Istanbul is an amazing place to visit, but you can't truly understand the city without spending an extended period of time there. The SU Istanbul program begins with a traveling seminar in which you are taught everything you could want to know about the history of the city (and you learn to speak a little bit of Turkish too!). The best part of the seminar is that you are learning about the history of the city while standing inside the historical places you are learning about, such as Hagia Sophia or Topkapi Palace. You continue to learn through the semester about Turkey as a country through a class taught by the program director, and many field trips. These classes and trips allow you to really understand everything going on around you on a daily basis, in a way that most tourists never could.
The day to day life during the program is really what you make of it. You can make yourself extremely busy by taking lots of classes, doing an internship, volunteering, and finding things to do around the city. Istanbul is such a large city that you could spend every day of the semester exploring and never see the whole thing, which is great when you will be there for about 5 months. I had an internship 2 days per week and was able to make some great friends there who really took me under their wings. They helped me continue to learn Turkish and always included me when they went out for lunch or dinner together as an office. For me, my internship was one of the greatest learning experiences for me because I got to spend so much time with Turkish people talking about subjects such as food, politics,religion, sports, and life in general. I suggest that if you do attend this program, you make an effort to get to know as many Turkish people as possible, because they will teach you more than you can imagine.
Interning in Istanbul was one of the most valuable experiences that I had abroad. I was able to work at a culinary arts/cultural center, which was a perfect fit for me as a nutrition major. Perhaps the most important part of the experience was being able to spend time getting to know my Turkish colleagues, who took time out of each day to teach me new things about Turkish culture.
Even if you do not know much about Turkey before going on this program (because I definitely did not), I promise you will learn so much and leave thinking that Turkey is one of the most amazing places in the world! This is a really special program and I think everyone who goes to Istanbul for their semester abroad is really happy with their decision :)