It’s been two and a half weeks since I arrived in Istanbul, and while my Turkish definitely needs work, I’m beginning to feel a lot more at home here. It’s been requested that I write about the arrival process, and that seems as good a place as any to start.
I got here on August 25, and was greeted in the Istanbul Ataturk Airport by Vehbi Baysan, the center director for IES Istanbul, and Harun Aksu, assistant to the program. We spent the first few nights here in a hotel while Vehbi and Harun got our apartments ready, and then the girls moved into one apartment, and the boys into another. The girls’ apartment is located near the Osmanbey metro stop, just one metro stop away from Taksim Square, and it’s gorgeous. We have a living room, a dining room, kitchen, two bedrooms, an office, one full bathroom and one half bathroom. It’s my first time living in an apartment, rather than a dorm, and I love the feeling of independence. It’s amazing to wander down the street to grab some groceries, a simit (a sort of Turkish pretzel) or a cup of cay (tea). The metro and bus stop are both a five minute walk away, so it’s easy to get anywhere in the city.
For the past two and a half weeks, we’ve had Turkish language lessons in the morning from 9:00 to 11:30 in Eminonu, a beautiful district of Istanbul just on the Golden Horn. Our teacher, Sarkan, has been fantastic. I’ve loved learning Turkish with the backdrop of the water and the bridge visible just through the window. I plan to continue learning the language at Bogazici, but I’ve certainly learned a lot in these past few weeks. I can introduce myself and form short sentences, so it’s been much easier to order at restaurants and wander into shops. On Saturday, we’ll be giving presentations in Turkish in which we introduce ourselves and our families.
I won’t say that so far, it’s been an entirely easy experience. There are periods of adjustment — to the transportation, the language, the style of living, even the food. But each time I push myself out of my comfort zone, I’m rewarded by a new experience or a new way of thinking. I’m learning to love this city and to embrace different aspects of it.
Last week, I visited the Sultan Ahmed Mosque, more famously known as the Blue Mosque, built in the 1600s by the Ottomans. The architecture and design were astonishingly beautiful, especially since I could appreciate them from an art historical perspective. While I was there, I read a pamphlet about the Blue Mosque and Islam in general that included a translation of the Muslim call to prayer. Part of it reads, “I bear witness that there is none worthy of worship except Allah … Hasten to prayer. Hasten to success.”
I am not Muslim, nor any religion in particular. But each time I hear the call to prayer sounding through Istanbul, I try to remember to bear witness to everything I’m experiencing, to be, as my friend Mo calls it, a “participant observer” — experiencing and watching all at once.
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<p><span style="color: rgb(29, 29, 29); font-family: Arial, Verdana, sans-serif; font-size: 12px; line-height: normal; background-color: rgb(237, 237, 237);">My name is Lauren, and I’m a west coast transplant currently studying at Williams College in Williamstown, Massachusetts. I’m a double major in art history and political science, and I hope to become a journalist after I graduate, focusing on the politics of the Middle East. In my spare time, I enjoy reading, singing, cooking, spending time with family and friends and watching TV shows as diverse as “Doctor Who,” “The West Wing,” and “How I Met Your Mother.” I love traveling, learning, and writing, and I can’t wait to share my adventures in Istanbul!</span></p>