Monday, August 27, 2012

Merhaba From Turkey!

by Natalie Cartwright

Images of touring infamous European landmarks like the Colosseum in Rome, the Eiffel Tower in Paris and the Alhambra in Granada are usually what people conjure up in their minds when they think of study abroad, but so far, my current experience abroad has been far from such picturesque destinations. Maybe the reason that my experience is playing out differently than the typical experience is because I am actually in Asia and not Europe, but I think a few other things make my experience abroad a stand out one.

Ankara is the city I currently call home and when I explain where I live the words, “with my Turkish family” are always one of the first things I say. Yes, I can gratefully say that a loving and extremely hospitable Turkish family has taken me in for the summer. But, I shouldn’t have had worries because in general Turks are extremely friendly. This means a host mother who doubles as a superb chef, who always makes sure that I have had plenty to eat, and makes me feel special because she greets me and sends me off with the kind word of "canım" ("my life"). But, another quirky dimension exists because they also took in an exchange student from Japan. We may be a house of three different native tongues and cultures, but we are able to live peacefully together with many inside jokes forming on a daily basis.

My mornings are spent taking Turkish language courses at Tömer, an 8-story language school with students from across the globe. Scratch that, the eastern half of the globe. As of yet, I remain the only westerner (American/West European) in my courses and possibly the whole school. The situation really gives meaning to the saying of one common language.

This past month I have adjusted quite nicely to city living and Turkish life. Taking the metro daily was a new experience for me, but one that I feel I have finally mastered. A feeling of great success overcomes you when you no longer are lost in the crowds of commuters. Similar to the feeling of success I had when I found out I passed my June Turkish level exams, or when I blend in enough to be approached for directions – sometimes I am of help, most of the time not so much, since I myself only know certain parts of the city.

My consumption of çay has increased exponentially since my arrival, along with my ability to predict when the next Call to Prayer will sound. I have mastered a keyboard in two languages as well as can now teach someone else the game of Tavla (backgammon). A few hours in the afternoon spent at a café with friends playing the boardgame is not only common but also relaxing. I am no longer fazed when I see three egg shops or pharmacies in a row, but I am still shocked by the cheap cost of bread and the amount of bread that is consumed in this country. Don’t let this lead you to believe that I am not guilty of eating copious amounts though. I’m pretty sure I have a hidden Turkish gene for the ability to consume extraordinary amounts of bread.  Something that is not so cheap – gasoline! At $12 a gallon, you better believe I am happy to be an on-foot and metro commuter.

While most of my time has been spent in Ankara, I did travel to Southeastern Turkey for a weekend, with more travels to see this vast country planned in my coming weeks. Just how American cities have their differences, Turkish cities do too, with each city and region offering their own specialties and customs. While in the Southeast my fellow travelers and I made sure to partake in local cuisine, including a traditional and extravagant Turkish breakfast, and Kurdish culture, by visiting historical buildings including a still active Kurdish coffee house. We also saw the rest of the sites that were suggested by our travel guide: Lonely Planet.

I go into every day not knowing what to expect, but know that at the end of the day I will be grateful that I have been given the opportunity to study Turkish abroad because stuff just has a tendency to click more when you are truly living it. So for the time being, I will continue to blend my American identity into my newfound Turkish life and make the best of it. Stay tuned for more updates from Turkey – this is just the first of 7 months abroad for me!

Natalie Cartwright is a second-year MA student in European Union Studies. She received her Bachelor's degree in Political Science and International Studies at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign in May 2011. Her interests include migration flows, environmental sustainability, Italian and Turkish. Natalie has spent the summer studying Turkish language at Ankara University TÖMER and will spend the fall 2012 semester studying at Bogazici University in Istanbul, in both cases with support from EU Center Foreign Language and Area Studies (FLAS) Fellowships. 

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