Ayla (and George!) Learn Turkish

Hi! My name is Ayla, and I just finished my third year at Northwestern in the 5-year Dual Degree program studying psychology and flute performance. I split my childhood between San Jose, CA, and Cary, NC, where my family still lives. My brother, Devrim, just finished his first year at NC State, and I couldn’t be prouder! My mom is American and my dad is Turkish, which largely explains why I’m here in Turkey for the summer. I wanted to participate in the 7-week Turkish Language and Culture Program (TLCP) at Boğaziçi University (pronounced Bo-ahz-itch-ee, with the stress on Bo) because I never really learned Turkish growing up, and even though I had two wonderful years of Turkish classes at Northwestern, I feel that immersion is the only way to go if you want to speak a language. Besides wanting to speak Turkish to get closer to my father’s culture and side of the family, I also hope to conduct gender psychology research in Turkey one day and become a therapist who specializes in Turkish and Hispanic immigrant populations (I’m also studying abroad in Seville in the fall to improve my Spanish!). For anything else you’re curious about, look to my blog posts – I’m so excited to be blogging for the first time ever!

Wrapping it up

Greetings for the final time! I haven’t posted in a while, which seems to have been the way I started my last few posts. There are many reasons why I didn’t write a final post before I left Turkey. The first main reason is that my laptop’s keyboard broke (completely my fault – I spilled sparkling mineral water on it) and when I finally got an external keyboard, it was difficult to use. The other main reason is that I was busy doing other things. But as I always say, it’s never that you don’t have time, it’s that you don’t make time. And so it was. I just chose to spend my time differently. But today is Sunday, August 30, I am sitting in my parents’ house in NC enjoying vacation, I leave for fall study abroad in Sevilla (and a new blogging adventure!) this Wednesday, September 2, and I have finally chosen to dedicate time to wrapping up this blog.

Firstly, I apologize for not posting the Bulgaria and last-few-weeks-of-adventures posts I promised. I will tell those stories through pictures here, and then spend my last paragraph or two reflecting on my entire 2-month trip.

Here is a summary, in words and pictures, of my last few weeks in Turkey:

1. I went to Plovdiv, Bulgaria, with my friend Eric.

plovdiv 2019 amphi in plovdiv stairs in plovdiv park in plovdiv blue house plov eastern orthodox church king of the hill hill in plovdiv statue on a hill plovdiv

2. I went to a lovely brunch place on the Bosphorus for my friend Rachel’s birthday

3. I went to the farmer’s market in Beşiktaş with friends.

farmers market

4. I went with my cousins to the pool-side outdoor venue where my parents had their wedding reception.

pool

5. I went with friends to a beach in Istanbul where the Bosphorus and Black Sea meet.

burc beach

6. I successfully took final exams.

7. I went on a sunset boat ride on the Bosphorus with the other TLCP participants to celebrate the end of the program.

sunset cruise me and rachel me olivia and amandaboat tour night

8. I went to Istanbul’s famous Galata Tower, an international parade and a Catholic church on Istiklal Caddesi, the Sulemaniye Mosque, and a poorer part of the city with my friend Eric.

galata tower 1 galata tower 2 multicultural festival church on istiklal suleymaniye 2 suleymaniye a poorer part of istanbul

9. I ate delicious food. (George has his head in a jar of hazelnut butter because it was the end of the program and, in his sadness, he resorted to emotional eating. Also he appreciated the irony of the Cola Turka pic.)

last dinner fig george and cola turka george and findik ezmesi carpuz asure

10. I flew to Izmir to visit my dad, uncle, and cousins. After a day, we drove to Altinoluk, a town on the Aegean Sea where we a have a summer home. We stayed there for a week and went to the beach every day!

izmir clock tower fam at beach aegean sea family altinoluk altinoluk at night summer home porch

11. I flew back to Istanbul.

12. I flew to one of my two stateside homes, Chicago.

And that was it. After a lovely week in Evanston, I flew to Raleigh, NC, and here I am!

Here are my primary reflections on the program and the overall experience:

I saw a side of Istanbul I had never seen before. Even though I had visited the city maybe 8 times in my childhood to see family, I had never lived there as an adult in a place miles from my nearest family member. And I had never spent 7 weeks in Turkey, let alone even 4 weeks in Istanbul without leaving for other Turkish cities to see other family members.

I got better at making mistakes. By “got better,” I mean that now I get less upset at myself for making mistakes. I have let go of a small bit of my ego and pride. And by “making mistakes,” I primarily mean making mistakes in Turkish grammar, pronunciation, etc. But there is always spilling sparkling water on my laptop, haha.

I was reminded of the value of family. My extended family members cooked me homemade meals, took me out for margaritas, drove me through terrible Istanbul traffic, called to check in every week or so, and, in those and a thousand other ways, showed me the true meaning of unconditional love.

I was reminded of diversity in 2 main ways. 1) I got out of the Northwestern bubble and, while in the TLCP, met people from many different walks of life. Yes, a fair number of participants were undergrads or grads from high-ranking universities. But of course every person is unique, every university is unique, and the stories these people shared with me definitely broadened my worldview. 2) I got out of the Bogazici University bubble and visited some of the poorest parts of Istanbul. Yes, I visited many rich and/or touristy parts, but I also visited some poor sections that reminded me that no matter where you are in the world – even a megacity with a name like Istanbul – diversity in living standards and class standing exists, and it bodes well to never romanticize a city, a group of people, or a single person’s life.

I got better at international travel. Pretty self-explanatory, but no small feat.

I was reminded of the value of friendship. Even though the TLCP lasted only 7 weeks, I made friends who were there for me when I needed companionship. When I or my friends wanted to go on small or large adventures – to a restaurant down the street, Istanbul’s most historic cites, the beach, Bulgaria – we were always there for each other. When my laptop broke and I got irrationally upset, I facebook messaged a friend who came right down to my room and spent an hour cheering me up. When another friend of mine and I both had things going on back in the States that were out of our control, we talked through it over lunch and leant each other much-needed support and empathy. We didn’t pretend everything was okay when it wasn’t. And finally, whenever I needed to talk to friends from back home, they always made it a priority to talk to me. In these and a thousand other ways, I was reminded of the value of good friends.

There is so much else the program and experience taught me and reminded me of, but the list above suffices for now. As I wrap up my wrap-up post, I want to say one more time how grateful I am to have received two Northwestern grants to attend the TLCP, the Undergraduate Language Grant and the Keyman Modern Turkish Studies Grant. Without these grants, and with even just one of them, my participation in the TLCP would not have been possible. Every experience I have had over the past three years has made me feel more grateful, lucky, and blessed to be at Northwestern, and, more generally, to lead the life I do. I cannot wait to start my fall study abroad adventure in Seville, Spain, and I will post a link to that blog on facebook and send it to those I have promised I would.

Finally, I am so grateful to have friends, mentors, and family who took the time to read part or all of this blog. Even if this was the only post you read, even if you only skimmed, thank you! You have made my first blogging experience positive, worthwhile, and meaningful, and I am truly grateful. Until next time, iyi akşamlar!

