Dear Future Abroad Students…

To say this has been an incredible year growth and self-discovery would be an understatement. I started my year abroad in Cambodia when I participated in the Cornell in Cambodia program, I studied abroad in Turkey for 5 rewarding months, and I recently finished an internship with the United Nations in Namibia. I was forced to confront my identity – what it means to be black and to be a woman. I am not a different person but a better person and so much of what am now, I owe to my experiences abroad.

I urge you take advantage of the opportunity to study in another environment, to question your cultural norms, to reflect upon your place in the world and who you want to be. There is no better time to do this than your time abroad.

Memories

A few of my favorite photos I took while in Turkey.

Sarma

Sarma, or stuffed grape leaves, are a popular dish in Turkey. I went to a little restauraunt with friends and saw women stuffing the grape leaves with meat.

Sunset

I was able to catch the sunset as I explored an estate of an Egyptian Khedive on the Anatolian side of Istanbul.

Hagia Sophia

The Hagia Sophia has a breathtaking interior, it was an incredible experience to be able to see it up close after studying it in an Art History course.

Yawn

Cats are everywhere around campus and around Istanbul, they are very friendly

Telefernik

We took a weekend trip to Bursa and explored Uludağ, a mountain in the city. You can take a funicular to get to the very top.

Puppy

A German Shepherd puppy lounging outside of house in a small town in Anatolia

We Are What We Drink

I read a book once called A History of the World in Six Glasses. From the book I learned that we can think about the drinks we consume to help define our societies. Our relationship with what we drink is reflective of how we lead our lives. In the U.S, coffee is largely consumed while in Turkey, tea is the major drink. The cultures that surround these two beverages are vastly different.

People say that Americans are too busy. I am sure that, in many cases, this statement holds to be true. We spend a lot of time working and not enough time enjoying the rewards of our work. In the states, coffee is the elixir that helps us to manage. Even when we have grown immune to it, we still feel as though it has some effect on us. We drink coffee to help us battle early morning drowsiness, afternoon slumps, and late night fatigue. We often take our coffee to go and we have even developed drive-throughs to help us satisfy our need for caffeine and efficiency. When you do walk into a coffee shop you’ll find that the atmosphere is both tense and frenzied and not just because everyone is on their second latte. What was once a hub for social interaction, coffee shops are now a place for rushed meetings and stressed students.

In Turkey, it’s different. Instead of coffee, we drink çay. Because it is meant to be sipped slowly (and is never taken to go), çay encourages people to talk and relax and to learn about others. Çay is a concentrated black tea that stems from the Black Sea Region and is often served in a tulip-shaped glass. During the First World War, when coffee became difficult to access, tea rose to prominence as the primary drink of consumption in the Ottoman Empire; it has since become an integral aspect of Turkish culture.

Since living in Turkey, I have become an avid tea drinker. I like my çay açık, or light, with two customary sugar cubes. Many of my taste buds were victimized by scalding Turkish tea before I knew how to properly consume it but now I have become an expert at sipping copious amounts of çay without even waiting for it to cool down.

Almost always, there is complimentary çay after a meal. You are offered cay in homes, shops, and offices, which is a testament to Turkish hospitality. The constant flow of tea, keeps conversations going for at least an hour longer. I feel as though I haven’t missed opportunities to have a great discussion since I’m not as focused on rushing to my next destination. I learned that you can never really have a quick meal in Turkey and I don’t mind that at all.

I have learned from the Turkish example to drink çay, carve out more time to spend with others, and to take it easy.

Here and There

Nature is something that I miss the most. In Istanbul, there are some green areas but not enough to satiate my desire. The city is rife with beautifully ornate palaces, mosques, and churches but lacks nature’s own constructions. This is especially true of the European side of Istanbul where nearly every crevice of the area has been filled with concrete. I was excited during early spring when Istanbul was painted with millions of blooming tulips and buildings were dripping with wisteria but the colorful palette that once revived the city has since receded.

The small amount of green areas that are left are about to get even smaller. Plans are underway to build a new bridge and airport on the outskirts of the city center. The bridge is meant to alleviate the stifling Istanbul traffic that, in a city of over 17 million, is difficult to escape. It only takes y one three hour trip across the city alone for one to come to the realization that traffic is a problem.

