I arrived in Istanbul five days ago, on June 21, 2011. I am here to participate in The Istanbul Project, a 4-week Journalism program facilitated by ieiMedia in conjunction with San Francisco State University. When I first applied for this program, I didn’t think that it would be possible for me to participate, but I applied anyway.  Knowing that if I made it into the program, it would financially drain me, I started to explore the possibility of financial aid.  After several inquiries, I discovered a scholarship offered by the Gilman International Scholarship Program. Again, thinking that I would not qualify or be awarded the scholarship, I filled out the application, wrote the essays and sent in the requested paperwork. Several weeks later I was informed that not only had I been accepted into the Istanbul Project program, but that I had also been awarded a full scholarship by the Gilman International Scholarship program. That settled it. I was on my way to Istanbul!!!

Now I am five days into my trip. Istanbul is a remarkable city; big and bustling and alive. The city looks very much like a typical coastal European city with its cobblestone streets and buildings squeezed together filling every nook and cranny available. However, Istanbul’s uniqueness lies in its culture. Despite being a secular country, Turkey is a predominantly Muslim (approximately 98% of the population is Muslim).  Mosques are as common to Istanbul as cathedrals are to Rome. Having never encountered a mosque and not knowing very much about the Islamic faith, I find myself in awe of the sights and the culture I am currently exploring.

There are two particularly famous mosques in Istanbul and they are both located in Sultanahmet, the historic center of of the city. The first is the Hagia Sophia (Aya Sofya) which was built around 360AD.

Originally it was a Greek Patriarchal Cathedral, later it was converted into a Roman Catholic church and finally was converted into a mosque by the conquering Ottoman Turks in 1453. Now it’s a museum. On the outside, the mosque is a massive structure boxed in by four minarets. On the inside, it is an interesting mix of arabic, Christian and even Hindu Symbols. The first time I walked into the Aya Sofya, my jaw practically hit the floor. As massive as the structure looks from the outside, it looks even more vast and grandiose inside.

The second mosque is the Sultan Ahmed, or the Blue Mosque, which was built around 1612. It got its “nickname” because the inside is designed using over 20,000 blue tiles in its mosaics. This mosque appears to be more imposing from the outside, but is smaller than the Aya Sofya on the inside. The detail and the intricacy of the tile work inside the mosque makes it a breathtaking sight. Unlike the Aya Sofya, the Blue Mosque is still an active place of prayer. Women are asked to cover their heads when they enter and tourists are kept behind a rope so as not to disturb those that are there to pray.

With so many sights to see and things to learn, it is clear to me that the next four weeks are going to be equally educational and interesting. I am excited to see what this journalism program and this city have in store for me.

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