Precious Finiteness

If you read my previous post, then you got a pretty good summary of all I’ve done in the two weeks following the midterm other than Plovdiv, classes, homework, flute, yoga, reading for fun, and occasional dinners with friends. (I will talk about the happenings of the most recent, third week since the midterm in another post.) It hasn’t all been smooth sailing, though. As wonderful as the journey with Eric to Plovdiv was, it was also unbelievably tiring, and it took me many days to fully recover and be okay with normal amounts of sleep (~7 hours) again. A conversation I had with Eric on the trip also kind of disrupted my normal life, but in a different way. This conversation was mostly about religion, with some philosophy and physics thrown in (so pretentious, I know!), and Eric, as a theology/religious studies major and devout Catholic, did most of the talking. I asked all the questions, though – we only had that conversation because I was so curious (not because Eric was proselytizing), because Eric was so generously open and willing to share his knowledge and beliefs, and because we had nothing else to do on the long night bus ride out of Istanbul before we got tired enough to sleep. The reason this conversation kind of disrupted my normal life is because Eric explained what he believed and why he believed those things with such eloquence, thoughtfulness, and surety. I was impressed but not personally affected until several days later when I thought to myself, if someone asked me what I believed spiritually and why I held those beliefs, I could not give as well-thought-out, well-defined, or confident explanations as Eric did. Even though I am not part of an organized religion, I found myself wanting a better-defined value system by which to lead my life, rather than just kind of making it up as I go along, which I’ve been doing so far (and which might have some worth in its own right, I think). Concerns such as these aren’t solved overnight, of course, and I have to do some more thinking on the topic. However, the other day I did sit in a café and try to clearly define my values and reasoning in my journal, and it made me realize that I am not quite as directionless as I can sometimes feel.

My other sources of sadness: loved ones back home and the program’s fast-approaching end. For the sake of my loved ones’ privacy, I won’t say much other than that hearing about their struggles and being half a world away is heartbreakingly difficult. The hard part is that while the program’s end should help eliminate this source of sadness, I will only really be with loved ones for two weeks – one in Evanston/Chicago, and one in Cary, NC – before jetting off again, this time to Spain. As I said to my suitemate Keri last night, everything requires sacrifice. I definitely don’t regret this trip to Turkey, but, as the cliché goes, you can’t have it all. Keri reframed that cliché in what was, to me, a beautiful way. She said, “There are an infinite number of things you have to say no to in your life, and, relatively, such a finite number of things to which you can say yes. Therefore, the yeses are so very precious, and if you think about it that way, you can be more grateful for the yeses you do have.” This applies to things both big – spending a summer in Turkey instead of being with loved ones in the States, doing psych research, etc, etc – and small – going to dinner with my friend Amanda the other nnight instead of doing things like yoga, writing more of this blog post, reading for fun, etc, etc. I imagine that what Keri said can seem like just another version of “be grateful for what you have,” but for some reason it helps me more than the “be grateful” phrase in my quest to stop mourning so much the things to which I’ve said no.

Finally, the course’s impending end. I will be happy to stop having to wake up at 7:45 five days a week, do homework every night, take quizzes every week, etc, but I will be sad to face the reality that this wonderful stretch of learning Turkish is finite. (How easy it is to believe in the infinity of things – summer, college, even life.) I am also sad because I had unrealistic expectations for how good at Turkish I would get. My unmet expectations are not the fault of this wonderful program, but rather the fault of my naiveté. But surprisingly, with just a little bit of effort I have been able to, most of the time, focus more on how far I’ve come than how far I have to go. I am also choosing to reframe this impending end by celebrating what’s come before – new friendships, new trips and experiences both big and small, building relationships with my father and extended family, and SO MUCH improvement with Turkish – and what will come after – a week at my family’s Turkish summer home on the Aegean Sea, having my dad around with whom to practice Turkish, time with loved ones in the States, and then my semester in Spain. All these yeses seem so infinite and perfect right now, but when I remember the larger infinity of my nos, I actually feel greater peace, gratitude, and an ability to let go of the illusion of control – the illusion that every experience to which I say yes will always be better than all the experiences to which I say no. Not all the yeses were, are, or will be perfect, but in my opinion they all have something to offer, and they all are precious in their finiteness.

Two weeks of adventures

Before you read this, I should warn you that I wrote most of it over a week ago. Today is August 1, and I have tweaked a bit to update it. I didn’t post it right after I wrote it because I wanted to add pictures, which takes 30 min to 1 hour (don’t ask me why – just take my word for it, haha). I apologize for the delay!

Since last I posted, I’ve had many fun adventures, big and small, but I’ve also had some moments of deep exhaustion, sadness, and other difficult feelings. Today is Sunday, August 1, and the program ends, unbelievably, on Wednesday, August 5. For me, endings are always sad in some way. However, they also provide occasion to celebrate what came before and what will come after. In this post I will summarize my most exciting adventures, and in my next post I will try to condense the thoughts/reflections that have recently been on my mind.

In my last post, I talked about spending my second weekend with family and being given my first Turkish novel by Ertuğrul Amca. Since then, three weekends have come and gone, and the fourth is halfway over. The Friday before the first weekend I had my midterm, which was challenging but manageable. The best part of the midterm was that everyone was done for the day at 11:30am, earlier than we’ve ever been done. I sautéed vegetables in my kitchen with my friend Eric, relaxed for a bit, and then went to explore the neighborhoods of Ortaköy and Beşiktaş with my friends Amanda and Peter. We walked  A TON, went inside the beautiful Ortaköy mosque, found Yıldız Park, a giant park in the middle of Istanbul that amazingly makes you forget you’re in the city, found an adorable café/bookstore (two of my favorite things) called Minoa, had a delicious meze (appetizer), fish, and rakı dinner, and found a place where each of us could get the dessert we most wanted (sup, aka chocolate pudding, for Amanda; sütlaç, aka rice pudding for me; and güllaç, a rosewater dessert, for Peter). We ended the night by celebrating the birthday of Daniella, one of the women in the program, at a bar in Beşiktaş. Daniella had done an English-teaching Fulbright in Turkey years ago, and for some reason one of the women who did the same Fulbright with her was back in Istanbul for the summer and came to the bar. And best of all, she was a Northwestern alum – small world!

ortakoy mosque insidepeter and amanda yildizyildizminoaamanda minoabalik rakidesserts!

The next day, I went with Eric to Chora Church (Kariye Müzesi), a former Byzantine church in Istanbul. The mosaics depicting religious scenes were some of the most beautiful I’ve ever seen, and even though part of the church was closed off for renovations, it was definitely worth visiting. Then we found part of the old stone Istanbul City Walls that have been around since the 3rd/4th century. Finally we visited Zeyrek Camii, which, after the Hagia Sofia, is the second largest Byzantine religious building remaining in Istanbul. Parts of the Zeyrek Mosque were also under renovation, but the building is stunning and the view from the hill it’s on is even more breathtaking. It was a fun, tiring, and totally worthwhile day. Sunday I finally stayed in for most of the day and relaxed.

fatih clothes fatih 2 fatih 3 fatih 4 fatih 5 fatih 6 fatih 7 fatih 8 fatih 9

Monday the 13th was the first day of a blissfully-short three-day week; we had Thursday and Friday off for Bayram, the end of the Muslim Holy month of fasting, Ramazan. I knew I would spend most of the long weekend with my dad and Ertuğrul Amca in Istanbul, but first Eric invited me on a “day” trip (37 hours!) to Bulgaria, and I jumped at the chance. The trip to Plovdiv, Bulgaria, deserves a post of its own – suffice it to say that it was a crazy, fun, unforgettable, and unbelievably tiring journey. I’ll write about Plovdiv in my next post, but for now I will jump ahead to the actual start of the weekend – Friday afternoon when my dad and Ertğgrul Amca came to pick me up from my dorm and take me to Kadiköy for the rest of Bayram.

