Guest Blogger: Lydia Kwon
During the summer after my freshman year of college, I had the opportunity to work in Ankara, Turkey for two months as an English teacher at TOBB-Etu University. Since being back, I have found it hard to justly recount my amazing experiences in Turkey to my friends and family. My descriptions and storytelling always failed to accurately capture what I had seen, heard and felt while I was abroad. Yet, after many opportunities to respond to the question, “How was it?” I realized that there were two, specific experiences I always told people. These experiences, out of the many things that I loved about Turkey, had to do with the people of the country that I met, and the rich history embedded in its nature.
Every weekend, I would travel to different cities with the other members in my group, all from the US. During one of our weekend excursions, we traveled to Kapadokya, southeast about 5 hours from Ankara. I remember so clearly the moment our bus pulled into the town simply because it felt as if we had driven to an entirely different world! I saw huge mountains, peaks of the Fairy Rock Chimney formations, and stones, so many stones, looming all around us. As I spent the next few days exploring Kapadokya, I found that the greatness of that city didn’t merely lie in its beautiful landscape, but in its rich history that has left remnants for its present-day visitors to discover and cherish.
During this excursion, I was able to walk through many ancient churches and monasteries. One monastery in particular struck me because it merely consisted of long blocks of stone that served as pews facing a wall with a simple cross painted boldly on it. I thought about the many people from centuries before who must have sat in these pews and congregated as a religious community, marking this place with a simple cross to symbolize their very own church. Although it was one of the more humble sites, it was the most powerful for me because I felt like I had stepped into a piece of history that, despite its simplicity, held a great importance to the people that visited this same church, in this same location, only centuries before me. Our group continued to look at old monasteries that were located on top of the cliff, and each time I remained stunned with their size and with the beautiful paintings on each ceiling. And still, the historic presence of these churches couldn’t separate itself from me, and I was left envisioning the life that surrounded these paintings, which have all been preserved for centuries. All of this surmounted as I walked outside of the monasteries and saw the view before me. On top of the cliff, I thought I could see all of Kapadokya below me, stretching for miles and blending with the horizon. It may sound strange, but I felt like I was in an entirely different world. Not in the physical sense, but in the mental sense, where you feel strangely but accurately in between history and the present. I knew that I would never forget that city or the presence of history I felt there that day, and I still haven’t. Yet, I can’t say Kapadokya was the absolute best part of Turkey.
I have to say that the heart of Turkey is its people whose warmth and hospitality still amaze me. I was able to interact with many of the locals because as I mentioned, the purpose of my journey to Turkey was to be a teacher in various classrooms, Monday through Thursday. Many of the students were my age, if not older, and we regarded each other as peers rather than as a student and teacher. Everyone was so quick to welcome me and the other members in my group. They were eager to get to know us, and they went out of their way to share their culture and customs with us. Often times, our new friends would introduce us to Turkish cuisine in Kızılay, which was a busier and more exciting part of Ankara. I remember many nights laughing and talking with our new friends over a cup of Turkish coffee, which was followed by a “reading,” or interpretation, of the coffee residue at the bottom of each other’s cups which was meant to tell your future.
Just as amazing as Kapadokya was and is, those simple nights making new friends over a tiny cup of Turkish coffee were equally amazing. I will always carry with me that feeling of timelessness I felt in Kapadokya, as well as the many friendships I made in Ankara. While rehearsed, rewritten, and edited, I still know that my words and descriptions couldn’t convey my actual experiences abroad, but I guess that as a returnee, that’s something we must all grapple with. The majority of our peers, our friends, and our families have no context for what we’ve experienced, and they may not understand how profoundly we were affected and changed by each moment abroad, even the small ones like telling your fortune based on some left-over coffee grinds at the bottom of your mug. But I think that having an outlet to tell our stories, or at least to try to tell them, will help others realize that going abroad, even for a summer, is life-changing, even if words in a blog cannot accurately convey it.
**If you are interested in studying abroad going for the semester in Turkey (no language requirement!), consider studying at Bogazici University. Not ready to commit to an entire semester? Study abroad this winter and learn about the Cultural Diversity in Turkey!