Preparing for the Un-preparable: On leaving when I have no concept that it’s happening

Hannah Kim
January 14, 2016

Merhabalar! My name is Hannah, I’m a sophomore at Oberlin College, and I’m going to Istanbul for the Spring 2016 semester attending Boğaziçi University.

Here’s the hot question I’ve been getting: Are you excited?

And the answer, of course, is yes! I am incredibly pumped to be going to Istanbul. Ever since I returned from spending a year in Turkey 2 years ago I’ve been searching for a way to get back to the country and the prospect of spending a semester there – in the incredible city of Istanbul, attending the best Turkish university – is so exciting. Yet, at the same time, I’m not. The big reason for that is that is, like many others in my position, it’s hard to actualize being there. Logically I know that I will be boarding a plane on Saturday… but am I really? Stuck in the middle of it, it’s hard to process that it’s happening at all.

The last time I was put in this (almost exact) situation was before I spent that year in Turkey – fresh out of high school with no idea what Turkish sounded like or what to expect. I spent that year in a city on the Black Sea coast called Samsun – a gray city that was home to ports and fancy hospitals. Living in Samsun was hard, undoubtedly, and so profoundly different from my brief visits to Istanbul during that time. Although I have an idea of some of the cultural differences, some Turkish under my belt, and a few key restaurants that I know I have to revisit, Istanbul seems to me a total mystery.  

Right now I am left only with vague fantasies of what I imagine life in a city of 14 million will be like. Having grown up in a small town, I think this is what scares me the most. Public transportation, more than 8 restaurants in town, not knowing at least 40% of everyone on the street by name – these are all concepts that excite me. But that’s all they are – concepts.

I remember that the last time I was headed to Turkey I was so sure that every day would be filled with adventure. And while that was true to some extent – trying to communicate that you’re hungry to a host mom is a certain type of adventure – my day-to-day was surprisingly normal. Weirdly enough, I’m actually really excited for the mundane. What I want to get out of my time in Turkey is a feeling for what mundane, daily living in Turkey is really like. Going to Sunday pazars! Cooking for myself! Riding the metro! Chatting with my neighbors! Of course I’m also really excited to see the sights and travel around but I think my focus with this blog will be to document those nitty gritty real life details because that’s what I want to know about going in! I guess some of my goals are:

  1. Eat ALL the food
  2. Eat all the food (again)
  3. Travel within Turkey – Cappadochia? Pamukkale? Trabzon?
  4. Work on that Turkish!
  5. Get to know some locals
  6. Buy some awesome souvenirs!
  7. Pay attention to what’s going on around me

That last goal is directly related to the tragedy of this past Tuesday, when 10 tourists died in a suicide bombing in the popular Sultanahmet district. The bombing has again raised the second hottest question I’ve been getting, ever since I first decided to go to Turkey: Are you sure you want to go?

And the answer to that question, without any hesitation, is yes. In part I’m sure this is a symptom of my inability to actualize being in Istanbul, but on a deeper level I think the reason I’m not scared to go is because Turkey is so much more than a terrorist act. Turkey, to me, is one of the most vibrant, beautiful places I have ever been. It is the home of warm and wonderful people, the house of centuries of history. So while I understand and appreciate any and all concerns about going - yes, I am sure. Of course, this comes with the responsibility to myself to stay safe and aware – if that means avoiding touristy areas for a while, so be it. But I think I owe it to my love for Turkey, my friends and my family to go forward with confidence.

Turkey is not without faults, and right now is an especially turbulent time for both its domestic and international politics. I want to enter Turkey with a critical but open mind in order to experience the country as fully as possible. For the benefit of my academic interests and personal safety, I need to pay attention to everything that’s happening around me. I already have the benefit of having lived in Turkey before, so this time around I want to take advantage of having done the culture shock and homesick leg of the journey before.

I will finish with some advice and reminders to myself, based upon my application experience and previous time in Turkey:

  1. Print everything out before leaving! Copies of your passport, visa, passport pictures, important travel docs – you don’t want to be caught without and will need it for a lot of things.
  2. Try and get things in on time or early, if possible! It makes the whole process much smoother.
  3. When in Turkey, eat EVERYTHING. Don’t question it, just eat it.
  4. Don’t expect to be on time. Ever.
  5. Don’t be scared of messing up/embarrassing yourself/saying something horribly wrong in Turkish because it’s going to happen whether or not you’re scared.
  6. Take advantage of every opportunity! Old lady at the pazar invites you over for tea? You go. There’s a jazz festival and you’re not really sure why these artists are coming to this obscure city in Turkey? You go.

So, that’s it for now! Tune in next time – I promise fun and exciting pictures and words and maybe even video from ISTANBUL!

Until then – görüşürüz!

Hannah Kim

<p>Hi! My name is Hannah and I&#39;m sophomore at Oberlin College majoring in History with a minor in Middle East North Africa Studies. I&#39;m interested in international relations, good books, food, photography, cats and traveling. I&#39;m looking forward to spending a semester in Istanbul absorbing the culture and history of the city while improving upon my Turkish.</p>

2016 Spring
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Oberlin College
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