After they picked me up on Friday, we went to what was once the richest neighborhood in Istanbul to visit my great-aunt Fikriye Hala, my father’s father’s sister. She’s almost 90, but she’s perfectly fine living alone, and she served us tea and fantastic homemade pastries and I was so happy to see how well she’s doing. After that visit, Baba, Ertuğrul Amca, and I took the ferry across the Bosphorus to Kadiköy and had İskender Kebap for dinner. The next morning we made two more family visits – one to Mubeccel Teyze, my father’s mother’s sister, and the other to Faik Amca, my father’s father’s brother. They are both around the same age as Fikriye Hala, but unfortunately neither is doing quite as well as Fikriye is. It was obviously still nice to visit them, though.

kadikoy 1 kadikoy 2 kadikoy 3 kadikoy 4

On Saturday night Ertuğrul made the most delicious dinner – pilav (a Turkish dish that is basically white rice with a ton of butter, and in some cases, including this one, is accompanied by potato slices that get crispy at the bottom of the pot) and a beautiful lamb stew. After eating we walked down to Fenerbahçe, strolled through a park, sat by the Bosphorus at sunset, and then ate ice cream at Mado. It was a pretty fantastic day.

fener 1 fener 2 fener 3 fener 4

Sunday afternoon I returned to my dorm, and just a short while later I left again to go see the Basilica Cistern in Sultanahmet with friends. The cistern was built in the 6th century – it was dark, cool, huge, and had 336 marble columns. My favorites were the two Medusa’s head columns; nobody knows why one head is sideways and one is upside down. While in Sultanahmet, we stopped by a Mado (of course) and I took a cool picture of rooftops from the fourth floor. Then we decided we might as well also visit the Blue Mosque. That mosque is absolutely stunning – there is a reason why it is so famous. The only problem was that it was the last day of Bayram, and that meant Istanbulluns who had left the city were returning from vacation, and those who had stayed were out on the streets celebrating the last day of vacation. I have never seen such crowds, not even in the touristic Sultanahmet area, but it was still a fun afternoon.

sultan 1 sultan 2 sultan 3 sultan 4 sultan 5 sultan 6 sultan 7 sultan 8 sultan 9 sultan 10 sultan 11 sultan 12

So there you have it – the highlights of the two weeks following my midterm. Since I have written enough for one post, I will share my reflections in my next post. Then comes Plovdiv, then my most recent week of adventures. Thank you for bearing with me, and iyi akşamlar!

Family Weekend No. 2

Note: I wrote this on Sunday, July 5, and I posted this on Sunday, July 12.

It’s Sunday night, and I don’t really feel like writing a blog post right now. But a) nothing would get done if we always waited until we “felt like” doing something, and b) this might be last change to write a post until next weekend because of quizzes this week and a midterm on Friday.

I had a lovely weekend at my uncle Ertuğrul’s apartment in Kadıköy (literally, “judge village”). My dad kindly spent almost an hour on public transportation to get from my uncle’s place on the Asian side of Istanbul to my dorm on the European side, just so I didn’t have to journey to my uncle’s place alone. Once we made the trip back to the Asian side together and got off the bus in Kadıköy, we walked around a bit before going to my uncle’s house. We went to Kadıköy’s crowded, famous shopping district and found a mini-square called Altıyol (6 roads) because, you guessed it, it’s where 6 roads meet. In the square there was a famous bull statue, and my dad took my picture there. (I’m wearing red and blue because it was the Fourth of July! That was the extent of my celebration, haha.) Then we walked down to the shore and found a cute street with a Coldstone Creamery. We didn’t eat there, but I took a picture because my brother used to work at Coldstone. And my dad insisted on taking a picture of me on the street, of course. Then we briefly stopped in a post office so I could mail a letter to Will. It’s been a long time since I’ve sent an actual letter! Once we got closer to the Bosphorus, my dad pointed out an old building that was across the water and had once been a train station – Haydarpaşa Terminal. It was where my dad and his family first set foot in Istanbul so many years ago after leaving their hometown of Kars in Eastern Turkey.

bull at altiyol me in kadikoy haydarpasa terminal

At Ertuğrul Amca’s house, we were greeted by him, my Arzu Hala, and my cousin Elif. We had a delicious home-cooked meal (Ertuğrul, just like Arzu and my dad, is an amazing cook) at 6:30 or 7 (early for Turkey) because Arzu Hala and Elif wanted to leave pretty early so they could get back to their home on the European side before it got too dark. After they left, I saw the most beautiful sunset from my uncle’s apartment window. Then my dad and I went to Bağdat Caddesi (Baghdad Avenue – I don’t know why it’s called that), a street in Kadıköy famous for shopping and eating. We had Turkish coffee, and as we were walking back to the apartment, I saw the cutest goat statue in front of Mado, one of my favorite dessert places ever. We were too full from dinner to have dessert, but it was fun just walking around.

sunset from ertugrul's placebagdat caddesigoat at mado 2goat at mado

This morning we had a wonderful traditional Turkish breakfast. Like I said in my last post, besides the obvious joy of being around family, the nicest part of visiting relatives is having home-cooked meals. Then after breakfast I just did a bit of homework before my dad and I left to go back to my dorm.

One other thing about my visit – last night, Ertuğrul Amca lectured me on how I should do everything I can to not forget my Turkish when I go back to the States. He said that in his youth he spent a year in France and could speak French pretty well, but now he’s forgotten so much. He asked me what type of novel I like best, and I said realistic and/or historical fiction. He gave me a book from his shelf: Sofia, by Ann Chamberlin. In Turkish, it is called Safiye Sultan, and on the front page, Ertuğrul Amca wrote a touching dedication. He told me that when I’m in Spain in the fall, I should read a bit of the book every night. I know that would be good for me, but, unfortunately, I doubt how realistic it is that I will follow through. First of all, part of me is a touch bitter that he (and some of my other relatives, too) lectured me on how I should work hard to keep up my Turkish. I didn’t HAVE to spend two years at Northwestern learning Turkish and then work so hard to apply to this program and win grants for it. Before I started learning Turkish, my relatives never really pressured me to do so. (In truth, it isn’t very practical for me, though for some reason I am quite driven to do it and am really glad to have devoted so much time to it.) But now that I am learning Turkish, they feel that they must push me to speak it the best I can. I know they just want me to get the most out of this language-learning journey and to not lose what I have worked so hard for, but sometimes it feels like they are suggesting that I owe it to them to spend so much time and energy on Turkish. Like I said, though, I know that isn’t true.

Anyway, Ertuğrul Amca, in his bossy, enthusiastic, well-meaning way, made me read the first paragraph of the novel out loud to him, and then he made me explain it to him in simpler Turkish. He complemented my pronunciation and comprehension, and so it is – now I have ahead of me the task of reading my first novel in Turkish. I hope that writing all this down in my blog will make me more likely to actually read a bit of Turkish each night while in Spain. And speaking of Spain, I brought Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone in Spanish to Turkey, but I’ve barely read a page so far! Yet another task to chip away at, but for the most part I am not bitter. I keep comparing this summer to last summer, when I stayed in Evanston and worked 9-5 (or longer) 5 days a week. I had a wonderful time feeling like a “real” person, hanging out with friends, and exploring Evanston and Chicago, but I feel so lucky that I get to vary my summers and spend this one learning, not working. (Not that the two are mutually exclusive, of course.)

