Istanbul Program Moved to Paris After Bombings

University expects to resume its program in Istanbul in 2017.

By Anne Nazzaro

The Istanbul Mediterranean Civilizations Program has been moved to the University of Chicago’s Center in Paris after a bombing in an Istanbul shopping center killed four and injured 36 on March 19.

Sarah Walter, director of the Study Abroad Office, notified participants in the program of the change on March 20 via e-mail. Students had previously been required to arrive in Istanbul on March 25.

According to the email, Dean John Boyer, graduate assistant Ipek Hüner-Cora, on-site administrator Gülseven Bektaş, and Walter made the decision to move the program together. “With reluctance in every case, the consensus of the group is that holding your Civilizations program in Istanbul this year would be subject to continued unrest, and could at best offer a highly constrained experience of Istanbul,” Walter wrote in the e-mail.

Participating students had to decide whether to relocate to Paris or to stay in Chicago for the quarter by March 22 at 5 p.m. The University also offered to cover the costs of students’ original travel fare to Turkey. Students that decided to stay in Chicago were not charged the Istanbul program fee.

Students that decided to relocate to Paris are still taking the Middle Eastern Civilizations sequence, but are learning French instead of Turkish, according to the e-mail.

Eighteen students were originally enrolled in the program, according to third-year Mari Cohen, who is in Paris for the program. Fifteen of them traveled to Paris for the Istanbul civilizations course, one traveled to Paris but switched over to the humanities program, and two decided to stay on campus.

Third-year Danna Elmasry decided to stay on campus and was able to get refunds for her flight to Turkey and program fee, but noted that the timing of the program’s move had caused some trouble. “Those flights were booked a long time ago, so it’s a significant amount of money, but it’s not anywhere near what it cost me to book flights back to Chicago a week before I flew,” she said. “The fact that they canceled it on Sunday was a really close call in terms of figuring out all your logistics.”

The March 19 attack follows other bombings in Turkey, including a bombing in Istanbul in January and two attacks in Ankara in February and March. After one of the attacks, Elmasry had contacted the program coordinator and asked if the incidents would affect the program going forward. “I think they could have legitimately canceled it earlier, on the theory that things are not likely to get better,” she said.

Cohen stated her disappointment in missing the opportunity to live in Istanbul while she studied it. “One of the big draws of UChicago study abroad is what you’re studying is directly relevant to what you’re experiencing,” she said. “So I think for us to miss out on that, is a bummer for sure.”

However, Cohen said she understands the reasoning behind moving the program, especially since their graduate assistant, Huner-Cora, who is Turkish, helped explain. “[Hüner-Cora] told us about right now in Istanbul, the situation’s pretty difficult,” Cohen said. “The on-site administrator in Istanbul who’s scheduling all of our activities was feeling very nervous, and [Hüner-Cora] was feeling nervous, and so they thought it would be a kind of relief to cancel it. Once I heard that, it sounded like they made the best decision.”

According to the program’s website, the University anticipates holding the 2017 program in Istanbul as usual.