A Farewell to Istanbul

A Farewell to Istanbul

Amidst an amalgam of uncertain future plans, contradictory desires, some failed interviews and the ordinariness of being in a place which didn't feel like home anymore, I decided to come to Istanbul for this volunteering project in order to escape my routine and to visit a country I didn't have much previous knowledge about. My interest in Turkey started in 2013 after the Gezi Park protests and I got excited when I discovered the opportunity to come to Istanbul for an EVS project.

After I found out that I was accepted, I started to pack my luggage trying to put 23 years of belongings, failures and high hopes in a 22kg baggage to prepare myself for a 2 months adventure. My level of anxiety went a bit down just when I met Ioana at the airport in Bucharest. She was wearing a pink blouse, some boyfriend jeans and a lot of fancy rings. She was undeservedly good to me from the first moment, friendly from our first hug and in time, she became more than my colleague, our relationship evolved into a very close and intimate friendship reason for which I am so thankful to Furkan for choosing us. Despite her being nice, which was a reassuring thing, the story of my anxieties doesn't end here. I remember when we landed in Istanbul I felt worried that something might go wrong with our papers, it was for the first time when we lined up in the “other nationalities’ queue and the feeling of otherness was both unfamiliar and exciting, our European identity was just another one in a mixture of colorful yet foreign for us countries. When we left the airport, the unexpected cold, the crowdedness in the Metrobus and the gentleness of our mentors both surprised us and made us impatient about will come next.

What came next was a lot of office hours in which we became familiar with Erasmus+ framework, with the process of finding new partners for the next projects, with Erasmus+ programs promotion, both in school and outside, we participated in Tandem Speaking Club meetings and we organized a few sessions of french introductory classes, we received language support from a local volunteer and from our friends at school, we recorded an audiobook at Arel Studio in Sefakoy and we taught English to 5th and 7th grade children at the local school. Maybe it doesn't seem that muc..., it wasn't. The workload was very flexible and manageable. Because it was a volunteer programme, we had a lot of freedom in adjusting our schedule and choosing the activities that fitted us the best. But this project was more than about our daily tasks, it was about the people we met, the new city which shocked us in the beginning and became almost familiar in two months, about our values and principles which were confronted to the difference, about what we have learned about ourselves and the others.

These two months were fruitful for us in terms of personal development. We both have learned how to communicate more efficiently and how to manage conflictual situations, we became more aware of how important is to have a positive working environment and to have an open, honest dialogue within your professional network. Given that, one’s personal growth is a continuous process of learning new things and unlearning old, unproductive behaviors. Our EVS program helped us to realize which skills and aptitudes we need and want to improve and which kind of people and circumstances it would be better to try to avoid. The context of living abroad meant for both of us an incentive to reflect more on our own culture and we truly believe that every conversation and new encounter we had represented a valuable lesson for the future. Our learning process was more an informal one so, besides the activities at school, the city and the people were the most exciting things about this project.

The fact that this EVS programme was in Istanbul played an important role in my decision-making process. It was appealing for me to know that I will live in such a big and diverse city. Unfortunately, this aspect became soon a reason for not liking Istanbul that much, the distances were exhausting and sometimes discouraging. Before coming here I often imagined myself living in a big city. Istanbul was a useful experience which made me realize that I could not live in a city where at every corner there is a shopping center but green spaces are harder to find than an empty bus, where it takes 3 hours to get from one place to another and where people are yelling at you if they want to sell something. But enough about me and my provincial ideas. Despite the fact that my cultural shock here was bigger than the one I had experienced in the previous countries where I have lived, I liked Istanbul so much because of its people.

I loved Turkish culture because it is more collectivistic than our European one based on individualistic principles and this makes people warmer and nicer. After I passed the initial euphoria which is the ‘’tourist phase’’ when one is usually overly excited, I became more aware of the similarities and differences between my culture and Turkish one. Even if I won’t deny that I had some moments of irritability and hostility mainly related to my incapacity to make myself understood because of the language barriers, I am so grateful for all my cultural shocks (from crossing the street on red light to taking the shoes off at the entrance), because I learned new behaviors and started to doubt the rightness of what seemed before the only right way - the Western way. I like to believe that Ioana and I adapted ourselves pretty well to the new culture despite the short period we have lived there. About the end of our stay in Istanbul, going back home meant going outside of our comfort zone, because our new home in Beylikduzu felt so comfortable that we became anxious at the idea of leaving it.