İyi akşamlar!

Weekday Adventures + Body Image Reflections

A bit of a mismatched title to this post, I must admit. I was not going to talk about my body image “issues” in this blog, but as I’ve said before, I want this blog to pretty accurately reflect my experiences this summer in Turkey. But no worries – I will talk about body image stuff AND fun adventures, too!

For those of you who don’t know, when I was in the 8th grade I developed anorexia. I would say its severity level probably hit the middle of the spectrum, closer to the less severe side. I dropped from 110 pounds to 82 pounds at 5’2” in just a few months, but the numbers are not really the point. The point is that something like that – something that messes with the way I see food and my body – doesn’t go away for a long time, and perhaps will never really go away. Though I gained the weight back before graduating 8th grade, I struggled with bingeing and restricting in high school. Things got better junior and senior year, worse freshman year of college, and then better again to the point where it’s the best it’s been since eighth grade.

I must admit, one of the things I was most worried about when coming to Turkey was how the trip would affect my eating, or even just my thoughts about food and my body. Transition periods, even something as simple as the start of a new quarter at Northwestern, always make my “issues” flare up a bit. Being lonely is also a big trigger, and though I have family here, I don’t see them every day (far from it), and I’ve had to make a whole new set of friends. Much to my delight, for the first week and a half in Turkey, it seemed that my food and body thoughts/behaviors weren’t much affected. However, last Monday I for some reason ate to the point of discomfort at lunch and dinner. I think I might’ve been a bit lonely, especially at my solitary Monday dinner, after coming back from a lovely weekend with my family and an eventful Sunday night with friends. I also think I didn’t eat enough Saturday and Sunday, which is never good. There are numerous other reasons, of course and as always, but I won’t get into them. Unfortunately, even one off-kilter day kind of threw my whole week off. I feel much better now, and it could’ve been much worse; I don’t want to forget how far I’ve come since the eighth grade! However, I also don’t want to ONLY talk about the fun things I’ve been doing and leave out some of my more private struggles. In other words, I don’t want to paint a false picture of paradise.

So, how did I make the journey, which for me is still hard, from feeling terrible around food and about my body to feeling much more “normal”? My first step was going out with two friends for dessert in Bebek after dinner on Monday. I almost didn’t want to go out because a) I wanted to get ahead with my hw, b) feeling like I ate too much = feeling bad about myself = wanting to isolate myself, and c) wouldn’t eating MORE food just make me feel worse, not better? But I decided to go out because a) I didn’t have that much hw actually due Tuesday, b) the times when I want to isolate myself are normally the times when socializing would do me the most good, and c) no, actually, what would make me feel worse, not better, would be to let something as stupid as how much I did or didn’t eat in a day stop me from a nice evening out with friends.

So I went out for dessert in Bebek on Monday night. I told my friends about the famous Bebek Mini Dondurma place that I had just gone to on Saturday with my family, and we all went there. Then we went to one of Bebek’s many dessert waffle shops, a magical place where you can top a warm waffle with any imaginable combination of fruit, syrups, jams, candy pieces, and other confections. As you can see in the picture, the three of us shared one amazing waffle – and suprisingly, the best part was the candied chestnuts! I went to bed rather uncomfortably full but pretty happy.

waffle!

On Tuesday night, I took another step to combat my loneliness and the off-kilter feel of my week by going out again with friends. This time we went farther than Bebek, all the way to Sultanahmet. As I might have explained before, Sultanahmet is also known as the Old City and is the oldest part of Istanbul (who would’ve guessed?). It’s a famous, touristic neighborhood home to the Ayasofya (Hagia Sofia), Topkapı Palace, Kapılıçarşı (Grand Bazaar), and Sultanahmet Camii (Blue Mosque), among other attractions. It was already evening, but it was okay because we didn’t want to tour the interiors of any of the sites – we just wanted to eat dinner, walk around during iftar (the nightly fast-breaking meal during the Muslim holy month of Ramazan), and go to a rooftop bar for a glass of wine. We successfully completed our missions and had a wonderful time. In the picture I’m in, we were in Gülhane Park, which is right next to the Topkapı Palace. From there we walked to the main square that is bordered by the Blue Mosque and Ayasofya and arrived just in time for iftar. I had no idea that so many people would set up picnics to break iftar on the grass and benches in the square, but so they did. It was amazing to be in the center of everything when the Blue Mosque’s imam started his prayer and so many groups of families and friends broke their fast. A while later, we experienced a somewhat-less-reverent kind of wonderful when we found a rooftop bar and shared a bottle of wine. (Of course, we were still reverent of the amazing view, which included the Blue Mosque and a large chunk of the Boshporus.)

sun over sultanahmet gulhane park blue mosque at night blue mosque light rooftop bar

Wednesday and Thursday evenings I focused on homework – don’t worry, I am spending more time studying and attending class than I make it seem in this blog! Friday I went to Sultanahmet again, this time earlier in the afternoon and with a different group of people. We went to see the Yeni Cami (New Mosque), which is not as big as the Blue Mosque but is still breathtaking. Then we walked around the Mısır Çarsısı, or Spice Bazaar, the smaller version of the Grand Bazaar. After exiting, we aimlessly wandered the streets until stumbling into the Kapalıçarşı, or Grand Bazaar. We walked around and had tea before taking a ferry back to the dorms. (Warning to any future travelers to Istanbul: the ferries are the city’s most confusing form of public transportation, but if you love boats like I do, it is so worth it.)

yeni cami 1 yeni cami 2 kapali cafe kapalicarsi 1 kapalicarsi 2 outside the spice market

That is all for now. I already wrote the blog post about the Fourth of July weekend, which I spent with family, but I will post it in a couple days. Thanks for reading, and iyi günler!

 

 

Last weekend: Family + Istanbul Pride Parade

As I begin this blog post, it is the Fourth of July! Happy Fourth to all my family and friends! However, if this post goes according to my most recent ones, I will not publish it until a couple days after I begin to write it. Such is my life as a blogger, haha.

I am sitting on the balcony of my dorm room right now, enjoying the cool Saturday morning. (74 degrees Fahrenheit is indeed cool for Istanbul in the summer.) I’m waiting for my dad to come pick me up and take me back to my uncle’s house in Kadıköy, an Istanbul neighborhood where I will spend the night. Last weekend my dad, that same uncle, Ertuğrul (silent g), my aunt Arzu (Ertuğrul’s sister, not wife), and her teenaged daughter Elif came to my dorm early Saturday afternoon. All of us walked the 15 minutes down the steep hill to Bebek, ate pide for lunch (the Turkish version of pizza), and had double dessert: badem ezmesi (literally almond paste, aka marzipan) and dondurma (ice cream). My aunt and cousin Elif were like tourists in Bebek – they wanted to go to the neighborhood’s most famous places: the fancy candy shop that sells badem ezmesi (it really was the best marzipan I’ve ever had!) and an even-tinier ice cream shop called Bebek Mini Dondurma, outside of which I see a very long line every time I walk by after 8pm.

