbul as we were awoken each morning at 5 by prayers from a Mosque nearby. Additionally, we became aware of the importance of tea and the art of Turkish coffee reading within Turkish culture. The ubiquitous presence of cats in the city also fascinated us, leading some of us to consider adopting them and bringing them home.
The trip not only enriched our understanding of Istanbul's culture and urban development but also provided invaluable networking opportunities. Not only did we really strengthen our bonds between our fellow MADE students, but we also had the pleasure of spending time with the employees of IPA and a group of Turkish students. During all the walks, dinners, workshops and other excursions, we shared our experiences, discussed our diverse backgrounds and made new friends. These connections expanded our professional network and opened doors to future collaborations and cultural exchanges.
Words of gratitude
For all students participating, we think this trip has been a core memory of their MSc MADE experience. Therefore, we would really like to thank IPA, the local students, other local organisations involved and of course our own teachers Saskia, Karin and Stefan for their efforts. We are also immensely grateful to Wageningen University and Research for making this trip possible and enabling us to take part in this incredible adventure. For now, with luggage filled to the brim with Turkish delight, there is plenty for us to evaluate and reflect upon, but hopefully new students will get a similar opportunity to enjoy future trips as much as we did!