An ongoing look into the abroad experiences of Rhodes College students. This semester, Carmen McClelland gives insight into her studies in Istanbul, Turkey. For posts from other places, keep scrolling.
I have been asked by family members, friends, and Turks why I decided to come to Istanbul, and I’ve realized that I can’t really put it into words. I‘ve been fortunate enough to go to Western Europe with my family, so I knew that I didn’t want to spend four months there. I have done that area, loved it, but it was time for something new. I wanted some place that I might not travel to again in my life. I knew that I would always go back to Italy, Spain, or France, but I didn’t know if I would go back to Turkey. Not only that, but I’m a history major, and I haven’t spent much time learning about the Ottoman Empire, Islam, or Eastern Europe. What better way to learn about these things, than to live here?
What does the Black Sea mean to you? I’m sure that everyone has a different answer to this question. To me, it means something exotic, very foreign, and almost unattainable. What was I able to see in these past few days? THE BLACK SEA! I don’t know how I was able to keep my cool. If I’m being honest, I didn’t keep my cool at all. Even though it was raining while a group of us—3 AIFS (my program provider), Americans, and our Turkish friend— made the bus ride to the Black Sea, it was still amazing. We walked around for a bit, and then of course we did the traditional Turkish act and had chai (the Turkish word for Turkish tea). It was a great way to warm up.
The first thing I noticed about Istanbul was the traffic.—the city is one of the most populated in the world, and it shows. Even though I was exhausted after about 24 hours of traveling, the long bus ride from the airport to Bogazici University provided me with the chance to really look around. Driving through Istanbul not only gave me a glimpse of the large population, but it also provided a preview of its beauty. We drove in around at about 7:30 p.m., and the sun was starting to set. There are minarets next to different mosques that you could pick out in passing. It was breathtaking when we were able to see the Great Horn and catch a peak at the Hagia Sophia and the Blue Mosque from afar. I am looking forward to visiting each one of those places multiple times and admiring their beauty.
With the arrival of tourist season, Prague has been filling with travelers eager to see the city’s most beautiful and historic sights. However, eager as these travelers may be, they seem to be equally stumped by the city’s winding cobblestone streets, and spotting a lost tourist has become a regular occurrence in my daily life. Though it may sounds cruel and insensitive, this brings me a great deal of satisfaction. This is not because I enjoy watching people struggle to find their way, but because as I watch these disoriented tourists struggle to unfold their large maps or navigate the metro system, I feel as though I am no longer a foreigner in this city. Instead I feel as if I carry with me an understanding of Prague’s inner-workings that true foreigners lack, and can finally identify as an “insider” in comparison to those around me.
I know what you are thinking. And yes, the title of this post is a reference to season 5, episode 18 of the late, great show How I Met Your Mother, where Marshall sings to his wife Lily “happy, happy Lily day” on her birthday. But, no, it is actually not my birthday. My birthday was a few weeks ago which you would have known if you had been keeping up with my posts! Don’t worry though, I forgive you if you missed a couple. What matters is that you are here now. How, though, could there possibly be another reason to celebrate my life so soon after my birthday you wonder? Was I recognized as one of the greatest minds of our generation? Did I break a world record? Or maybe I found a cure for the common cold during my free time here in Prague.
Part of the reason I wanted to study abroad was so that I could prepare myself for adulthood and life after graduation. As my last semester of Junior year comes to a close, that final day that marks the end of my undergraduate studies is in clear sight, and it is only getting clearer. So I wanted to remove myself from all of the comforts and support that I have at Rhodes (as well as in America) to see how I would manage without them. I wanted to see if, without these luxuries, I might be able to function as an adult might in a world beyond college.
Something that a lot of foreign students I have met seem to agree on is the fact that Czech people are not “nice.” It is not that anyone thinks of Czech people as being mean, rude, or inconsiderate. On the contrary, I have seen countless random acts of kindness occur since being here; people always swarm to help a woman with a stroller or a blind person onto a metro, rush to give up their seat for an elderly person, and take the time to give directions when asked. Czech people are just not overtly nice. By this I mean that they stare straight ahead with a blank expression when they pass you on the street, they make no effort to hide their aggravation when they are annoyed, and they are not afraid to scold you for walking in the bike path. The last one is totally understandable though—sorry to all the bikers of Prague for the countless times I have unknowingly blocked your path. So when I went to Vienna last weekend I was slightly overwhelmed by the friendliness that Austrians exude. Being from Georgia, I am accustomed to a high degree of politeness—but Austrians take courtesy to a whole new level.
Perhaps the most difficult concept for me to grasp here has been that nothing is ever free. We say that to ourselves in America often; “nothing comes free,” “everything has its price,” we grumble. But in the Czech Republic, everything actually does have a price and it is printed clearly at the top of the bill. This means that a 0,2 liter glass of water costs money to consume. The same goes for the bread that is already sitting on the table at any given restaurant. Even the tablespoon of butter that accompanies said bread has its price. So it should have come as no surprise that the dessert brought out to me at the Thai restaurant where I opted to celebrate my birthday was not free of charge. But I was somehow surprised anyway. Maybe it is because making someone pay for dessert on their birthday just seems like a heartless crime to me… Is that too harsh?