My first week and a half in Istanbul has been amazing, nerve racking, exciting, and overwhelming. As I adjust to this new environment I am faced with daily challenges but also wonderful opportunities to discover a new city and country.

My first weekend in Istanbul was rather eventful. On Saturday,after wondering through a small bazaar in Besiktas, Daniel, Derya, and I went to Taksim square to enjoy Turkish Coffee (similar to espresso). The place we went to was located on a tiny alley just off the main street, Istiklal. The small outdoor cafe had a rather unique name, “Even the Buffalo Won’t Sink”, due to the thickness of the coffee. I learned there are three ways to order Turkish Coffee, without sugar, with little, and then with a lot. I opted for the second option. Because of how strong the coffee is, you must take small sips, otherwise the taste can be bitter. After we had sipped all of our coffees, it was time to flip our cups over and have our fortunes read. As the cup cool, and the grounds fall down the side of the cup, your fortune is revealed. I had so much fun analyzing the coffee grounds to find some sort of meaning. Later that evening, after our coffee, it was time to head to another part of the city, to watch the basketball match. That night, Turkey was scheduled to play Serbia in the FIBA World Basketball Championship. Daniel and I went to another cafe, with his friend Saime, to enjoy çay and nargile while we watched the game. The cafe was filled with Turks ready to cheer for their country. It had to have been one of the most exciting matches I have ever watched. Turkey and Serbia were never more than a few points a part. As the game came to an end, and Turkey was behind, the tension was thick. Men were jumping up and yelling at the screen, waving their arms in frustration. But, within the last few moments, Turkey scored, winning the game and a spot in the final match against USA! The next day, Turkey would face the United States in the final match. At our table, many asked which country I would support. With Kevin Durant, representing Oklahoma and the USA, my answer was obvious. The next day, Saime, Daniel, and some others, all gathered at Daniel’s place to watch the game. I had had the suspicion that the U.S. would walk away victorious, but I was hoping for a closer game. The win was somewhat bittersweet since it would have been wonderful to see the festivities had Turkey won.

That same day, Sunday, Turkey also voted on a constitutional referendum. In 1980, there was a military coup which adopted a new constitution – put in place to prevent what the military saw as an undemocratic government. The constitutional referendum to be voted on, would grant the executive and legislative branches of Turkey more power, a lot of which they lost in 1980. Surprisingly, the referendum past with a rather significant margin. It was interesting to see all the signs and banners for and against the proposed changes.

After an exciting weekend, things slowed down. For the first time since arriving I felt homesick. I realized I was not just visiting, but that I would be living in this ‘strange’ city for one year! It was an overwhelming thought! Since my roommates work during the day, I spent my first few days in my new apartment alone. I knew this was not good for my morale, so one afternoon, I decided I would go to the store to buy shampoo, conditioner, and some other small items I needed. The idea seemed simple enough, but as I approached the shelf containing an assortment of shampoos and conditioners, I realized, I could not read nor understand Turkish. What I had planned on being a trip to relax my mind, only reminded me how far from home I was. Feeling defeated, I walked back to my apartment. I felt so relieved the next day, when Derya called offering to take me shopping. At the store, she taught me the various words I might see on a shampoo or soap bottle. I think the next time I need an item from the store, I will be fully prepared. That evening, I went with Derya, and her boyfriend Arda, to a small bar in Taksim square. As we walked in, I was shocked and overjoyed to see Texas license plates nailed to the wall. I think the bartender was somewhat baffled by my interest in what to him was a simple decoration. To top it off, as Derya, Arda, and I talked over Efes, a familiar tune came on. I started tapping my foot and then it hit me, it was Stevie Ray Vaughan playing! I never thought, that as I was sitting in Istanbul, Turkey, that I would hear the great blues musician, from Dallas, Texas! Again, I smiled and started rocking to the beat of  ‘Pride and Joy’. Whoever thought, that someone from the neighborhood of Oak Cliff ,would ever make it so far!

A few days later, on Friday, I had my orientation. As I walked to campus, which has an amazing view of the Bosphorous, it was wonderful to see so many exchange students, people who were going through the ups and downs, just like me. There, I met two girls, Eloise from France, and Eva from Spain. We instantly bonded. It was refreshing to make friends who were as fascinated and nervous as I was by this new experience. After our orientation, and a delicious Turkish dinner provided by the International Relations office, we headed to a bar with a lovely terrace, and a beautiful view of the Bosphorous. Surrounded by people from all over the world, we discussed our experiences so far in Istanbul. We all were similar, that while nervous, we were in awe of the amazing history, cultural richness, and liveliness of the city around us. Eva, Eloise, and I decided that in a few weeks we want to travel to Pamukkale, a small city in southwestern Turkey famous for its hot springs and calcium deposits.

I have been quite proud of myself in navigating the city. I have successfully taken several bus rides alone from my neighborhood to Besiktas and Taksim square. I have noticed that once I memorized the bus numbers it has not been so difficult to find my way around Istanbul. When I first arrived I was more than overwhelmed by the traffic, buses, and trains, but, transportation in Istanbul, in my opinion, is very ‘user friendly’ and bus drivers are always more than happy to point you in the right direction. The one curious thing I have noticed, is that hardly anyone speaks on the bus or train. Several people have told me that during peak hours, when the buses and trains are packed with people, it would be too unbearable to have everyone speak. So, out of habit, most people just sit in silence when commuting. Being a rather talkative person, this has been one thing I have yet to get used to…


Leave a Reply

Skip to toolbar