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Monthly Archives: January 2014

Joe described being in Cappadocia as a lot like being on the moon, a description I would say is pretty accurate. We arrived to Cappadocia yesterday and it is like no where I have every been to and it feels like what the Grand Canyon might be like.

I’ve lived in big cities all my life and Cappaodica is the closest I’ve ever been to in living nature. Whenever I asked my parents to take me camping as a kid my dad would answer, “We didn’t leave Bangladesh just so you can live in the forest!”

As I grew older my interest in nature waned and I never really cared for being a part of it. Doing things like hiking and swimming never interested me because I was always too paranoid about falling to my death or drowning.

However I promised myself that when I came to Turkey I would make a deep effort to do the things out of my comfort zone, liking hiking up a mountain in the early hours of the morning.

Although I faced I several obstacles in hiking up this mountain, such as almost drowning twice, I did it. I may have been covered in blood, sweat, and tears at the end of it but my soaking wet sneakers and me pulled through.

I don’t what else Turkey has in store for me but after that mountain I am ready for whatever this country wants to throw my way.

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Whoever said that it’s easier for everyone who speaks more than one language to learn a new language is a liar.

My fourth survival Turkish class was this morning and my brain is starting to reach capacity for languages. Turkish will be the fourth modern language I have studied.  Aside from English I can speak Bengali fluently, I can understand Hindi/Urdu but not really speak it, and I’m working on my Arabic. Since all of these languages have huge Muslim populations they use many of the same words. Sometimes in class when Nuray asks me a question in Turkish my brain gets confused and I’m not sure which language to answer in.

During our briefing Erika asked us if any of us spoke Turkish. No one raised they hands (Turkish 101 was not offered last Fall at SU).

This lack of fluency in Turkish has caused me to heavily rely on my perceptual acuity. I’ve noticed that I have become more attentive to body language and facial expressions to understand what’s happening around me.

One of my favorite past times is people watching. In the U.S. when there’s nothing to do my friends and I enjoy stationing ourselves at a coffee shop and discretely coming up with stories for the people passing by. I don’t have anyone in Istanbul to do this with, mostly because this is a sort of unsettling activity to bring up to people.

I tried people watching in Kadikoy today and it was challenging. Whenever a group of people are near me and laughing I always assume they’re laughing at me because I don’t understand what they’re saying.

What’s comforting to me is that millions of people all over do this and my own parents have even done this before. The more I think about this the more I realize that living in a new country where I don’t know the language doesn’t feel as daunting anymore.

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“You can’t understand this city if you can’t understand the Bosporus.” Erika says as we commence our tour. It’s freezing today and and the rain feels sharp as it hits my face but we’re not letting that stop us from going on our boat tour of Istanbul via the Bosporus strait, which empties into the Black Sea and the Aegean.

One of the first things I noticed when during our drive to Kadiköy from the airport was the Bosphorus. As we crossed the bridge I was amazed by how bustling it was with all its ferries, boats, fishermen. It’s a deep kind of blue that is thankfully nothing like the Hudson River or the East River. The thought of dipping my feet in the Hudson river makes me cringe.

As we continued our boat tour Burak pointed out important landmarks and places we will be visiting soon. We were supposed to be paying attention to what Burak is saying and marking it down on our maps but my paper blew away into the Bosporus. I’m a little glad I did because after the paper blew away I was able to focus on the things Burak was point out.

Amidst the fog and icy rain I notice the site of minarets dotting the skyline. I smile because it finally hits me that this is going to be my home for the next couple of months.

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“Get used to uncertainty,” Erika starts off the briefing and Burak smiles. Erika might of noticed shocked expressions and assures us that everything has a way of falling into place.

“Everything will be okay,” she reassures us. I take a deep breath and sigh.

When we arrived to our hotel after our plane ride we were all incredibly exhausted and I wanted nothing but to pass out in my bed. But Sig Sem waits for no one and we had to meet Erika and Burak in the conference room shortly for our briefing. Erika is the director of the SU Istanbul program and Burak is the program coordinator. These two are basically responsible making sure everything in the program runs smoothly and they are good at their jobs.

The briefing isn’t too long but covers the basics, including earthquake safety. Erika and Burak go over what to expect for the next two weeks, which is known as Signature Seminar. Sig Sem is basically an introductory class condensed into two weeks of lectures and traveling to get us familiar with the history and culture of our new home. It’s like a cultural boot camp in a way.

