Letters to Home: SVP vs. IST

I have a funny joke for you: what's the difference between Silicon Valley, California and Istanbul, Turkey? Everything!

I can absolutely say that my commute to university from my flat is a hell of a lot faster in Istanbul than my hour and a half commute in Silicon Valley. I can also say with good faith that the Mexican food in Silicon Valley is far superior to the terrible failure that is an attempt at fajitas in Istanbul. The other very large difference, and a serious slap to the face, is that the price of peanut butter in Istanbul is just plain ridiculous.

That peanut butter price slap has helped me not only to compare Turkey to the U.S., but to compare my experience studying abroad in Turkey to doing CMC's Silicon Valley Program. Yes, I am one of the students who decided to do both. I have no regrets on either end. But if you have to choose, just know what you are getting and giving up in both situations. In addition, please let me first give a disclaimer that these are my thoughts and opinions on a variety of things that are completely subjective and relative based on a variety of factors completely out of your control. That is probably the first thing you should understand about abroad in general: whether it's domestic or international, you are completely without control, and you'd better get used to that very quickly, or that slap to the face is going to be a lot more painful that an overpriced jar of Skippy.

Let’s break up off campus experiences into two main factors: location and people. Both are very important and deserve their own due time. Starting with location, let's think about Silicon Valley. Hopefully, most of you know where that is; if not, it's about an hour-long flight from CMC. So this does mean you can make it down for your favorite party or your best friend’s 21st — you know, the important things. Turkey, well that's a whole different story. Let’s just say that you're not going home for the weekend or seeing many friends unless they also decided to go to Eastern Europe or the Middle East and want to come visit you, assuming that people haven’t scared them out of it because of supposed "ISIS threats."

The key thing that many people tend to glaze over is language and its role in location. Silicon Valley has a different language. The people rarely speak, but when they do, they speak in geek. In Turkey, on the other hand, you never know what anyone is saying, no matter how many vocabulary words you have studied or how many language courses you take. Consider the idea of a language barrier and multiply it by 190. That is because Istanbul, and Turkey in general, is a very popular tourist location and study abroad location, so people are coming from the U.S., Germany, Nigeria, Syria, Japan, Colombia, etc. You name it, they speak it. So make sure you feel good being confused about 87% of the time—whether it's geek speak or a language you didn’t even realize was spoken where you were going.

Speaking of types of people, the people you are with make the experience amazing or a total drag. I am grateful to say that for both of my experiences, I have been very lucky to have had great roommates (shout out to Christian and Palin for a sick SVP semester). Let me clarify: if you do Silicon Valley, you will be around economics, finance, and Claremont kids in general. You will be leaving campus for another econ/finance experience, which is great, and helps you focus on the course work and internship in general, but it also doesn’t bode well for a “new” environment. We all know that most people tend to work a little too hard in internships; these internships are not easy, so it also cuts down on the fun time. “Silicon Valley is not a party” is what I tell everyone who asks me about the experience, but I also say “I didn’t go looking for a party.” You want to know that going in. I’m not saying that you won’t end up at the club in San Francisco or the local bar in Mountain View on a Saturday night (if you are of age, of course), but don’t think that the whole program is going to be raging right there with you; it is a far more individualistic environment.

In comparison, the complete opposite is true of a study abroad experience. Frankly, I was surprised that non-econ majors existed in such large supply. When you go to a country like Turkey, you are with people who read the international section of the paper (or likely Yahoo! News) and not the finance section. Since arriving, I have shifted my view towards community-building, and debating the international section is an excellent way to do that. I didn’t think much about having American friends when I left—in fact, I swore them off—but once you arrive, you will realize that these Americans are the connection that you have to home, and the community you build with them is very real. The icing on the cake of this policy-talking community is they love to party. So if you're going to miss TNC and TNR, these are the people for you. Academics are important, but the experience always comes first; even the teachers understand that, but I can’t decide if that's good or just plain sad.

Now this brings me to you: what do YOU want? If you choose Silicon Valley, you are making the choice for your career, and a very valuable one—not for your social life or to expand your cultural understanding of the greater world. In comparison, if you choose traditional study abroad, or Turkey specifically, you are not going for the academics, because you will be seriously disappointed. You are going for the cultural immersion and the idea of being lost 100% of the time, yet finding yourself (yes, cliché, but so true). So the choice is up to you—but the choice should be between off-campus study and study abroad, not between nothing and something. Get out there, do something, and push yourself one way or another. I swear CMC will be there when you get back—or at least, I am banking it.