badem ezmesi bebek mini dondurma

After touring Bebek, Ertuğrul went back to his apartment in Kadıköy and my dad, Arzu, Elif, and I drove back to Arzu’s apartment in Bahçelievler. We had a very relaxed late afternoon wherein I mostly read for fun and did a little bit of homework. At one point my dad and I walked a short 5 minutes to a giant mall-like shopping center so he could buy clothes hangers and an umbrella for me and baklava for Arzu Hala and this nice bank he went to a week or so ago. (Is it customary in Turkey to bring gifts to a bank if you had a good experience there? I don’t know, but I certainly find it amusing – in a good way!) My dad was just going to go alone, but I’m glad I asked to go with him. As many questions as I in my endless curiosity have asked about my father’s past lives and extended family over the years, I still feel like there’s so much I don’t know. I couldn’t even remember how old he was when his family moved from his birthplace, Kars (in Eastern Turkey, near Russia), to Istanbul! (It turns out he was 14.) I asked about my father’s sibling’s educations because I couldn’t remember if all had gone to college. (Only my father’s oldest sibling, my Aytaç Amca, didn’t go.) Then my dad started talking about how Elif’s dad, my Atilla Amca, wants her to stay in Istanbul for college. I know families in the US who really want their children to stay close for college, but the whole concept of keeping children (especially daughters) nearby is much more prevalent in Turkey, much more a part of the culture. My dad said he was truly an outlier for having left his family, at first to go to military boarding high school in Istanbul and military academy in Ankara, and then, even more extremely, to move to America with my mother in the early 90s. I asked if he ever regretted those decisions, and he said no. I was surprised – as much as I value my independence, it was quite hard for me to be so far away from my family for the first half of my freshman year at Northwestern. But, like my father doesn’t regret his choices, I don’t regret mine. Of course, it would be a different story altogether if I chose to spend the rest of my life outside the States! But I should never say never. The point is, though, I am so glad I got the chance to talk to my dad one-on-one on Saturday.

After he and I got back from shopping, we had dinner and dessert, and then I passed an evening as relaxed and reading-filled as my afternoon. I got to talk to my mom on the phone, which was lovely. At one point I felt a smidge of regret for missing out on doing things with my friends in the dorm. If I hadn’t spent the night at my aunt’s, I probably would’ve tried to go to the Boston Gay Men’s Chorus concert at the university. However, I found out two days later that although the program directors had thought we could just show up to the concert, it turns out non-university students and faculty had to get tickets (free, but only offered days in advance). Despite the fact that I feel like I should be recognized as a Boğaziçi Üniversitesi student for the duration of the program, I am not. But even before learning that I couldn’t have gone to the concert even if I wanted to, my tinge of regret went away. Spending time with my family, both immediate and extended, is a luxury for me now that I spend most of the year in Evanston/Chicago, so far from all my realtives. And intertwined with family time is the miraculous treat that is home-cooked food!

On Sunday morning after breakfast, my dad and I began the long public-transportation trek back to my dorm. First we took the metrobus (a bus that has a special lane in the middle of the highway to avoid traffic) and then we took the metro, the underground subway with the trippy rainbow lights. After about an hour, we arrived back at Uçaksavar Yurdu, my dorm. My dad bid me goodbye and then I did a bit of work before facing what was, for me, a difficult decision: to go or not to go to the Onur Yürüyüşü (Istanbul Pride Parade)? I knew that, for safety reasons, my parents wouldn’t want me to go. And I, independent of their concern, was also apprehensive for safety reasons. However, I decided to go because a) I wanted to be part of history, especially in light of the SCOTUS ruling on same-sex marriage that had happened just two days earlier, b) I knew I would be in a group mostly with native Turks, so I’d feel safer, c) like I said in my previous post, when I have to choose between saying no or yes to a new experience/adventure in Istanbul (or anywhere) with friends, 99% of the time, I wish I had or am happy to have said yes, and d) I believe you should do something that scares you every day (as long as you are not in serious, serious danger, which I didn’t think I was).

So I went to the Pride Parade. Well, as most or all of you know, the Istanbul police used water cannons, tear gas, and rubber bullets to prevent the (peaceful) demonstraters from marching down İstiklal Caddesi (Independence Avenue), the street in the Taksim neighborhood where most of Istanbul’s protests occur. Allegedly their reason was that the parade shouldn’t happen during the Muslim holy month of Ramazan, though it’s happened without incident in this month before. (http://edition.cnn.com/2015/06/28/world/turkey-pride-parade-lgbt-violence/)

crowd pride march taksim flag pride march

My experience was this: getting off a crowded metro and entering an even-more-crowded Taksim Square, waiting around the square for about 20 minutes to be able to enter İstiklal Caddesi, and then watching in horror as a giant truck with a water cannon arrived and started spraying a huge, powerful stream of water at the protestors. Everyone started walking or running away, but luckily the people around me, myself included, walked calmly and didn’t even get wet. A couple minutes later, the unofficial leader of my group, Ömer (a PhD student in linguistics at MIT who is also my grammar teacher – it was fun but weird hanging out with my teacher!), asked us if we wanted to stay or leave. He said we could stay and “fight,” and although we’d be fine we might actually get sprayed by water or tear gas and it was almost certain the police wouldn’t let anyone onto İstiklal. We decided to leave and go to a bar in Beşiktaş, a neighborhood nearby, like the devoted activists that we are. As we were walking away, Ömer said that the only way protestors can “win” against the police is when really crazy leftists show up and start throwing Malotov cocktails and stuff like that. He’s probably right, I just don’t know enough to say. All I know is that it takes a special kind of person and/or situation to throw, or inspire the throwing of, Malotov cocktails, and I think I will always be privileged enough to never be in that situation and have to/want to be that person.

After a very lovely evening at the bar (pictures below), I returned to the dorm and finally did some work. I was right about one thing – I don’t regret saying yes to the opportunity to go to the Pride Parade. I was, however, wrong in assuming that the government would, like it has for over a decade, let the parade peacfully occur. Such is the state of things in Turkey. Not as bad as it could be, but not as tolerant as it once was.

bar after pride march bar after pride march 2

That is all for now. I will try to post again soon since I anticipate a rather relaxed weekend. I have midterms on Friday, though, so I should probably catch up on my blog before then – I just finished what I wanted to say about last weekend, and already it is Saturday again! Thanks for reading, iyi günler, and Happy Fourth!

 

Long Time Coming

As far as I remember, the last time I posted was a week ago yesterday, and the last day I described was Monday the 22nd. Goodness, this post has been a long time coming. I feel overwhelmed at the prospect of trying to summarize the past week and a half, but I will just hit whatever comes to my mind first.

Several times over the past week, I have come so close to not going out with friends from the program, because of being tired or wanting to save money or wanting to get work done or something like that. But almost every time I nearly said no, I said yes, and I don’t regret a single yes.

