22 June, 2015

Let's Talk Turkey

Finally.

As most of you are probably aware, I spent the month of May traveling through Turkey. I was there on another study abroad trip, this time taking a gender studies class. We started in Izmir, then worked our way to Fethiye, Kemer, Ankara, and finally to Istanbul. Let me tell you, this trip was the most incredible few weeks of my life in so many ways. I could talk about Turkey forever...actually I mention it at least one (or seventeen) times a day to the dismay of all those who must endure my conversations (thanks for putting up with me).

Prior to my trip, whenever I would tell anyone I was going to Turkey, 9/10 times I would hear something along the lines of:

"Oh my gosh, really? TURKEY? Aren't you, ya know, like, scared?" (I was never scared.)
"Promise me you'll be safe."  (I was always safe.)
"Oh, honey. WOW. Be careful over there. It's...you know." (It's not like what you see in the media.)

To be honest, I was pretty annoyed by these misconceptions. I appreciated the concerns of my customers at work and some of my friends, but honestly, a school trip wouldn't take us anywhere that was deemed to be dangerous. Plus, why would I let fear drive me from exploring? I just didn't understand. But anyway...

Turkey was...ineffable. Every time I try to explain it, my words fall short of the absolute wonder and glory I experienced in Turkey. I saw the Hagia Sophia, experienced a boat tour around parts of the Mediterranean, walked through the ancient streets of Ephesus (and performed in the grand theater there!!!!), crossed the Bosphorus to get to class...I experienced so much culture and history in three weeks that I didn't even know what to do with myself.

But that's not why Turkey has won over my heart.

Perhaps one day I will write a tourist-y post about what I loved seeing in Turkey and eating in Turkey (everything), but today is not that day.

Today is about more than that. Today is about why my trip to Turkey changed my life. Okay, that sounds a little cliche, but please, hear me out. I learned one of the most valuable lessons in my life while in Turkey, specifically in Izmir.

This post is dedicated to you, Izmir.


Left to right: Ali, Julianna, Orhun, Mert, Hasan, Naz, Sacha, Ceylin. 
From the top of Asansör (Turkish for "elevator") on my last night in Izmir.


The people above are more than just my friends. They are my family. To say that I miss them would be the understatement of the century. I talk to at least one of them every single day. Why is that important? Let me explain.

So. Izmir.

We (TnCIS) began our trip in Izmir, where we were graciously hosted by Yaşar University. Each American student was paired with a Turkish student for the week, which was super incredible. Studying abroad is really fun, but getting to study abroad and meet/hang out with students my age from said country...that's an unmatched experience. It brings everything to life in a new way. But anyway...I was paired with a girl named Naz. Right from the start, she was more than a friend to me. She was a sister. We loved the same books, animals, everything. She has one of the biggest hearts of anyone I know. She is so kind and so loving and I miss her so much. 

I truly got the lucky straw in Izmir, though. (And every other city but that's a different story.) Not only did I wind up paired with Naz, but I had a whole crew of Turkish students that weren't necessarily paired with anyone, but they just wanted to hang out, which was awesome. That's how I ended up gaining such a great group of friends in Izmir. Our group was sometimes even bigger, with an additional American and even more Turkish friends. 

I did everything with this group of people. They took me out to eat, we drank beer by the sea in Konak, and found the best little coffee shop in Izmir. They even planned a night for us Americans to try Rakı, a traditional Turkish alcohol made from the anise seed (which is super delicious, by the way). Even on the times we weren't doing anything in particular save for walking around Izmir, I was having so much fun.

Let me repeat myself: I WAS HAVING FUN IN A GROUP OF PEOPLE.

This little introvert never felt out of place. She was never exhausted by spending time with these people. She finally found a place where she felt like she belonged

Maybe it's because their spirits and attitudes matched mine more than that of most of the people I know here in the States. We would talk about books and media and things that mattered to us. We would talk about what made us feel alive. We, instead of shaming our differences, celebrated what made us unique. We found the many ways we were similar. We laughed and cried and sang and joked around. 

This all sounds mundane and normal, probably. But as I said before, I'm not sure the right words exist to fully encompass my feelings for these people and the experiences we had together. I remember turning to Mert one night while we were on the balcony of a bar and saying, "Remember when I asked you when you felt most alive? Because my answer is right now." 

Here's what's really important about these people, though. Most of you know, I'm really not a fan of being in groups of people. You know, an introvert in a field of extroverts. I don't have many close relationships. I'm always the one to say that I can go through life alone and be completely fine. Now, I finally see the truth.

These people taught me what it means to have a real friend, and I no longer want to go through life alone.

*sigh of relief*

To my friends in Turkey: I've said it a million times before and I'll say it many more times: Thank you. Thank you so much. Thank you for loving me and accepting me. Thank you for being my friend. Thank you for showing me what it means to care for someone. Thank you for singing with me and laughing with me and crying with me. Thank you for helping me see that I no longer want to walk though life alone, and thank you even more for walking this path with me. You have my heart. I love you all so much, each and every one of you. 

You were the key to open this lock I've put on my heart for so many years. Never in my life have I felt so happy. I owe you all so much. I can never thank you enough for setting me free.

...

I'm sitting here crying because I am filled to the brim with gratitude for you all. You mean the world to me. It brings me so much joy to know I will be reunited with you in the future. 

On that little tote bag you all gave me on the first day, it had the little slogan, "Biz bir aileyiz" written on it. Though it may be cheesy to admit, that is what I feel for you. We are a family. 

Thank you, Izmir. Thank you so much.

I cannot wait to see you again.



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