Farewell to Alanya

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.

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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.

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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.

Photo on 12-16-14 at 4.33 PMPhoto on 12-16-14 at 4.26 PM

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Scandinavia Before Christmas: A Weekend in Stockholm

Let me start off by saying that hearing Christmas music and seeing decorations is a lot more fun when it comes after spending three months in a country that doesn’t celebrate Christmas than when it comes at shopping malls in the beginning of November. Stockholm, despite its irreligious reputation, definitely still has a lot of Christmas spirit, with light-up reindeer (and moose) at every major square, and lights crossing the main streets of downtown. This was my first trip west of the Iron Curtain while I’ve been abroad, and the differences were striking. I never realized how much I appreciated clean streets, working plumbing, and reliable public transportation until suffering the lack of both in Turkey, so returning to American standards of living was a welcome reprieve. This trip was also welcome as a break from two busy weeks preparing end-of-the-year work. While the cold was certainly an adjustment (in the upper 30s there, while it is still in the upper 60s in Alanya), the early sunset was even more of an adjustment. Stockholm is the furthest north I’ve ever been, and it is so close to the Arctic Circle that sunset was at 3:00 PM while I was there, cutting heavily into my available time to visit outdoor sites, meaning that my schedule during the short daylight and opening hours were very packed, and there’s still more that I wished I would have been able to see. Because of this and cloudy skies, I saw perhaps half an hour of sun during the entire weekend.

Christmas decorations in Stockholm

Christmas decorations in Stockholm

 

Stockholm City Hall

Stockholm City Hall

Most of the sites I visited were either museums, or parts of Stockholm’s royal heritage. For the latter, I visited the Royal Palace and Drottningholm Palace, Sweden’s version of Versailles. Unfortunately, parts of the Royal Palace were closed for royal activities, while visiting Drottningholm was only possible before opening hours, adding one more to the long list of famous sites I have been to, but not inside, yet wandering the deserted grounds was still an amazing experience. Stockholm’s museums are fantastic, though at a high cost compared to the dirt-cheap museums of Eastern Europe and the free sites of DC, and I sated my love of Nordic history by traveling to the Historical Museum, Army Museum, the Nordic Museum, and the highlights of the Vasa Museum (home of an almost intact 17th century ship) and the Skansen outdoor museum, which incorporates historic buildings, a reconstructed town, and a zoo. This season is also the time for Skansen’s Christmas market, offering traditional Swedish food and handicrafts, in other words, like going back to my house. Indeed, the combination of the cold, the look of the countryside and the people, ubiquitous knowledge of English, and the omnipresent Scandinavian decorations around Wisconsin and especially my home meant that this trip almost did feel like a homecoming – if Wisconsin had anything nearly as interesting to see.

Stockholm Cathedral, with the Royal Palace to the right

Stockholm Cathedral, with the Royal Palace to the right

Drottningholm, back view

Drottningholm, back view

Statue in front of Drottningholm Palace

Statue in front of Drottningholm Palace

Drottningholm

Drottningholm

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Chinese Pavilion, Drottningholm grounds

Chinese Pavilion, Drottningholm grounds

Chinese Pavilion outbuilding

Chinese Pavilion outbuilding

Gothic Tower, Drottningholm

Gothic Tower, Drottningholm

Russian banner captured by Swedish forces in the Army Museum

Russian banner captured by Swedish forces in the Army Museum

Runestone, History Museum

Runestone, History Museum

Statue on the bridge to Djurgarden, Nordic Museum in the background

Statue on the bridge to Djurgarden, Nordic Museum in the background

Colored runestone, Skansen

Colored runestone, Skansen

Skansen Church

Skansen Church

Finnish homestead, Skansen

Finnish homestead, Skansen

Traditional sod-roofed house, Skansen

Traditional sod-roofed house, Skansen

Belfry, Skansen

Belfry, Skansen

Lynx, Skansen

Lynx, Skansen

Boar and Bison, Skansen

Boar and Bison, Skansen

Windmill, Skansen

Windmill, Skansen

Skansen town

Skansen town

Lava in lights, Skansen

Lava in lights, Skansen

Vasa

Vasa

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My last major activity of this trip was a cruise around the Stockholm Archipelago, which is massive (in 1.5 hours on a relatively fast boat, I only reached only to the town of Vaxholm, perhaps a quarter of a way to the outer ring of islands, and the boat did not escape the developed coastlines and islands to view wilder parts), and in better weather would be a fantastic place to return and kayak.

Central Stockholm from the cruise boat

Central Stockholm from the cruise boat

Kastellholmen, an island in central Stockholm

Kastellholmen, an island in central Stockholm

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The Archipelago

The Archipelago

Traditional summer house in the Archipelago

Traditional summer house in the Archipelago

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Vaxholm town and fortress

Vaxholm town and fortress

Vaxholm Fortress

Vaxholm Fortress

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Thanks to the collapse of the krona against the dollar, Stockholm’s very expensive reputation ended up being comparable to most of the US, if still much more expensive than in Turkey or the other countries I visited, which slightly assuaged my guilt over buying a ridiculous amount of souvenirs. Still, for meals I still went for cheap ethnic food (another benefit of the developed world) instead of Swedish cuisine (which admittedly is not a worldwide favorite for a reason). Stockholm was my last hurrah when it comes to traveling this semester, since it is only a week before I will end my experience here and return for Christmas in America, and only one paper, packing, and one final post here remain to be done.