Three weeks. That’s how long I’ve been in Istanbul, but it feels much longer. Somehow I just really feel comfortable here, despite all the complications that come along with being a foreigner. Hospitality here is legendary after all. But no matter how hospitable a new place is, there are all always these ‘weird’ differences you will never really get used to:
- Traffic lights are kind of a waste of time. If you have to cross the street, you shouldn’t limit yourself in that activity by searching for an official crossing. Just walk.
- English, anyone speak English here?
- Cats and dogs just roam freely through the streets. But if you think that’s a problem then you’re wrong. They’re simply everyones’ pet, and they are surprisingly well groomed and even have a health-insurance, paid for by the government!
- Yes, Istanbul has a big harbor and lots of water. But if you want to drink water without making a toilet your permanent place to be, then you have to drink it from a bottle.
- (Used) toilet paper is supposed to be thrown into a trashcan. Weird.
- It seems like I’m a bit obsessed with toilets. Maybe that’s because I also started a blog called “Toilets of Istanbul”, you should check it out: http://toiletsofistanbul.tumblr.com/
One of the main differences that have dominated my experience here so far is money: It is SO cheap here. By the time I leave this country both my suitcase and myself will be a few pounds heavier. There is just too much cheap stuff (22€ Converse!!!) and good food here. Actually, I have only cooked once since my arrival, and that was to learn a Turkish dish.
When you can get dinner at a restaurant for 4-5€ it’s just not worth cooking, especially since the taste of the cooked meal can’t match all this Turkish goodness. Turkish goodness usually includes drenching the food in either olive oil or honey. Yet it is not as unhealthy as it sounds, since most of the ingredients are natural. And although there is only one sweet that is officially called ‘Turkish delight’, almost everything I eat here is a Turkish delight.
The 22€ Converse shoes I mentioned are sold in a supermarket, but I still have to discover a pair in my size. Turkish people just aren’t very tall. Or blonde. Or have blue eyes. So these three attributes let everyone here instantly categorize me as exchange student and/or tourist, which has its pros and cons. Most notably: the higher prices for tourists and the extra attention from the opposite sex.
Culturally, there are some very nice gestures I’ve seen in Turkey. For example, you can often spot (heterosexual) men walking arm in arm and kissing each other on the cheeks. Or when you say good night, “iyi geceler” actually means good nights. On the other hand, it has been a heartbreaking struggle to see the barefooted 2-year old beggars, desperately trying to get some cash.
Cash is what my classmates don’t need, since this is a private university. With the truly wonderful Erasmus exchange program I am paying my tuition fees at home, which is why I only found out here that a year at İstanbul Bilgi Üniversitesi carries a five-figure price tag. This definitely shows with all the nice buildings and multiple cafés on campus, but it sure doesn’t show in its organization.
Spoiled by a bureaucratic and cultural system defined by either perfectionism in Switzerland/Germany or pragmatism and efficiency in the Netherlands, registering for my classes here was kind of a nightmare. However, these struggles probably fade in comparison to what awaits me next week at the appointment to obtain my residence permit.
After the hassle of asking consent for classes, finding out that classes are not in English while they are supposed to be, finding out that classes don’t exist at all while they are supposed to, and trying to create a class schedule for this semester, we saw it fit to rid ourselves of these tensions at the beaches of Çeşme.
„We“ is a group of six people from France, Germany, and the Netherlands. It is a bit ironic to hang out with cultures so close to me during my exchange where I was looking for a ‘different culture’, especially since all three Dutchies are from my home university. But it is fun to experience the ‘otherness’ of Turkey with people who mostly think like me. Plus one is actually Turkish-Dutch (REALLY handy) and the other grew up in Surinam. So we’re quite international after all.
So Wednesday night ‘we’ embarked on a 12-hour bus trip to southern Turkey and spent three nights at a perfect apartment in Çeşme. ‘Perfect’ because it was a ridiculous 8€ a night per person. While we felt like general peace-disturbers in the quiet busses and restaurants, we ourselves certainly came to peace and instantly slipped into vacation mood. With the heavenly colors and temperatures of the water it was impossible not to.
This excursion to paradise was 2 weeks ago and by now I have finished the second week of classes and finally managed to switch from vacation into student mode again (some people might argue those two are the same). Classes are interesting and I will talk more about those in my next post. For now, it’s vacation time again: no classes until Wednesday due to the Kurban Bayramı holiday.