[originally published on Angela’s personal blog]
During my last days in Istanbul, I often felt that I had lived forever in the Superdorm and walked the crowded, cobble-stoned sidewalks to campus. Duke and Seattle felt like another life – what even is West Campus? I know how to drive? Even when I was packing up to leave and my room had reverted to its white-washed jail cell state, it still didn’t quite hit that I was closing up my chapter of studying abroad and flying home to see the familiar Seattle skyline and sleep in my own bed. My last day was spent in the suburb of Bebek on top of an old fortress with a gorgeous view of the golden sunset at the Golden Horn, not in the noisy and crowded Istanbul of the Blue Mosque and Spice Bazaar. My last night was spent not out at Taksim, but watching a movie cuddled up with my roommates. Thus I left Istanbul quietly without much of a fanfare.
And now that I’m back, it’s Istanbul that feels like a dream. I’ve actually really disliked summing up my semester to people. What can I say besides, “Istanbul was amazing/fantastic/unreal/phenomenal” and every other positive adjective? Those don’t begin to encapsulate my experience abroad in an environment I’ll never be in again. Those don’t tell my friends about the wonderfully interesting and different people I met abroad, both Turkish and international. (If any of you are reading this know that you’re welcome/encouraged to hit me up if you’re in the same area of me and that’s not just me being polite, partly because I’ll probably be doing the same to you even if it’s in years to come). “Great” doesn’t sum up the little or even big moments – yes, cruising in a boat down the Bosphorus at nighttime, but also eating wetburgers at 4 AM after dancing all night with my friends. Admiring the beautiful vaulted domes of the Blue Mosque, but also being surrounded by the call to prayer at sunset, each mosque sending theirs out separately and weaving it into a rich soundscape. Trying traditional Turkish food from döner and kebaps to simits and menemen, but also shopping at the local pazar for the freshest fruits and vegetables I’ve ever had. Taking interesting courses, but also learning first-hand about Gezi from students who had participated in the protests.
When I chose to study in Istanbul, I was a little worried it wouldn’t live up to my expectations – with my major, I was excited to study in a city at such a cultural and historical crossroads of East and West, Muslim and Christian. I wanted to talk about the media, especially in the country’s current volatile political situation, fraught with protests. I worried, though, that I would arrive and the things I wanted to see wouldn’t be a part of the city’s identity. Through this semester, I can confirm that I was actively aware of all these things. It’s evident in the Muslim and Christian decorations hanging side by side in the Hagia Sophia. It’s clear in the protests that the media doesn’t cover, and the relationship between the press and public. Honestly it’s apparent in how the streets feel – not wholly European or Middle Eastern, but exciting in their own way.
Before the semester, I was also concerned that I had made the wrong choice on not studying in a European country (I had been between Istanbul and Copenhagen). I didn’t think I wanted to travel all over Western Europe this semester, but what if I regretted it after seeing all my friends’ photos? After all, I couldn’t even go to Oktoberfest thanks to Turkey’s strict rules on their residence permits. But although I didn’t get the chance to travel to Paris, Amsterdam, or London, I explored most of Turkey, parts of which I would never have thought to go to if not for my program. I hiked rural mountains (and sprained my ankle for the first time ever), saw ruins of churches, observed the sacrificial bayram holiday in the most conservative areas of Turkey, rode in a hot air balloon, and watched the sun set over the stunning calcium flats of Pamukkale. Outside of Turkey, I got to travel to places less frequented by the Western traveler – Budapest and Sarajevo, both of which had a unique Central/Eastern-European feel, a rich history, and a charm I hope I’ll return to someday.
“Study abroad” is always something, like “college”, that has seemed like an idea. I want to study abroad in…when I go abroad, I will…I can’t wait to go abroad and do…
But after four months in Istanbul I had to pack my bags. I put my passport away – at least for a while, I’m done traveling. It was a wonderful time but now I have to return to Seattle and Duke. I won’t say “return to reality” because although my semester was a unique experience for me, I’ve learned how many different paths a life can take that are all very much real. And hopefully in years to come I can take a path that leads me back to Istanbul.
İstanbul, memnun oldum and görüşürüz.