A typical day as exchange student in Istanbul

I wake up to my alarm clock and the happy sounds of my 6 year old flatmate eagerly getting ready for school. Before I leave for my own school, I gobble up my non-Turkish breakfast: I just can’t detach myself from yogurt and muesli, because a Dutchman needs his dairy after all.

The free shuttle bus my university provides leaves from Kabataş, a 5 minute walk down a long staircase (which I have to climb back up in the afternoon). In true Turkish driving fashion the bus races to campus and brings me to my class on time; not that it actually matters much whether you’re late or not.

After class it is the custom to meet up at Friends (the cafeteria) with friends. Friends offers us a decent meal for less than 3€, electricity plugs and a fast Internet connection, something I generally miss here. It may sound a little sad, but Internet speed does shape how and where I spent my day. But hey, I am media student.

Slow Internet teaches me about my digital dependence and almost pathetic ‘Western European’ luxury standards, and so I don’t want to complain about this life lesson. Another ‘Western European’ life lesson more difficult to adjust to (but even more meaningful) is the lack of a real home. Like most of my friends, I have moved into someone else’s living space, and no matter how hospitable, welcoming and loving the people are, it cannot compare to your own place: Waking up in your own bed, having the kitchen and living room to yourself, and yes: walking around naked.

After an afternoon of trying to get comfortable and productive, another 15 minute shuttle journey takes me back to Kabataş. Concerning Istanbul’s traffic I might add that it’s actually not that bad, but no matter the situation it seems to be part of any driver’s duty to honk the horn.

Harbor on the Asian side

A totally different aspect of the city: Harbor on the Asian side

I have always liked commutes, because they give you the chance to create a useful habit. During high-school I wanted to make it reading, but it turned into sleeping. Here it’s learning vocabulary, and so I’m tapping my screen to reveal the next Turkish word while we’re rushing through Istanbul at dusk.

During my pit-stop at ‘home’ I drop off my laptop and engage in a short hide and seek game with Delal, whose incredible energy and affection recharges my battery for the night.

Now it is time for my favorite part of the day: Dinner. After strolling through the crowded streets with tired legs and empty stomachs we usually end up at Ehlitat Lokantasi. We do try to be adventurous and there are indeed (too) many good restaurants to try, but Ehlitat is too cheap and delicious.

Typical dinner at Ehlitat

Typical dinner at Ehlitat

Walking and eating remind me of two more things I miss here: Running and cooking. Back home all my dinners are my own (or in the weekends my mom’s) own creation, and I do miss cooking. The reason I don’t cook is because it’s not my own kitchen, my friends don’t cook either, and eating out is really cheap. Concerning the ‘running’: I am bit shocked when I think about the fact that there has only been one instance where I sweated due to athletic reasons. But I can neither find the time nor energy for sports in my busy life as exchange student. Plus: there are no forests but only crowds to run through…

In the time our stuffed bellies are digesting the culinary goodness we resort to a café or bar. If we were Turkish we would now order Çay (tea) and Nargile (shisha) while playing a game of Tavla (backgammon). We do love the Turkish game culture, but we still limit ourselves to Çay and a game of pool instead. Other nights we might actually order a rather expensive beer during a Galatasaray football match, or hit one of Istanbul’s clubs.

Delal is always up for fun

Delal is always up for fun

After such lively day I plunge into my pillows and contemplate about how much I love Istanbul and being an exchange student. There is always a new dish, restaurant, museum, neighborhood, or event for us to explore, and there hasn’t been a single ‘stay-at-home’ day. As a baby I could never sit still but had to explore the world around me. It’s not any different right now.

This is partly because I don’t have a real ‘home’ to spend an entire day at, partly because Istanbul is huge, and partly because I’m only here for one semester. If I would be here for an entire year I would have to change my lifestyle, because while all of this is amazing, it’s also restless and exhausting (and expensive). That’s why I think I will be happy to return home once it’s January. But until then: Carpe diem!

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