I want to come up with an interesting sentence to begin this reflection on my first days in Istanbul, but my lack of sleep and confusion of language has created a brick wall that no creativity can penetrate.
I can confidently say I am at a loss for words to sum up my experience here over the past four days.
There are 19 people on the Duke in Istanbul program, and we are maybe the most perplexed, confused, lost and yet curious group of students I have ever seen (even compared to American tourist standards). Not one of us speaks Turkish, and my self-instructed Turkish lessons during my 30 minute lunch breaks at the bookstores this past winter break has helped me become a go to translator at group meals. The opportunity has allowed my Turkish to progress at an incredible pace. It is different, fluid, and almost sounds like mumbling as native Turks drop half the letters in any given word while speaking. However, it is a challenge, and a challenge I have grown to eagerly accept.
Classes don’t start for another ten days, so our experience began with orientation activities. registration logistics, and two Turkish language classes. While the instruction has increased my vocabulary three-fold, it has also taught me that despite my progress, I have the longest way to go. However, I am excited to work with my new found energy toward learning the Turkish language (surprising, considering how much I despise my Spanish classes in the US).
Nonetheless, the new and incredibly different language, culture and city has led to serious exhaustion. The mix of the class and university registration, Turkish lessons, the 20 minute walk to and from our dorm to campus, the constant rain and sleet, as well as learning how to get by in restaurants and bars has led me to an average of four hours of sleep per night over the past four days.
However, I have a feeling my friend Tala’s advice will keep me going throughout the entire semester:
“No matter how tired you are, nervous you are, preoccupied you are, just do it, and never pass up a single experience.”
I want to write more about the city itself, but I am going to wait until I settle in, see more, and sleep more before I make any gross generalizations. I am leaving for a six day trip with my program to the Syrian border and Cappadocia, and I could not be more excited for someone else to tell us where to go, what to eat, and how to get there. It will be a nice break from the craziness of our new-found independence, and I think will help all of us become more comfortable with the culture and language. I will send a summary of this excursion to one of the most media-covered regions in the world today once I get back on the 15th.
To sum up this journey so far, I have gone from playing the most intense backgammon game of my life with a Turkish cell-phone shop owner, to being trapped in a dark alleyway after smoking nargile (hukah) on a street that shut the iron gates on both sides after midnight, to mooing at a waiter trying to figure out if I was eating cow tongue.
I think, if anything, this gives you a good sense of my experience thus far. Exciting, exhausting, and truly unlike anything I have ever experienced.
Until the 15th,