Adventures of a STEP Trainee in Istanbul

It was way into the last week of March when I finally booked my ticket to go to Istanbul. With all the coursework in London (LLM is hard!), I completely left it for last-minute to prepare for the journey towards my first overseas internship in Istanbul, Turkey. I was extremely excited but so nervous because despite being 27 years old, I had hardly travelled, domestically or internationally, and when the opportunity came in the form of ELSA’s STEP Programme, I just went for it. Like everyone else I was also one of the hopefuls eyeing a good opportunity through the ELSA traineeships since a chance to gain experience in a new country whilst being paid sounded unbelievable (especially since I do public law!). I was ecstatic when I got to know that I was selected for one of the traineeships that I applied for and would be working in the amazing city of Istanbul.

So now the time had come and I was pretty much freaking out since the Airbnb host that I had booked could only accommodate me from 1st April, the day I was supposed to move in but due to a confusion with the flights I was reaching Istanbul on 31st March. Here I was, never having travelled alone going to Turkey and I don’t have a place to live on the first night there…sounds like a dream come true right? I thought I would try my luck and ask ELSA Istanbul for assistance since they were so helpful in all the other things and so I messaged VP STEP of ELSA Istanbul telling her my situation and asking for help. I couldn’t expect much since it was so late in time and accommodating a guest is not always easy but she replied confirming that one of their officers would be able to provide me with accommodation for the night. I was so grateful and thus began my incredible journey of a lifetime to Turkey.

I landed in Istanbul Airport and was figuring out where to go when I see two girls with an ELSA  sign standing in the arrivals part of the terminal. I recognised Ceren,  VP STEP of ELSA Istanbul, and she welcomed me with a care package that consisted of all the basics that I would need including a metro card and Turkish delights! I knew from that moment that Istanbul would be absolute love. The other ELSA officer who was to accommodate me for the night came to pick me up at the location we were waiting. To be honest, I was a. little nervous staying at a random person’s house in a completely new city but my first night in Istanbul turned out to be one of the most memorable nights I had during my trip. Not only did I have a wonderful stay that included roaming around in Taksim Square at two in the morning with my fantastic host, Enes, who became one of my very good friends being constantly there for me throughout my trip.

Coming to my traineeship part, I was indeed extremely fortunate to have been selected by one of the leading Criminal Law firms in Turkey. Entire office staff including my boss, my coordinators, and my colleagues were incredibly warm and supportive and gave me every opportunity to fully observe and learn from the new environment. Turkey being a civil law jurisdiction had a completely different legal system from what I had ever learned during my legal education and work in common law jurisdictions, especially in the field of criminal law which is of interest to me. I assisted with the research concerning international law, especially with regard to European Court of Human Rights and its impact on Turkish legal jurisprudence. I also compiled presentations addressing varied issues of common law that were new to the office working in civil law jurisdiction and I received praise for my work.

The work was absolutely enjoyable since I was exposed to something completely new and challenging, hence presenting me with the opportunity to push my limits, of course along with the regular treats of Turkish tea, strawberry yogurt, and chestnut cookies.

 I also attended the Districts Courts in Istanbul and Safranbolu where I witnessed the progress of proceedings and got the opportunity to learn about criminal procedure in Turkey. My supervisor, Mr. Karakaya, was not just an extraordinary boss but an amazing mentor and host, along with my coordinator Ms. Demircan.

I didn’t have much time on the weekdays hence, the tourist trapped inside me used to come out during the weekends and tried to soak in the beauty of Istanbul.  It’s not just about the architecture or the markets, Istanbul is enthralling because the city has a soul of its own. A soul that lives in the cafés whose owners don’t charge for Turkish teas, in its people who would carry on using translation software to keep up conversations just because they had so much to share, and the perpetual and awe-inspiring hospitality of the city that welcomes you as one of its own.

This trip to Istanbul was special for me due to a number of reasons. It gave me a sense of independence and wonderment that I had never felt in my life, not even in London. I guess my love for London grew each day I lived there and is now perpetual but with Istanbul, the love was instant yet vehement, probably at the surprise of how soon this city accepted me as a resident. Every day, while walking towards my office, I would just stand in the middle of nowhere so that I could admire and absorb as much life as I could around me, being at the heart of the world, literally.

There is no doubt that Istanbul is beautiful throughout the year, but if you are lucky enough to catch a glimpse of the city in April you are definitely in for a treat for your eyes. The sunny mornings with people sitting outside the cafés sipping Turkish chai or indulging in the sweet taste of baklavas, the footpaths adorned with tulips (yes I was like a kid in a candy store at the sight of those lovely blossoms and took pictures in the middle of the road), and the site of ships coming in and out of the Bosphorus, bridging both a single city and two continents.

Trust me when I say that my time there passed by without me noticing. I was incredibly sad to bid goodbye to this city where I still had so many places left to explore, so much history to experience, so many friends to meet and so much Turkish to learn. But this sadness is obscure in light of the numerous happy memories that I made here along with the promise of returning to Turkey soon.

Although it’s hard to pick one, my favourite memory of the trip was watching the sunset in the Bosphorus. As the colour of the sun was fading and bestrewing over the water, the lighting of the city started intensifying. I could see the majestic mosques standing tall overlooking Istanbul, the grand palaces along the shores amassing a myriad of history, culture, and evolution of humankind and then there was me, feeling humbled and mesmerised at the transcendent beauty that this little city possessed.

So in the end, I would like to conclude by saying that I had applied for ELSA’s STEP traineeship in the hopes that it would provide me with an opportunity to gain some substantial work experience in the field of my interest…did that happen? I will say no. Why? Because that just wasn’t supposed to happen, but so much more did. ELSA Traineeships aren’t just about working in a different office somewhere. They are definitely about giving yourself the chance to travel to a different country to gain experience and exposure in your field of work but also about the chance to traverse a new place as its resident and not just a tourist. You don’t just visit that part of the country, you live and work there and an experience like this can hardly be expounded in words because some things are just worth experiencing yourself than reading about them in a blog!

In the end a big shout out to ELSA Istanbul for being the absolutely amazing hosts that they were and ELSA LSE SU for giving me this opportunity.

Surpreet Kaur is an LLM candidate at the London School of Economics specialising in Public International Law. She is a Chevening Scholar from India and Director for STEP at ELSA LSE SU. She loves reading and travelling, but hates packing!


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