On Wednesday evening, my friend Kelsey invited me on an aimless macera (adventure), just for fun. I was feeling tired and sad and I kind of just wanted to nap, but I’m so glad I said yes. Part of my tiredness came from my sadness, and part of my sadness came from loneliness. But although in retrospect it made perfect sense to spend time with a friend to cure both ailments, at the time my weary brain thought it made more sense to stay in. But I went out with Kelsey, and we walked along the Bosphorus until we reached an adorable café right by the shore. I was happy to rest by the water and treat myself to a dinner out, since I have mainly been relying on cold bread, cheese, and canned beans for dinner to save money. It was a rather Americanized restaurant, and Kelsey got a salad with smoked salmon. I got tost, which is basically the Turkish version of grilled cheese. Even though it was pretty much the same nutritionally as my normal cheese-and-bread dinners, I got it because A) it’s yummy and warm and B) I was saving money for dessert. For dessert we got Bailey’s Irish Cream lattes with ice cream, and they were perfect. Then, in true Turkish fashion, we ended the meal with a cup each of Turkish tea. We spoke Turkish about 75% of the time, and though we couldn’t say very complicated things to each other, it was lovely to practice. And it was even lovelier to spend 2 or 3 hours relaxing over dinner. Unfortunately I didn’t take any pictures that night, but here are pictures of the Bosphorus from a couple nights later, beautiful as ever!

pink bosphorus pink bogaz 2

I don’t think much happened on Thursday. On Friday, two things happened that I want to mention here: the TLCP hosted a 3-hour private boat tour of the Bosphorus in the evening, and the U.S. Supreme Court legalized marriage for EVERYONE, regardless of sexual orientation, in all 50 states. Because I don’t have data here, I didn’t hear the news until getting back from the boat tour to the dorm and wifi. Therefore, I will describe the boat tour first. We saw beautiful sites (obviously), and we had a tour guide who explained the history and architecture of many buildings, but the best part was socializing. It’s easy to only talk to the people in your 10-person class most days, so being on a boat with most of the program participants was nice. Picture explanations: The first picture is of the boat we took. The second is of the Savarona, once one of the largest private yachts in the world, and it belonged to Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, the founder of the Turkish Republic. The third is of Istanbul’s third bridge (all three connect the European and Asian sides of the city), not yet completed and quite controversial. Thousands of trees have been cut down already, the location is less than perfect, and many people in Istanbul oppose its construction (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Yavuz_Sultan_Selim_Bridge). The fourth is the Turkish flag, of course, and the fifth is the famous Ortaköy Mosque. The sixth is a picture of the Maiden’s Tower, one of Istanbul’s most iconic sites, and the seventh is of a boat passing in front of the Old City, or Sultanahmet, a touristic district of Istanbul that is home to the Topkapı Sarayı (Palace), Ayasofya (Hagia Sofia), and Blue Mosque.

red boatlargest private yachtthird bridgeboat tour flagortakoy mosquemaiden's towerboat and old city

When I got back to the dorm at around 8pm, I heard the news from SCOTUS. It truly was a historic day and moment, and amidst all the excitement, one of the things that struck me most was how much I can like a person with whom, on this issue, I so greatly disagree. One of my closest friends here, and the guy I spent the most time talking to on the boat tour, is a Catholic who does not support the ruling. Shortly after getting back to the dorm on Friday evening, he posted what was, in my opinion, a gracious and diplomatic Facebook post disagreeing with the SCOTUS ruling. This friend and I do not discuss our beliefs on these issues, which is perhaps why we still get along so well. And while it may be obvious that people who disagree on such issues can still be good friends, in the liberal/artsy/Northwestern/yuppie-bound college world in which I live, almost everyone I know holds values and beliefs quite close to my own. Therefore I have come to truly value this program, not only for the Turkish I am learning, but also for the opportunity to meet so many new people and be reminded of such simple truths as the fact that friendship can (sometimes) withstand ideological differences. Now, on a lighter note – here is a picture of George feeling accomplished about being ready to publish this blog post:

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Alas, I only wrote about Wednesday and Friday. Now I must do homework, and I will post about my weekend and this past week soon enough. İyi günler!

Correction – In a previous post, I spoke of going to Rümeli Hisarı. The correct spelling is Rumeli Hisarı.

Some of my Favorite Things

Note: I wrote this post Monday, but I’m posting it on Wednesday. Adding pictures takes a surprisingly long time, and I ran out of time to add pictures on Monday. I’ll write another (more up-to-date) post soonish maybe! But it might not have pictures, haha.

Since today (Monday) marks the first day of the first full week of classes, and I will have more homework than I had anticipated based on Friday’s classes, in this post I will only talk about my favorite parts of each of the past few days. As promised, I will talk about what I’ve been learning and the beauty all around me that I’ve been lucky enough to enjoy. I’ll start with this past Saturday.

Saturday morning, a couple friends and I walked from our dorm to a famous brunch place near Rümeli Kale (Castle), aka Rümeli Hisarı (Fortress), a fortress built by Ottoman Sultan Mehmed II between 1451 and 1452 that helped him conquer Constantinople in 1453. (Thank you, Wikipedia, for the knowledge, and thank you, this blog, for motivating me to look up the histories of places I visit.) George tried to take a selfie with the castle, but he’s not very good at it yet. 🙂 The brunch place had an amazing view of the Bosphorus, and even more importantly, it had amazing food. Turkish breakfasts normally consist of lots of bread with various things you can put on top, including different cheeses and jams; a plate of cucumbers and tomatoes in olive oil and salt; if you want to be fancy, egg dishes such as socuklu yumurta (eggs with special Turkish sausage) and menemen (soft scrambled eggs with lots of tomatoes, spices, and some other vegetables); and, of course, Turkish tea! After breakfast, we walked along the Bosphorus from Rümeli Hisarı back to Bebek and took a ton of pictures. It was a beautiful day – sunny and warm after a cool and rainy week, and thankfully not too hot. The Bosphorus sparkled in the sun, gorgeous yachts and sailboats were docked at shore, and quaint cafes and impressive houses lined both sides of the water.

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My second favorite part of Saturday was walking from Bebek to Ortaköy (still along the Bosphorus, but in the opposite direction of Rümeli Hisarı) in the evening for dinner. I mentioned this trip in my previous post, but only in the context of feeling unsafe as a young woman in a small group of young women walking around Istanbul at night. But besides from feeling slightly unsafe at times, it was a wonderful evening. The Bosphorus was just as beautiful as it had been earlier that day, but in a different way – mini cruise boats with sparkling lights dotted the length of the canal, and beautifully-lit buildings sprinkled the dark hills on either side of the water. It was invigorating, albeit tiring, to walk the three miles from Bebek to Ortaköy, and we were rewarded at the end with a dinner of kumpir, the Turkish version of a baked potato. We ate and sat right next to Ortaköy’s famous mosque, and then we headed back to our respective neighborhoods.

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On Sunday I spent most of the day alone, practicing flute, doing homework, and relaxing. My favorite part of the day was when I got back from shopping, sat on my balcony, and ate chocolate ice cream while reading a book for fun. Because it was a more solitary and laid-back day, I had time to reflect on all the socializing with new people I’ve been doing. Although I’m 21 and have been in a fairly large number of situations where I’ve had to build an entirely new group of friends, it still surprises me to notice patterns in the types of people I most gravitate towards. In other words, no matter how old I get (though I know I’m still pretty young), I don’t think I’ll ever stop learning things and being reminded of things about myself. I’ve ended up spending most of my time with very nice people. They are many things other than nice – including smart, funny, weird, cynical, optimistic, extraverted, introverted, etc. – but the characteristic that they all most obviously share is their kindness, or specifically, the fact that they immediately appear warm to others. (Many people who are more reserved than warm upon first encounters are quite kind, but they are not the people with whom I spend most of my time.) This shouldn’t surprise me, because when I think about my best friends in other walks of life (high school, college, etc.) they are also all very kind people. However, I am still a bit startled by this trend I notice in myself, and perhaps a bit unsettled. I think the unsettled feeling comes from a stereotype that very nice people are either not too smart or not too interesting. And I think this feeling is exacerbated by my own insecurities regarding how smart, interesting, etc. I appear to other people, since in my experience the first thing people comment on in regards to my personality is my kindness. Furthermore, I am insecure about the fact that I get along best with initially-warm people. Does this mean I have too thin a skin and am not strong enough to handle people with slightly colder exteriors? Does this mean I am weak and limited in my interactions with others? But of course then I remember that most people do have a “type,” and the ones who feel extremely comfortable with most types of people are few and far between. Furthermore, I do not wish to indulge my insecurities, and in fact I do get along well with most of the people I’m meeting, even if I don’t feel super comfortable around all of them. Finally, despite some of the less-than-positive thoughts that this new experience is inspiring, I am still glad for the opportunity to reflect and learn about myself.

