I stepped off the plane and I was immediately overwhelmed. The airport was steaming. (What do the Turks have against air conditioning?) There were about one hundred people ahead of me in the passport check line. Several women cut in front of me before I had the nerve to assert myself. The ATM was broken so I was unable to figure out to how to get cash for quite some time. With no phone, money, wifi or ability to communicate in general I was completely alone. When I finally found my luggage terminal, after hopelessly miming to several turkish men who didn’t speak any english, it was too large for me to carry. I dragged my backpacking backpacks across the floor as Turkish people looked at me with pity and annoyance. After waving my arms frantically at every yellow car and pointing at my laptop with the address highlighted, I was on my way. The driver called his friends on his phone after I shut the door behind me and said,”I got one” which briefly led me to believe I was being kidnapped. In the short drive to campus I witnessed two car accidents and learned about the Turkish irreverence toward stoplights, lanes, turn signals and other cars in general. After spinning around for far too long at the direction of confused Koc University security guards, I made it to the front of the dorms and collapsed in front of the parking garage. A student walked past me and I begged for direction.
The plane ride was long. The airport was comparable to hell in more ways than temperature. The atm was broken.The taxi ride was fearful. Yet somehow I made it.
FOOD: So far I have only eaten food on campus and in one restaurant in a fishing village so my food experience has been limited to say the least. Basically I have spent my time following the Italians to the closest thing to pizza. I tried Turkish yogurt expecting it to be a similar texture to “Greek yogurt.” Apparently I was wrong. Turkish yogurt is very sour, lumpy and similar to cottage cheese. I also experienced pomegranate juice that tasted fermented but apparently wasn’t, a spongey pudding cake, Penirli pide (which was quite good), a rather disgusting assortment of fruit, a sad attempt at sushi, Nestle chocolate that didn’t taste like Nestle chocolate, Chex Mix’s evil cousin, and coffee worse than that slug dripped from a crusty machine at a rural gas station. Needless to say I need to stop avoiding authentic turkish food and just try it.
REGISTRATION: Apparently Koc University uses the same registration system as SFSU. Meaning of course that the registration period erupted into a frenzy of confusion and crashing servers. Likewise, the KUSIS system could not recognize my prerequisites and thus prevented me for signing up for every upper division class I wanted to take. And the panicked emailing and begging begins!
LANGUAGE FRUSTRATION: Before I arrived in Turkey I was told that a lot of people know English in Turkey and everyone at the university speaks great English. These are lies. Luckily Turkish people have been very kind to me as I mumble broken Turkish phases while aggressively miming the bit of information that overwhelm my limited vocabulary. I am very glad I attempted to learn some Turkish before I came with a free app called Duolingo. I can usually pick out some words in a conversation to understand at least what the subject is and likewise I can express several basic needs and responses.
CURRENCY: Lucky for me just before I arrived in Turkey the exchange rate for USD fell to about 1/3 the worth of a dollar. Essentially this means that I have triple the money in Turkey. Additionally, the prices in Turkey are considerably lower on most items. Meaning: I feel strangely rich when I go to the supermarket.
- Buy comfortable and reliable luggage that you can carry by yourself. I was stupid enough to believe that bringing two backpacking backpacks larger than me would be suitable.
- Learn some of the language before you get there! It is actually quite fun to use and memorizing even a single word is helpful.
- Don’t have a phone? Don’t have a watch? Check the time with your ears! Listen for the chronological prayers. They are beautiful and have been working in a similar fashion to church bells and clock towers for me.
- If you are studying abroad from America you don’t need a student visa if you plan on getting a residence permit. The tourist visa will allow you to leave the country and come back (if you bring your residence permit with you) unlike the student visa.