It’s finally time to say goodbye after four months that have at some times felt like four weeks and at others like four years. Time to bid farewell to constant queries of what I, as an American, am doing in Alanya (thank god), to köfte and all forms of eggplants (it’s about time), to cheap prices but pushy salespeople (a reasonable tradeoff), to constantly warm temperatures (alas), to traveling every other weekend (definitely a loss), and to a tight-knit community of both academic and personal growth (and that, more than anything, I will always miss). Luckily, not included in these farewells are the 14 other participants on this program, since among the many perks of going to a program specific to Georgetown is that it will only be two weeks before I see everyone else in our old and new home 5500 miles away.
Transitioning from a high school of 1500 and a university of 7000 to a group of 15 with whom I spent the vast majority of every day, none of whom I knew, and having heard of the collapse of group dynamics on past trip, I admittedly came in a little worried that I would have difficulty making friends, or that arguments between people would ruin the environment of the trip. Luckily, such fears were absolutely unnecessary. 15 people proved to be the perfect number, keeping classes small and discussion-focused, and enabling everyone to get to know everyone else quite well, but also being large enough for smaller groups to split off at times to better represent everyone’s interests. And this group was a fantastic collection of people, we bonded quickly and stayed close the entire time, and I am confident we will remain friends throughout college and beyond. I don’t know if the group could have been better formed, and I would have missed out without everyone’s individual presence and personality. Sure, there were differing opinions and stubborn viewpoints, but disagreements were brushed off and surprising similarities built upon. I’ll never forget the deep conversations on every topic imaginable (which is what happens when you spend every meal, every bus ride, and every walk with the same few people), the card games, study sessions, and explorations of the hidden parts of ancient ruins and modern cities. I have never felt so welcomed and accepted, so valued as a member of a social group, and for that I am immeasurably grateful. This could have been a long, difficult semester without strong bonds among the participants here, but socially it became the greatest experience of my life.
All of my life I have wanted to be a world traveler and now I am – and I still want to do more. I visited 9 countries for the first time, backpacked through tiny rural towns and global cultural and economic centers, clambered through magnificent castles and over the ruins of cities buried beneath the earth, hiked through rugged mountains and manicured palace gardens, and I still feel I have barely scratched the surface of what Europe has to offer, let alone the world. Every trip I took, solo or with the group, was fantastic in its own unique way, and I do not regret taking a single one. I do regret, however, that I was not able to detach myself from my need to have everything fully planned and prepared to go off the beaten path, and that I never was able to learn any language well enough to talk with local people and escape touristy areas. I now know better my limits and my interests, even if these unfortunately do not always intersect with what my resources and confidence allow me to do. For every place I visited, I found two more I wanted to explore. I may never hit every one, yet they give me something for which to dream and to strive.
I’ll never understand Turks, with their love of Ataturk and chai, their fierce national pride but their willingness to accept environmental degradation and political corruption as corollaries to economic growth. Yet I cannot say I truly got to know the Turks, even ones molded by tourism in Alanya. We were too isolated in our little American fortress on the mountain, too stuck in our routine and route between villa, apartments, and beach by time, work, physical exhaustion, and disinterest. I definitely appreciated our amazing program director and staff, and enjoyed my time with my host family, but aggressive salesmen, incompetent service workers, lazy old men and ogling youths represented too many of the Turks I interacted with. Too few spoke English, and none of us became competent at Turkish, so holding a conversation on all but the simplest topics became impossible. All this is a shame, as while there are friendly and rude Turks like there are friendly and rude Americans, one cannot discover a culture without interacting with the local people, and I would have loved to make Turkish friends and through them discover reasons to leave the tourist traps behind and experience a better Alanya. Studying abroad in Alanya and claiming to know Turkey is like claiming to understand America after spending a few months in Miami, or even Washington, New York, or San Francisco. I may have never felt like I changed from tourist to native, but it would take a lifetime to feel like I belonged in Turkey.
Am I changed? That’s for others to determine, for in my eyes I am the same as I have always been. Hopefully I have more confidence, more charisma, more common sense, but I will not know until I return to the world I left back in America. Regardless, I have stories, and that alone makes me a little more interesting than I was before (and perhaps, our hikes up to the apartments and soccer games have improved my physical fitness). I learned more about Turkish history and politics during a time these became globally relevant, as conflict raged on Turkey’s borders and across the Black and Mediterranean seas, Kurdish unrest threatened to erupt into open warfare, President Erdogan continued to chip away at press freedoms and rule of law, and Turkey’s geopolitical position made it a center of US political interest. And outside of class, I learned how to relax, shedding my usual hectic schedule of jobs, internships, and extracurriculars for closer connections with my friends and a greater focus on smaller things in life.
The Turkey I return to, for I must return someday, will be different, perhaps better, perhaps worse, but it is changing rapidly while America remains the same. Turkey has a lot to offer the world, which the world is just beginning to realize, but it has much to learn as well. For now, I bid farewell to my little home ‘twixt castle and beach, goodbye to the greatest four months of my life, yet I also return confident that this was just the beginning of my global study and global experiences, and that the years to follow will bring their own surprises and own joys. Görüşürüz Türkiye, and hello again, America.