The Hagia Sophia in Istanbul, Turkey

YES Students

Some students from Turkey are Kennedy-Lugar Youth Exchange and Study (YES) Program scholarship winners. Click here to learn more about the YES Program.

Country Information

In Turkey, there are mosques on the European side of Istanbul and Western-style suburbs on the Asian side; a Western economic system in an Islamic society; dynamic industrialization next door to historic buildings in neighborhoods dating from the Byzantine and Ottoman past; and a landscape ranging from Mediterranean coasts to jagged mountains. The cuisine is considered one of the finest in the world, and the people have a well-deserved reputation for friendliness and hospitality.

(Click here to download a PDF about Turkey and the Turkish people.)

Lifestyle and Family

Many aspects of Turkish culture are a blend of traditional and modern ways, of conservative courtly customs and cheerful expressions of friendship. Manners are generally formal—especially in the presence of older people—but Turks do not hesitate to express their feelings; they generally use their hands a lot, adding meaning and emphasis to their conversations. They also love to laugh. Family members and friends often shake hands and kiss on both cheeks when meeting. The family is an important institution in Turkish society and is usually close-knit.

Turkish customs generally have a lot to do with social courtesies that are highly valued and deeply bound with the Islamic conventions observed by many. Hospitality, for example, is an integral part of Turkish culture. Friends, relatives, and neighbors often visit each other, sometimes without notice. Tradition dictates that visitors are always offered tea or coffee and invited to share a meal. It is impolite to decline the offer and a Turk will do everything possible to make his guest feel comfortable.

Teen Life and Sports

Soccer is the most popular sport, both to watch and to play. Turks also enjoy volleyball, basketball, bicycling, swimming and picnics. Teens also like to get together at friends’ homes or go to the movies. Many customs are respected among young people such as deference towards older people and those with higher status and avoiding public displays of affection.


Turkish cuisine is among the finest in the world. It combines Mediterranean and Middle Eastern cuisines. It is quite rich and varied—although eggplant is the number one vegetable—and with particular dishes—notably shish kebab (skewer-grilled lamb), a Turkish invention. Food is cooked mostly with olive oil, and can be very spicy in the eastern part of Turkey. Lamb and rice are common dishes and seafood is abundant on the coast.

For their typical light breakfast, Turks will eat bread with white cheese, butter, eggs, marmalade or honey, and olives, all accompanied by tea or yogurt. Lunch is an important meal at midday, but the main meal of the day is eaten in the evening when the family generally expects to sit down together. Dinner may consist of several courses.

Table manners require that young people wait until the older people start eating, and no one leaves the table until the eldest gets up.

Language and Religion

While Turkish is the primary language, English, French, German and Italian are spoken by many people around the country. Nearly all Turks are Muslim (98%), but the Turkish government makes it very clear that Turkey is a secular state and is very proud of its religious freedom.

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