Relaxation/Reflection time:

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Last thing for today: My favorite part of Monday was the Tanışma Kokteyli, aka a Getting-to-know-people Cocktail Hour (rough translation). The TLCP hosted it on the university’s South Campus at Kennedy Lodge, an absolutely beautiful building with even-more-breathtaking views of the Bosphorus (from a hill, not from water-level like the views in Bebek, Ortaköy, Rümeli Hisarı, etc.). The program paid for an open bar (the drinking age in Turkey is 18, no surprise there) and very delicious hors d’oeuvres. It was lovely getting to talk to many people in the program, not just those limited to my class of 11 (11, not 9, for those keeping track, now that two people joined us who weren’t in class Friday). One of my friends got rather drunk, but he was the kindest, most good-natured, and most entertainingly-philosophical drunk I’ve ever known. (He is a very kind and good-natured person, so it makes sense.) The most interesting thing he said was that although he doesn’t agree with Turkish President Erdoğan and Prime Minister Davutoğlu’s politics (conservative and non-secularist, in case anyone is wondering), he admires them in some way for their intelligence, hard work, and devotion of their lives to their country and to a cause greater than themselves. (He was especially talking about Davutoğlu, who graduated from Boğaziçi Üniversitesi, one of the best universities in Turkey, and is very smart and accomplished.) I don’t know if I agree with him – if I had thought of this argument at the time and not 30 minutes later, I might’ve pointed out that although they may partly aim to serve a cause greater than themselves, they also probably works toward self-serving goals like greater personal success and power. After all, as we all know, power corrupts. However, I mention this issue here because it is an interesting thought that I think too many of us forget in today’s ever-more partisan world of politics: people are more than their party, and they are not black and white. Most of us have done things that deserve both respect and admonition, although of course this is no excuse for political beliefs that impinge on basic human rights such as freedom of religion.

This cat’s just chilling outside the Kennedy Lodge:

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Okay, that is more politics than I ever expected to discuss in my blog. I think I should stop there! As always, thanks for reading, and iyi akşamlar!

Reflections on Money and Womanhood

I think I have a tendency, at times, to focus too much on negative aspects of life, but of course this in and of itself is a negative self-judgment that involves ignoring the positive within myself. I bring this up because I will complain about several things in this post, a result of my promise to structure this post around ideas/reflection/analysis more than events. I will balance these complaints with celebrations, but I won’t have time tonight to write about what I’m celebrating. That post will come later.
In this post, I will complain about two things:
1. money
2. womanhood
In my next post, I will celebrate two things:
1. learning
2. beauty

First complaint: money. Traveling is quite expensive. (Of course, I won’t realize how good I have it here in Turkey until I get to Spain, a much more expensive country which uses the Euro, a currency more powerful than the American dollar and MUCH more powerful than the Turkish lira.) These first few days since leaving my aunt’s house and coming to the dorm, I’ve wanted to go out all the time both to explore Istanbul and to get to know people better, and my wallet has felt the consequences. For example, Taksim on Friday night was ridiculously expensive: 22 TL for a durum that you can normally get for less than 5 TL. However, when I complain about this kind of thing, I have to check myself. Not only did I get the $5,000 Undergraduate Language Grant from Northwestern to attend the TLCP, but I also got another $5,000 NU grant, the Keyman Modern Turkish Studies Grant. (Keyman only gave me 3 of the $5,000, though, because I told them that the program and all associated costs should total to about $8,000.) So, yes, I got $8,000 to do this program, and what right do I have to complain? But then I think about how the $8,000 estimate I gave to the university was based on the amount of money the program directors thought that students spend on travel and food, which turns out to have been quite an underestimate. I think about how I am on a full scholarship at Northwestern, and how most people around me (both at Northwestern and here at the TLCP) have just a bit more wiggle room when it comes to spending money. BUT THEN I remember that a) I won’t go to an expensive neighborhood like Taksim every day, b) I have savings that I specifically allotted for my summer in Turkey and my fall in Spain, and c) I have generous parents who want me to enjoy myself (within reason) and who have comfortable savings themselves.

Second complaint: womanhood. For a long time, I have identified as a feminist and believed that women in all parts of the world, even the most progressive parts, are still not treated as well as men. However, never has the unfairness of being a woman struck me more than it has these past few days, as a 21-year-old woman living independently in Istanbul. In my opinion, Turkish culture is rather patriarchal. The men think they deserve more respect, just by virtue of being men, and women are allowed much less freedom to roam around on their own than they are in America, because of both the controlling men in their lives and the necessity of avoiding the danger of going out alone. Recently, gender inequality has been condoned by the current, non-secularist ruling party in Turkey. Of course, not all Turkish men buy into this patriarchal culture, but enough do to make me feel unsafe. Here is a good, short article on the topic:
http://www.todayszaman.com/anasayfa_men-don-skirts-in-istanbul-march-to-protest-violence-against-women_373266.html

Here are examples, just from this past Friday and Saturday, of times when I felt unsafe as a woman: On Friday night in Taksim, after the three other girls and I broke apart from the larger group, I felt kind of unsafe. It was 11pm in a crowded, popular, touristy neighborhood, yet still some men gave us strange looks. OF COURSE this is partly because it was obvious that we are foreigners, but this is also partly because we were four women alone. In my previous post, I mentioned the street with many noisy bars that competed for patrons. Well, in Turkey, this kind of competition involves a man standing outside each bar, walking up to passerby and trying to corral them inside the bar. These men do this to everyone who walks by – men, women, native Turks, tourists, etc. – but of course they are more persistent and less respectful with women and tourists alike. This street was not the only place where this happens – on most side streets off of İstiklal Caddesi, and even sometimes on the main street itself (and all throughout Turkey), bar and restaurant employees (always men) follow people and try to corral them in. When I was walking with my three girl friends, one man followed my friend Michelle for way too long, at least two or three minutes. I am pretty sure he never would’ve done this to a man, even an American.

On Saturday evening, I felt unsafe again. My friend Kelsey and I met up with another girl, Elyse, around 8pm and decided to walk along the Bosphorus until we felt like stopping. We ended up walking 4.8 km, practically 3 miles, all the way from Bebek to another neighborhood, Ortaköy. It was a lovely nighttime walk with the lights of boats sparkling on the dark blue of the Bosphorus and the lights of buildings sprinkled among the hills on both sides of the water. However, the later it got, the more unsafe I felt in a group of just three girls. Yes, part of my anxiety came from my parents, who warned me in the clearest terms before I left the States that crime had risen in Istanbul (both in general and against women) and that I should always be in a group of at least three people and, preferably, at least one man. And yes, part of my anxiety came from my natural tendency to worry. But I am sure that a large part was fully justified by the environment I was in. After we had dinner and walked around Ortaköy, Kelsey and I took one bus back to Bebek while Elyse took a different bus to her off-campus apartment in a different neighborhood. On the bus, almost everyone was male, and they kept giving us strange looks. (Once again, partly because we were obviously foreigners, but even if we had been Turkish, I’m sure we still would’ve gotten strange looks.) I felt safe because the bus had many windows, was well-lit, and was traveling on a crowded street, but I still felt pretty uncomfortable. One guy tried to talk to us in a confrontational tone, but luckily he gave up after Kelsey and I ignored him.

