I usually spend Thanksgiving in my own bed with my worn-out Pokémon sheets (don’t judge, you wish you had ‘em all). Instead of stuffing, the turkey I eat at the typical family friend potluck is filled with Chinese sticky rice. So admittedly, it was very strange being away from all those familiar things this year. But what better way to have spent my first one away than by eating turkey in Turkey?
There are so many things I’m thankful for, but this Thanksgiving especially is full of them.
Seeing familiar faces
My family came into town this past week! It was more than a little weird walking on campus with my parents and brother in tow, but it felt great to show them the life I’ve been living this semester. And while Istanbul is no Paris in terms of travel convenience and popularity, I’ve had a surprising number of friends drop by town. Showing them around a maze of a city that I’ve only slightly begun to understand has been great for my non-existent navigational skills. I can now tell you how to get around public transport that will maybe be obsolete once they complete the metro system.
The great thing about my family and friends visiting is that I’m seeing Istanbul through fresh eyes. Things I’ve stopped noticing or started doing out of habit stood out in stark relief: I don’t even hear the prayer calls anymore, I drop tamam (Turkish for OK) on the regular, and it’s not called jaywalking if you and the car have an understanding that you’re crossing whether they like it or not. I walk to campus every day and I still admire the phenomenal view, but usually I’ve got other things on my mind. Ordering çay or Türk kahvesi has become second nature, but I forget that not everyone drinks tea so strong they water it down, or coffee with grounds still in it. Being able to spend time with people who have just started experiencing Istanbul just reaffirms that I made the right choice to study abroad here…especially when overlooking the Golden Horn from the Galata Tower at sunset.
Also, is it just me, or is the abroad world a very small place? Or is it just that in this temporary microcosm of 20-something college students, everyone knows one another? My worlds have been colliding – my friends from home and Duke visited and met, they brought friends who I had mutual friends with…at the same time, though this will sound banal, I’m just realizing how big the world is, and there will always be more people to meet.
Opportunities to do the coolest but most random things
The #studyabroad hashtag exists for a reason. I’ve done so many things that I would never have done even if I were in Istanbul at the same time, were I not a student with the resources I have.
I’ve gone to my first live futbol match, with one of Istanbul’s favorite teams, Galatasaray, vs. another Turkish team. The energy was akin to that of Cameron, which is impressive since the whole stadium is many times larger. I’ve done Ebru (marbling), which is an Ottoman style of artwork that involves oil paint on water and chemistry and density and all that great stuff. It’s beautiful and satisfying to work with.
I’ve stood in a crowd when a random band started busking with traditional Turkish music. People soon joined in dancing, and an older man even stood up on a nearby platform and jammed on his own. I’ve been in a music video shoot for the Turkish equivalent of Cher – that was an experience I’m sure I will never have again.
I’ve had dinner with a woman from Kyrgyzstan, who made my friend and I traditional Kyrgyz food (a sort of dumpling pancake) and cookies with homegrown raspberry jam. My friend and I, both of whom the rest of the group can tell you love babies, had a blast with her two children and their friends, reading French books and pretending to eat Play-doh. It was really nice to be in an actual house after so long – her apartment is near the edge of the city, and walking around drove home the fact that the neighborhood Boğaziçi is in is one of the most affluent in the city, which most of Istanbul does not resemble.
Hard work paying off
I can now say I’ve ran from Asia to Europe! Granted, it was part of only a 10k (only a bridge separates the two continents), but to preface this, I don’t run. I usually lack the mental (and physical) endurance, and I get bored easily. Since there’s a track right by our dorm and since it seems that everyone in our group is insanely athletic, I’ve been running more and actually enjoying it. We did a practice 10k run in Belgrade Forest, which almost felt like home with its lake trail and big, shedding trees. The Istanbul Marathon itself was a wild day – people come from all over the world to run the marathon, but there are 15k, 10k, and 8k options, which makes for huge crowds. There were even participants in wheelchairs! There was so much energy throughout the whole thing, and it was great to run through places that have now become familiar, and really become acquainted with the geography of the city.
Celebrating all sorts of holidays
We even get to celebrate Turkish holidays! Republic Day was hard to miss – flags popped up all around the city, as well as Atatürk’s face. We sat above the water and watched the fireworks and unbelievably massive crowds cheer for the spectacular display. Seriously, the only area Disney has them beat is the magical music.
Since the group of exchange students at Boğaziçi has its fair share of American students, I was able to celebrate fall holidays, albeit in a different way than at home. It’s a little weird to hear Halloween referred to as an “American holiday” instead of just “October 31st”, if that makes sense. Luckily I was able to scrounge up a pretty decent costume for a pirate, all thanks to my harem pants from India and my roommates’ efforts to make me an eyepatch with a makeup remover pad and black nail polish (so highly unadvisable, the fumes were killer).
On Thanksgiving, we took lessons at a culinary institute with a graduate from Cordon Bleu and learned how to make traditional Turkish dishes, ate turkey that our director had been preparing for 3 days, and listened to Christmas music next to a big festive Christmas tree. I just reread that sentence and can’t believe that all actually happened!