Istanbul the Half Way Point

Saturday 9th February – Istanbul

I have landed at Istanbul airport many times in transit to other places in Turkey but never actually visited, so I was keen to see what the city had to offer. Chris re-joined me for the weekend from the UK, which was lovely so I was all set for a wonderful time in country 9 out of 18.

Pinar Ozbek, had done all the hard work for the event and it was an all I-House NYC turnout. She suggested BUMED, which is the alumni club for Bogazici University, as our meeting place.

Chris and I arrived a bit early and as we went to the reserved table we were approached by a gentleman. Mehmet Atar, explained that he had never lived at I-House but his friend Professor Dr. Orhan Kural had, but was not able to attends, so had asked him to represent him. He then presented me with his card which said he was the Honorary Consul in Istanbul for the Republic of Vanuatu! A role he explained he had been offered after doing some mining engineering consultancy in Vanuatu.

Chris with the Honorary Consul for Vanuatu, Mehmet Atar

We had a very lovely meeting with a lively crowd. Nilgun Okay and her sister Nesrin, both residents, came with Nilgun’s daughter. They also bought their I-House memorabilia with them. Including a newspaper article from the Turkish press about their performance at I-House at Fall Fiesta. They told me that at least 5 other cousins or relatives of theirs have also lived at the House!

Nesrin & Nilgun Okay with the press article about Fall Fiesta

Brunch turned into afternoon coffee as the conversation continued and I hope that this was the start of many a Turkish alumni meet up.

Pinar had chosen BUMED for our meet up as the Bogazici University also has links to the Dodge family, who gave some of the land that I-House NYC is built on. So I was keen to see some of the buildings. Our first attempt to get onto campus had not gone well due to my lack of Turkish, but luckily Sinan Acikalin (who is hoping to live at I-House from September when he goes to Columbia to do his MBA), son of Tarik Acikalin who lived in the House around 1975, said he would give us a tour the next day. Which it turned out was wonderfully sunny.

The University is set high up above the Bosphorus at its narrowest point, where castles on either side allowed the Ottomans to control the seaway between the Mediterranean and the Black Sea. It has the most amazing views. Originally Robert College it was started by two US philanthropists in 1871. The College was to open its doors to students of all races, nationalities and religions without prejudice or discrimination, which was unusual in those days. Over the next 100 years the campus was expanded until in 1971 it became Bogazici University. Today Bogazici is one of the most prestigious in Turkey.

In keeping with his support of the I-House philosophy, Cleveland H. Dodge’s donations to Bogazici were all about encouraging students to eat and socialise together and therefore learn about each other.

We visited the Dodge Gymnasium which is constructed of the blue limestone quarried on the campus. It was financed by Cleveland who was Chairman of the Board of Trustees from 1909 until 1926, and his father, William E. Dodge. For many years it was the first modern gymnasium in Europe and had the only indoors running track in Turkey (sadly no longer in existence). The first basketball game in Turkey was played here in 1908. Today the original floor is still in place and the building has been lovingly maintained by its very charismatic caretaker, who was keen to show us around.

Cleveland funded the Henrietta Washburn Hall or the Social Hall, it is called today. It was completed in 1914 and named after Henrietta Loraine Washburn, daughter of Cyrus Hamlin and wife of George Washburn. It is used as a recreational hall by the students, it contains a theater, lounges, club rooms and a canteen. He also donated a famous organ which is in the auditorium.

Again I do not know if Harry visited the campus but with the connections to his friend Cleveland, he may well have done and I am sure he would have approved of the University’s philosophy of inclusion as well as admired the wonderful views over the Bosphorus.

Story Snippets…

Key Positions – Nilgun Okay – Nilgun stayed at I-House for 4 years, which even in the 1980s was over the usually permitted length of time. She worked out that if she was to stay she would need to get one of the ‘Key Positions’ whilst studying for her PHD in Earth & Environmental Sciences. So she got the position of Special Assistant Pub / Vending Machines. Apparently she also worked the till in the canteen and was able to quickly reduce a long line of hungry students by getting them through the checkout fast! Nilgun was the first woman in Turkey to get a PHD in that field.

Nilgun Okay pointing out her entry in the Key Positions book

Dying Swan – Pinar Ozbek – Before coming to I-House Pinar danced for the Istanbul State Ballet for 8 seasons. At the House she performed the Dying Swan solo  Today she still teaches ballet alongside her academic teaching.

Greyhound Touring – Tarik Acikalin – Tarik wanted to do an MBA and in the 1970s the Turkish government would sponsor students to go to the US to study. Tarik got places at 3 US MBA schools including Columbia and applied for the government scholarship. There were 10 scholarships up for grabs and Tarik just missed out by being 11th in the ranking. So he started to study for his MBA in Turkey. Some 9 months later he got a call from the government office that said they would award him the scholarship for the next academic year. Tarik was undecided but got in touch with the 3 schools where he had places, but only Columbia would still accept him and would give him some credit for his year of study in Turkey. He decided to take up the offer and had 2 happy years living at I-House. A huge classical music fan, one of the highlights was access to great concerts in NYC while he was there. At the end of his stay at the House he and a Turkish friend set off to tour the USA by Greyhound bus for a month. No one believed they would last more than to California and back, but they did. They often slept on the bus rather than getting a hotel, and visited many places in their four weeks on the road.

Tarik Acikalin

Where we ate: BUMED –

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