After getting off the bus, Kelsey and I were just about to walk up the steep hill from Bebek to our dorm when we decided to stop at a nargile (hookah) place to smoke hookah, play backgammon, drink tea, and talk. We were there from 12am to 2am, and I can’t think of a more Turkish way to spend a weekend night. The streets of Bebek were crowded, noisy, and alive for the whole two hours, and we had a lovely time. However, when we walked up the dark hill at 2am, I thought to myself, I will never do this again. Walking with just one other girl in Istanbul at 2am is not enough for me to feel safe. (When my parents read this, I am sure they will be horrified and perhaps even angry at me, but I am not going to censor my blog just to spare me from their wrath. Besides, I already promised myself I would never do that again.) BUT THAT IS THE POINT! I should be able to do that again. It was so fun. So so fun. I much prefer hanging out with someone one-on-one to hanging out in large or even small groups. Why shouldn’t I be able to safely stay out in Bebek until 2am on a Saturday night with just one girl friend? Why shouldn’t I be able to safely walk three miles at night to an adorable neighborhood for dinner and then take a bus back? In a fair and just world, I should be able to do all those things. If I were a 21-year-old American man spending 7 weeks alone in Istanbul, I wouldn’t blink twice while walking the streets at night with just one friend. And therein lies the extreme injustice of womanhood.

That’s it for now! I am sorry for an entire post of complaints. And I apologize for my lack of pictures! In my next post I will celebrate, with positivity and pictures, everything I’ve been learning about the Turkish language, Turkish culture, and who I am as a person, as well as the beauty that is all around me. Thank you for reading, and iyi akşamlar!

First Day of Classes and Exploration

Right now, I am sitting in a four-story Starbucks in Bebek (a ritzy neighborhood close to the university) with an amazing view of the Bosphorus. The last time I posted was Thursday night, I believe, and now it is Sunday night. Much has happened since then!

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We had our first day of classes on Friday. We had four 50-minute blocks of class from 9 to 1, and for me, it went by surprisingly quickly. There are nine people in my class, and we stay in the same room the whole time while the teachers rotate and come to us. Most of the time we have the same teacher for two blocks in a row, but sometimes we have 3 or 4 different teachers each day. (I only know this because we’ve been given the schedule for the first two weeks of class.) We have the same TA for all four hours, and the TA runs the lab hours. About 3 times a week, one of our 4 hours is taken up by lab, meaning we go to a room in a separate building that has headphones and other such fancy equipment, and we practice listening and speaking. On Friday, we had two hours of grammar, one hour of lab, and one hour of writing. In between blocks, many students went down to the main building’s first floor, where there is a little stand with snacks, candy bars, coffee, and tea. It’s a mix between a café and a vending machine – a person sells the stuff, but there is no separate room; the stand is just in the middle of the hall. It’s so interesting – something I’ve never seen in America!

After class most of the 58ish students in the program went to the student cafeteria for lunch, where you can get a three-course meal for 6.75 Turkish Lira, or TL (less than $3.50). After class, we watched a new Turkish movie called Unutursam, Fısılda (If I Forget, Whisper) from 2-4pm. Like most Turkish movies and TV shows, it was overly dramatic (that’s an understatement), but I still enjoyed it. Afterwards I went back to my dorm and napped from 5:30-7. This is a big deal for me – as I tell my friends, I nap approximately 3 times a year. But I’m still not over jet lag, obviously. People say you need one day for every hour of time change to get over jet lag, so I’ll need about eight days – by Tuesday I should be fine.

After I woke up from my nap, I went with a big group of people to Taksim, a neighborhood in Istanbul with a famous street called İstiklal Caddesi (Independence Avenue). My dad says it’s like 5th Avenue in Manhattan, but with more restaurants and less shopping. It was a short ride on the metro from the university to Taksim. The metro in Turkey is very new and quite a bit below street level. The tunnel at the university metro station is lined with rainbow lights that are constantly and slowly changing colors, and it’s pretty trippy. Once we got to Taksim, it was so much fun to just walk around and take in the sights. In May/June 2013, Taksim made international news for the protests in Taksim Square that began in response to the urban development plan for Taksim’s Gezi Park and ended up addressing larger issues in Turkey, namely the government’s encroachment on freedom of press and assembly, and on the separation of church and state. There are still large groups of policemen hanging around the square, which is a strange sight to see.

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As we walked to dinner, we saw a smaller protest, unrelated to the 2013 protests. From what we could gather, it was a group advocating for women’s rights. One of the students who was with us actually joined the protest and met up with us at dinner later! After she left the group, we went to a döner kebap place for dinner. (My friend Michelle and I took a quick detour to watch the sunset at the end of a picturesque alley.) At dinner we all got dürüm, which is a wrap with thin strips of lamb (shaved from meat rotating on a stick – see picture below) and vegetables. It was delicious – I’m so glad I stopped being a vegetarian for my current trip to Turkey and upcoming fall study abroad in Spain. (I still haven’t decided whether I’ll go back to being a vegetarian when I get back to the States.) The funny thing is that while walking down the streets of Turkey as a young girl on my family’s trips to the country, seeing the rotating sticks of meat (döner means turning/rotating in Turkish) – and specifically the discs of fat that are clearly visible on the meat – actually made me cry. It’s no wonder I became a vegetarian. But Friday night, I didn’t think about those childhood images and chose to enjoy the taste of the meat. (Unfortunately, I didn’t take pics at dinner, so the döner and dürüm pictures below are from the internet.)

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Then we got dessert at Mado, one of the best (chain) dessert places in Turkey. My dessert of choice was pistachio and chocolate ice cream. I have so many fond childhood memories of eating pistachio ice cream in Turkey, and it’s wonderful to be able to do it again. I also got Turkish tea (çay), which, because it was Mado, came on a fancy silver platter with a tiny cookie and real flowers in a mini vase. Even though it was 9 or 10pm on a hot night, in Turkey it’s perfectly acceptable to drink tea and coffee so late and in the summer. I honestly think most Turks drink more tea than water, even in the hottest months. Some other people at our table also got tea, and some got künefe. Those who got künefe (pic below) kindly shared with those of us who didn’t get it. Künefe is hard to describe – it’s basically a large disc of hot semi-melted cheese coated in crunchy, fried slivers of wheat which are in turn coated with sweet syrup. I used to hate it, but now I think it’s amazing.

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After dessert, we went to a side street lined with a ton of open-air bars blasting live music and competing with each other for patrons. This whole time (dinner, dessert, drinks) we were being led by two or three girls in the program who did this same Turkish Language and Culture Program, just at a lower level, last year. Apparently they knew and liked all the places they took us to, but I didn’t enjoy the street with the bars. After my group chose a bar and sat down, three other girls and I left and just walked around Taksim. We went back to the dorm earlier than everyone else and got home around 12:30. Because of jet lag, though, I didn’t fall asleep until 3am.

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To wrap it up: In this blog, I think it’s important both to provide a snapshot of my days and to engage in deeper reflection and analysis of my time abroad. This post was mainly a summary of events, but the next post will be structured around ideas, reflection, and analysis more than events. Thank you for reading, and iyi akşamlar!