Hi guys! My name is Rose and I am currently studying abroad in Istanbul, Turkey. I have already been living here for six months, so I’m going to give you all a little recap on my experiences so far.
I arrived in Turkey at the beginning of August to participate in a research project that consisted of 8 students from San Diego State University and 10 students from Boğaziçi University (my current school in Istanbul). We spent about two weeks all together, traveling around the Black Sea region of Turkey, conducting our research, and in all having a great time.
For me, this was an awesome opportunity to start getting to know people and make new friends. As it so happens, one of the Turkish girls I met on this trip is now one of my best friends. Anyway, within these first two weeks I discovered just how fascinating Turkey is and knew that one semester here would not be enough time to truly appreciate the country, and so I have extended my studies here to a full year.
After that first trip I had about a month to explore Istanbul before starting classes. While looking for a place to live, I stayed in a hostel. Throughout my time abroad I have stayed in a number of hostels while traveling and I have to say: they are awesome! Hostels really are great places to make friends from all over the world. As it so happens, I met another girl studying in Istanbul for the year and we are now roommates and very close friends.
Now, living in a predominately Islamic country, there were definitely cultural differences that took some getting used to. The first was seeing women wearing burkas. I’ve lived my whole life in California and had never been exposed to many Islamic customs, so when I arrived to Turkey and saw so many women covered head-to-toe in black, I was a little taken aback.
As a side note, many of these women were actually tourists from Saudi Arabia or other stricter Islamic nations. Most Turkish women do not follow the custom of wearing burkas, but nonetheless, I definitely understood I was in a very different part of the world.
Another contrast was hearing the azan, which is the Islamic call to prayer that is projected from the minarets of each mosque five times a day. After six months living in Istanbul, I still love hearing it and always take a moment to appreciate its allure.
On the more amusing side, the number one question I have been asked (and I have been asked it quite a few times) is, “Have you ever eaten pork?” Although it is common knowledge that many societies in the Eastern world do not eat pork products, this question always makes me laugh a little. It makes me laugh a little more when it comes with the follow-up statement “I don’t think I would like it.”
I find it funny that this is something that people spend time considering when comparing cultural differences. At the same time, it’s a great example of how these Eastern societies view Western practices, showing their curiosity about other cultures and customs.
The Best Part of Turkey
So what has been my absolute favorite part about living in Turkey? The people. Turkish people are renowned for being very hospitable, and I can vouch that it is very true. It amazed me my first couple weeks when I would go into a shop and the owner would invite me to sit, chat, and drink some tea.
The same goes for my Turkish friends. They are always inviting me over to have tea, or dinner, or just stay the night. Turkish people are very social and really enjoy talking with foreigners. At the same time, they like talking to each other too! I see it all the time, on the bus, or the metro, or standing in line at a coffee shop, people are so willing to strike up conversation with complete strangers. This is something I rarely ever see in the U.S.
I have to include one more example just because it made me so happy. I live in an apartment with three other exchange students and we are renting from a friendly local Turkish guy. He is always stopping by to check up on us and make sure there are no problems with the apartment. Today, my German flat mate mentioned to him that I am sick (it’s just a normal winter cold). So on his way over he picked up some fresh mint and lemon and brewed me his special feel better tea. My landlord! How awesomely nice is that!?
Being surrounded by so many genuinely nice people has made it so easy to adjust to life in Istanbul and whenever I have a problem, all I have to do is ask and someone is there completely willing to help.
Next week I will be starting my second semester at Boğaziçi University. I cannot wait to see what this new semester will bring and am excited to share this second leg of my adventure with you all!