After our briefing we were given a break before a quick walking tour of Kadiköy, which is where we will be staying for the first half of Sig Sem. They scheduled the walking tour after the briefing to make sure we get adjusted to the time zone and not pass out from jet lag in our hotel rooms.

Kadiköy is a neighborhood located on the Asian side of Istanbul. I’m glad we have the chance to live in the Asian side even if it’s for a little bit. The Asian side doesn’t seem to attract as many tourists as the European side, which for some reason makes the Asian side seem more attractive to me.

It hasn’t really hit me that this is what my home is going to for the next couple of months. While there are many differences between the Turkey and the other two countries I have lived in I can’t help make compare the similarities. For example, Istanbul’s traffic has been described as the downfall of this city but I don’t think it’s really that bad. Istanbul traffic has got nothing on the traffic and insane drivers I’ve encountered in Bangladesh.

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Balloons on the Bosphorus during our walking tour.

Todays the big day.

In a few hours I’m getting on a plane with group of people I’m going to be spending a lot of time for the next two weeks in a country I’ve never been to.  My eyes feel raw from staying up the entire night packing. I can’t think of anything to say so I begin to write.

“So why did you choose Istanbul?” some asks and everyone says that seemed the most different out of all the SU Abroad centers. They’re probably right about that.

Some guy with a beard in the group asks me if I’ve traveled a lot. He is trying to ask me where I was from, where I’m really from. As in what country my family immigrated from before they moved to New York City.

I was born in Bangladesh, but I moved to New York when I was three years old. I’ve traveled back to South Asia every year or so since then.

An aspect about Turkey that attracted me to study here is it’s almost completely Muslim population. Although I’ve lived in Bangladesh, where the majority of the population is also Muslim. The major difference is that Bangladesh is still a very young country and has a lot of things left to figure. Turkey on the other hand is lauded as an example of a Muslim country with a seemingly successful democracy.

Then the group all begin to talk about the places they’ve been to. Many people haven’t really traveled out of the country while some haven’t gone anywhere beyond Western Europe. For the most part Turkey will be the closest they’ve gotten to the Middle East.

I start to think about the type of context we all will have before going to Turkey, such as how where we’ve been to and what we’re studying shapes our perceptions of Istanbul. A major influence for me will be the time I have spent in Bangladesh.

The gate is finally open it’s time to board the plane. I find out that have to sit next to the guy with the beard who talks a lot, just my luck.
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I always knew that it was a matter of time before studying abroad would be on my horizon. In fact, if I had figured out my what exactly I wanted to major in earlier I would have planned out my courses so I can study abroad for a full year. Sadly, I’m one of the most indecisive people I know. If I studied abroad for two semesters I wouldn’t be able to graduate in 4 years. I was going to have to choose the location for my semester wisely.

This resulted in a summer of going back and forth between applications as well as one really bad paper cut from a study abroad pamphlet.

My top two choices had been going to either Egypt or Lebanon because I am studying Arabic and I must complete 2 years of it to graduate. Naturally, I should go to countries where Arabic is spoken. Unfortunately, political instability and the desire to graduate on time deterred me away from those locations. The programs in Jordan and Morocco didn’t appeal to me either.

Although the primary language in Turkey is Turkish, SU students have the option of taking Arabic classes at our partner university. This was the first year that Arabic was going to be offered in the Istanbul program. While I am not particularly religious, I couldn’t help but feel it was a sign. Istanbul was going to be the place for me.

Aside from that I’ve been mesmerized by Turkey since seeing a picture of the Hagia Sophia (cliché I know) in my 6th grade history textbook. In the 10th grade my world history class participated in a cultural exchange program with a school in Turkey. The focus of this program was mainly music that was really fun to learn about. Last year my roommate, who is half Turkish, taught me how to make Turkish coffee using a cezve. These are just a few of my interactions I’ve had with Turkish culture, which have always been positive. Before I made my final decision to go to Istanbul I thought about these random interactions and before i knew it I found myself purchasing my ticket.

Did I mention I’m going to live in a country for several months when I don’t speak a word of the language? Because that’s happening.

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The guidebook and a phrasebook I got for my birthday!