The decision to build a bridge is something that has not gone unnoticed. Everyone is aware of the issue, some are questioning the heavy costs of the solution. I’ve talked with some of my friends who participated in protests to stop the constructions as they are destroying forest land and other natural areas. I support their actions.

I can’t argue that this situation is reflective of all of Turkey. Last week, I visited the Black Sea area and Central Anatolia where there are breathtaking land and seascapes seemingly untouched by the heavy hand of superfluousness. The residents of those areas, both current and those who lived there centuries before, developed in the interests of protecting natural areas instead of destroying it.

Destruction is something that is all too familiar to me. I live in the Everglades but you couldn’t tell if you visited me. When I go home for break, I’m met by a new “For Lease” sign standing alone where endless rows of trees were once firmly rooted. Instead of mangrove trees and water lilies you would see sprouting shopping centers and apartment complexes. Not all development is bad, I value having access to everything that I want and need but some want too much.

It wouldn’t bother me as much if it weren’t for the existence of the same amenities four minutes down the road. We’re not really fighting for comfort but for excess—we don’t need that new mall.

Much of my childhood was spent going on adventures with my friends in marshy lands where the grass reached over our knees. I don’t know all of the reasons behind these types of developments but what I do know is that the chance for kids to build the same memories is greatly diminishing.

We should do more to let nature prevail because there are always options in which it can.

CHANGING TIDES

You can’t always be prepared for how early the celebrations for the game would begin. Crowds of fans start roaring Galatasaray chants in the metro as early as 8pm for game that starts over two hours later. Everyone crowds onto the train, likely far exceeding its capacity and leaving little room for anyone to breathe. They do so all in the hopes of arriving at the stadium just a little bit earlier to take part in the even larger camaraderie.

The stadium transforms into a sea of orange and red that rocks from side to side in preparation for the game about to start. When the match begins and Galatasaray scores an early goal, the crowds erupt with the same powerful force as the thunderous fireworks they are releasing into the air.  The momentum would continue until Lazio, Galatasaray’s opponent, responds with a goal less than fifteen minutes later. The change in the audience was swift and the silence, deafening.

Emotions are rampant throughout the stadium; they are transitory and felt deeply – Men are weeping, and then they are shouting, and then they are laughing.  It’s easy to become absorbed into the game and to feel like that overly zealous parent who takes under-12 soccer games a little too seriously.  The audience shows a great display of resiliency. They shout at the teams on what to do despite being too far for players to ever hear them.

But the tense atmosphere in the stadium, however, does not go unnoticed. Police with riot gear are huddled together and positioned throughout the grounds and there are at least three security checkpoints that attendees have to go through before even arriving at the entrance of the field. It’s evident that everyone is being monitored very closely. What was missing from the stadium was also obvious; there were very little women and there were no children. Perhaps it was deemed no longer safe for them to be there. The heightened security highlights how that same passion and intensity that gave the stadium so much life has in the past manifested into acts of violence.

Corruption, the increasing threat of violence and terror attacks, and that it has become costlier and more difficult to attend games, has tainted the enthusiasm of football fans in Turkey. The fluidity of those same seas of orange and red that greeted me as I entered the stadium were fragmented by the empty seats that represented all of those who were turned away either by choice or by force.

 

 

When I first heard about the bombing in Istanbul, my immediate thought was not about the victims, but rather, myself.  I feared that I would no longer be able to participate in my study abroad program that I had been excited about for so long. My selfish reaction was reflective of how many here react when they hear of terrible events in the Middle East or elsewhere. We tend to place ourselves at the forefront of these tragedies and we tend to create a dichotomy between two supposedly different worlds, one safe, and one dangerous.

People have asked me if I am nervous about going to Turkey, but the question I think they should be asking,  and that I should be asking myself, is If I should  be more nervous about living in Turkey than I am about living in the United States. Is the United States really that much safer? Can I feel entirely safe when I am at the movies, at school, or at church? When thinking about the recent events that have occurred in the U.S, the answer, for me, is an easy one.