The middle of April, I am looking at my calendar and it seems unbelievable that we have only 3 weeks left here, this means that we already have spent half of our time in Istanbul and that our adventure approaches its end. Even if we started to get used to the city, to its never-ending crowdedness, to the vibrant noises, and to its melted smells, I need to confess that there is still a sense of uneasiness, an unspoken fear that I will get lost somewhere or that a car might hit me even on the crosswalk. However, these fears tell more about my anxious personality than about Istanbul itself. Despite its chaotic nature, Istanbul has been so good to us, we were lucky enough to always meet nice people willing to help and guide us. Undeniably, there was also the advantage of being international girls which gave us more attention that we would have usually received otherwise. During our stay here, we got so many confirmations that Turkish hospitality is not just a cultural stereotype but an active part of ‘’Turkish way’’ of doing things and we are confident that one day we will come back.

After spending two months here (too little to draw some accurate conclusions and too long to have no opinion on it) the word that comes first to my mind when I think about Istanbul is “mixture”. A mixture of everything - smells of perfumes and spices, gozleme and kebap, a combination of mosques and beaches, of long dresses and latex leggings, of the sound of ezan and the car horn honking. These contrasts make Istanbul unique, both western and middle-eastern, modern and stubborn in maintaining its traditions. Istanbul was too agitated for me, but I appreciated the way the city carries on its tumultuous history, trying to reconcile the past nostalgia with the ongoing socio-cultural contradictions.

Being a sleepless city with vociferous people and nervous Dolmush drivers, Istanbul can be overwhelming sometimes. As every congested city, it can give you the feeling of alienation, it is easy to feel more lonely in big cities. Luckily, we didn’t. We felt welcome and we succeeded to integrate ourselves into the local community. We made a few long-lasting friendships which gave us the feeling of being almost like home. On the street, we could be taken easily as Turkish girls because of our brown hair, but in the school people knew that we were international volunteers and treated us very well. Looking back on our shared experience, we feel grateful for every person we have met, for the delicious food we have tasted and for how much we have learned about Turkish lifestyle and culture from everyday interactions.

For us, Istanbul is more about narrow yet noisy streets at the corner of a big boulevard than about Istiklal street, more about our park in Beylikduzu than shopping malls, more about Florya beach or Büyükçekmece than about Moda Beach, more about goods on the street than fancy places for desserts. Ioana and I are not traditional tourists interested in most visited places and must-sees, we both don't like crowded places that much and prefer nature and outdoor activities. For Ioana, one of the most memorable places she went to was Emirgan Park; for me, there was no greater joy than walking in the Gezi Park, laying down on the grass and taking the pulse of the place where the recent history of resistance, protest, and resilience was written.

Our shared experience in Istanbul is about Yulaf Ezmesi in the morning and big salads in the evening, about our Ankara training course and Eskișehir trip, about long hours in the office and good lunches in the cafeteria, about moments of comfortable silence and long deep discussions. For Ioana, Istanbul meant a lot of yogurt and ayran, lentils soup and borek, some professional dance classes, a lot of singing in the shower and in the studio, an ingenious handmade map for our office, an exciting trip to Buyukada Island and a beautiful personal encounter. For me, Istanbul meant the discovery of a new gastronomic passion - cig kofte, some engaging conferences, a French class, a Besiktas game and a trip to Edirne, a lot of late night discussions and a very meaningful connection with someone who became in a short period so needful to my idea of happiness.

We are grateful to Arel University, to our coordinator Furkan, our adorable mentors Alican and Berkay, our close friends Ali and Kursat for creating for us a very friendly environment where we felt welcome and at ease. This project wouldn't be the same without your kind guidance, useful advice, and engaging conversations. Thank you for helping us to discover your culture, for listening to our needs and for teaching us how to embrace everyday challenges with an open mind and heart. We became more mindful about ourselves and the others all because of this wonderful project.

Thank you!

With a lot of love and the hope that one day we will come back,

Ioana and Elena

Istanbul Arel Üniversitesi - Gençlik Çalışmaları Merkezi

About Author

Istanbul Arel University provides support to young and adult people’s education process since 2010. We aim to update standards in line with the developing world and constantly follow the changes in the world.

Within the Erasmus+ Programme o

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