I’d Like to Give a Nostalgic Shoutout to T9 Texting and Freshman Small Talk

When I first moved into my freshman dorm at Duke, I was surprised to hear that my newly made international friends had already been in Durham for two weeks or more. How did they spend all that time by themselves?, I thought. Well, from the other end as an international student in Turkey, I can say that I could have all the time in the world and not feel settled in.

This past week has felt like a blur. Granted, we’ve done lots of sightseeing and Istanbul is beautiful, but with buying necessities for our suites and singles and doing walking tours, I’m feeling pretty overwhelmed.

Settling in was an ordeal in itself. I’ve only ever lived in a dorm room at college, so I’ve never had to stock anything more than 150 square feet. The list of things I had to buy never seemed to end, and included the most random things I’ve always just imagined would show up in your newly bought home: dish soap, pots, pans, hand soap, tape, thumbtacks…so we ran around like the Americans we are, pouncing on the deals that would save us a whopping 5 lira. We struggled with buying Turkish phones and phone numbers; good news though, I now own the cutest white Nokia mini-brick. Good ol’ T9 texting, I missed ya.

We also toured the different campuses – Boğaziçi  (pronounced “Bo-A-zi-chi” – Turkish is basically phonetic) has some different campuses that are all within walking distance from each other. South Campus is the one they put on brochures. With a stunning view of the Bosphorus on the way to class, a sprawling quad, and beautiful architecture, it’s not hard to see why. North Campus is straight from the set of a dystopian, military, Big-Brother-esque film. The buildings are concrete and drab, there’s a big half-head of Atatürk sticking out of the wall, and a lone Dunkin’ Donuts that just sells coffee. On the bright side, the lunches here apparently cost 1.5 Turkish lira, which is about 75 US cents. So I’ll deal.

This was the first 9/11 I had spent outside the US. It almost didn’t even register, because we’re on such a weird time difference that I’m on Facebook and my computer at very different times than my friends. We didn’t really do anything to commemorate it, which just felt strange. I sat on the manzara, a terrace/balcony deal on South Campus which is gorgeous and means “view” in Turkish, with some of my friends and enjoyed the cool breeze and people-watching.

The next day, we went on a walking tour of Taksim Square and the area around, like Istiklal Avenue and the Beyoglu District. Our directors and program are very careful about us being near protests in the area, but since it was daytime there wasn’t much happening. We wandered the streets, admired the views, snapped pictures, and ate. Our program director, Alican, is an enigma. He seemed to know everyone everywhere we went. He also owns an oyster farm? It’s a mystery. He was great at showing us around, though his “10-minute walks” turned into half-to-an-hour treks. My feet have rarely been so tired! We also went to the Istanbul Modern, an art museum. There were some really cool art exhibits inside, such as one where they hung upward of a hundred books from the ceiling, and one where this artist collaged fabric clothing tags together to make a picture of a shark. I’m slowly learning to appreciate modern art, but I’m only up to the 1980’s. Wish me luck.

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View of the Bosphorus River in Bebek, a very affluent neighborhood near our dorm. The price for this scenic walk is a trek down the biggest hill I’ve ever seen.

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Just hanging out on a street corner, with a mosque.

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The Spice Bazaar.

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Taksim Square at dusk.

Finally, we had our first “real” day on campus as exchange students today. We had a 3-hour Turkish crash course. We learned the Turkish alphabet, which has several new and strange-sounding letters. However, every letter is always pronounced the same, which was refreshing to hear after knowing how unpredictable English can be (there are apparently 10 ways to pronounce the letters “-ough” in the English language). We learned some phrases and I really hope I can get conversationally fluent by the end of the semester.

We also had student orientation for all the exchange students. There were tons more than I thought, since I had forgotten about the ERASMUS students. There are about 400 exchange students every semester, and there are 10,000 students total. I’ve never attended this big of a school! We met some really cool international kids, as well as some girls from Penn; we spent a happy half hour with them comparing mutual friends, which we had a surprising number of, considering we met by chance in Istanbul, Turkey. I feel like my world is getting smaller every day.

Later tonight, we went to the “lookout”, which overlooks the Bosphorus and is on the way to campus. That was really cool, because there was this amazing view and people were just milling around and talking. It was a little much because I felt like an O-Week freshman again, and it made me realize how much I do not miss those first days of frantically trying to find friends through small talk.

I’m lucky I’m with a program; the majority of people did everything on their own and had to find lodging, classes, friends, etc. on their own. I’d probably just sit in the corner of my unfurnished apartment and cry.

We headed home early, because tomorrow we’re getting up at 4 AM to go on a week-long excursion to the Black Sea and the Eastern Anatolia region. Not loving the early wake-up call but I think we’ll be doing lots of nature treks and historical sight-seeing, so I’m really excited.

İyi uykular (“goodnight” – signing out with my newfound Turkish skills),

Angela Zhang

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