Study Abroad

What You Need to Know About Safety and Studying in Turkey Right Now

Valerie Stimac
Topic Expert

Valerie was the previous Managing Editor and helped produce all of the amazing articles and guides you see on Go Overseas. She attended grad school abroad in London.

For centuries, the country of Turkey has straddled two very different "worlds." The confluence of cultures, including Middle Eastern conservative and Western progressive ideologies, has consistently made the country a tumultuous place to live, travel, work, and study.

If you have your heart set on studying abroad in Turkey, the latest news out of the country can be disheartening and scary. Barely a month goes by when another city in Turkey isn't on TV with sad news, but this shouldn't deter you from studying abroad there if you're truly passionate about it.

What we hear on most news channels about what's happening in Turkey doesn't give a full picture.

Although many universities and study abroad program providers have suspended their programs for the 2016-2017 academic year, there's still a few study abroad programs and language schools operating in Turkey.

If you have your heart set on studying abroad in Turkey, below are a few things you should know about Turkey travel safety and study abroad tips before you decide to go:

1. The Instability in Turkey is Multi-Dimensional

What we hear on most news channels about what's happening in Turkey doesn't give a full picture. Part of the reason Turkey has been so unstable is that there are a variety of radical groups operating in the country, primarily on the Eastern side of the Bosphorus Strait. Most attacks have been in either Istanbul, other major cities, or along the Syrian border.

If you want to get a better sense of the many forces operating in Turkey, read this quick but educational timeline from Al Jazeera. Knowledge is power when it comes to understanding what's really happening in Turkey.

That said, most study abroad programs in Turkey are based in Istanbul. A few operate in Ankara and Antalya as well. Terrorist attacks have been reported in both Istanbul and Anakara.

2. Lots of Study Abroad Programs Have Been Canceled for 2016-2017

Many programs and campuses are especially aware of how vulnerable their students are, and have taken extra measures to keep students safe. Some campuses have temporarily suspended their Turkey programs, so be sure to check if yours is still happening.

Once you arrive in Turkey, be sure to register with the campus and provide them any information needed about where you're living, your contact info, and your emergency contact.

Also be sure to subscribe to email newsletters they might offer with the latest campus and community news.

3. You Might Want to Consider Alternatives to Studying Abroad in Turkey

Unfortunately, now might not be the right time to travel or study abroad in Turkey. If you are unsure about how safe you'll be -- or even how secure you'll feel, consider switching to a different study abroad program in a nearby country. There are lots of alternatives that will give you an equally immersive experience, even if not of Turkish culture. Some include:

If you're in one of these destinations -- especially Greece / Croatia -- you might even be able to visit Turkey (depending on the political situation) at some point of your study abroad trip.

If you do still decide to travel to or study abroad in Turkey and your program is still operating, the rest of these tips are for you.

4. Much of Rural Turkey is Relatively Safe

If your program is still operating and you're planning to study abroad, one of the greatest opportunities you'll have is to travel in addition to spending time in the classroom. In Turkey, it's relatively safer in small communities outside large cities.

As mentioned above, most of the political instability and attacks seem to be focused in larger cities. Popular spots to visit like Cappadocia and Pamukkale are still worth visiting, especially if you book your trip through trusted guides and tour companies.

5. Your Home Country Wants to Know Where You Are

Simply because you decided to study abroad doesn't mean your home country isn't paying attention to you as a traveler. In the United States, the State Department offers STEP, or the "Smart Traveler Enrollment Program."

This allows travelers and students to register their dates and locations of time spent abroad, and allows the government to locate you more easily. It also allows you to designate an emergency contact who can receive updates about you and the country you're studying in. Lastly, they offer a text message and email service to notify you of any important breaking news while you're abroad.

You should also stay up to date on travel warnings from your home country, like the State Department's current travel warning on Turkey.

6. Business Cards Are Your New Best Friend

This might sound totally old fashioned, but business cards can be really helpful. Whether you're staying in a homestay, hotel, or dorm, learn which hotels or restaurants are nearby. Pop into one or two and grab a business card in Turkish. Carry these in your wallet -- if you need to grab a cab or Uber to get home for any reason, you can show the driver the card and be confident he or she can actually read it.

7. English Is One of the Most Common Foreign Languages

Turkey has a surprisingly diverse set of languages that people speak, including Turkish, Arabic, Georgian, Bosnian, and English. Though not the most common, roughly 17% of people can speak English.

As with any foreign country, be sure to brush up on the basic etiquette and you'll likely have a better time while studying abroad in Turkey.

It never hurts to learn important Turkish phrases (and to study Turkish while in Turkey), but you may be able to speak in English occasionally too, especially in large cities like Istanbul and Ankara.

8. Don't Forget the Rules of Etiquette

It might seem strange to leave etiquette for last, but many people's concerns about studying abroad in Turkey have little to do with how to behave once you arrive. Straddling the border between continents and cultures, Turkey has a unique set of rules for greeting, interactions, and social situations.

As The Istanbul Insider points out, one important reminder is that men greeting other men have different interactions than when women greet women, or in mixed-gender company. Another, from eDiplomat, says that punctuality is important in Turkey, everywhere from the classroom to the board room.

As with any foreign country, be sure to brush up on the basic etiquette and you'll likely have a better time while studying abroad in Turkey.