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Istanbul love, after living and leaving

by itsistlov (6/27/2007)

Istanbul love, after living and leaving

Recently returning from 4 months living in Istanbul, I find it difficult to explain to people from home how I feel about the city, the culture, and the people in general.  I know how I feel, it’s just hard to come up with a simple answer because the feelings I have about my time in Turkey are so complicated and personal.

I’m an American engineering student and I chose to spend the winter semester of my junior year studying abroad at Bogazici University.  The first question people always ask me is: “why Turkey?” and I always have to give some noncommittal answer.  I don’t know why I went really – I have no family heritage there, my major has no focus on that area of the world, I spoke no Turkish.  I did, however, have an acquaintance from a physics class who was Turkish.  I was doing very poorly in the class and he thought it was funny how I would angrily throw my failed tests across the room and talk about my job or my weekend or anything other than physics for the entire class period.  When I ran into him in the next semester I was in the middle of researching study abroad opportunities for engineers (there aren’t many at my school).  He mentioned the university he spent his freshman year at, telling me all about its beautiful location overlooking the Bosporus and its reputation as one of the best universities in Turkey.  To make a long story short, I decided to apply and I was accepted.

Before I went I was pretty oblivious to Turkish culture and lifestyle.  I even called Can, my Turkish friend, “can” (like tin can) instead of the appropriate “Jon” pronunciation.  I didn’t know much about the language, the religion, even the geography.  Who knew that in a few months I’d be able to speak some Turkish and my heart would ache to hear the call to prayer or to take the ferry across the Bosporus to Kadikoy.

I found everything about my life in Istanbul fascinating.  I loved walking down to my classes from the dormitory, passing carts of cheap, ripe strawberries and cherries, and then gazing out onto the glittering Bosporus.  I loved slowly picking up Turkish and managing to speak it enough to get a point across, sort of, and laughing about my accent with the shopkeeper/taxi driver/bartender.  I loved waking up in my dorm room in Etiler to the national anthem played over the loudspeakers at the elementary school nearby every Monday morning.  I loved waking up at my friends’ apartment in Ortakoy to the gas truck driving around playing its song and vendors shouting about their merchandise.  I loved the freedom and independence I felt when I filled up my Akbil and had no plans – I could head to the coast of the Sea of Marmara and take photos of couples sitting near the water or I could walk along the Bosporus in Bebek and Arnavutkoy narrowly missing the hundreds of fishing lines being thrown out into the water.  I loved drinking tea on the ferry to the Princes’ Islands (Adalar).  I loved the random days I’d walk with friends and end up at an amusement park, a barbeque, an outdoor concert.  I loved the way children are patted on the head by perfect strangers just because they are so adorable.  I loved eating Turkish breakfast on Sundays with the girls from the exchange program or with Can’s family who I visited over break.  I loved the cities, small and large that I got to visit on my free weekends.  I loved going to Taksim with friends for meze and raki and later, dancing and Efes.  I loved that I was so different from the Turkish people but that I still felt I fit in.

There were definitely hard times as well.  Generally, when I was out alone, Turkish men I encountered on the street were overly flirtatious, sometimes making me feel like I was being harassed.  Being a young, light haired, American girl I attracted a lot of attention that was sometimes unwanted.  I felt that these guys we met on the street saw Americans as “loose” and thought the tank tops we wore (which are hardly revealing compared to the things worn in the US sometimes) were an open invitation for them to approach me and my other foreign friends.  But this is just a generalization of the men in Taksim or guys driving taxis late at night.  So many Turkish men from school were so genuinely kind to me and the other exchange students.  They would help us with anything – my friend Mert would help me practice my Turkish and show me the best places to sit and watch the boats on the Bosporus from campus.

I’ve been back in the states for less than two weeks now and I still feel like I could wake up to those same familiar sights and sounds and feelings.  I’m having a reality check though; I spent all my money during my adventures so I have to start working hard.  I have to save up so I can make it back soon :) I’m thinking about going to Istanbul to teach English for a year or something along those lines.  I love Turkey forever and ever!





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