I don’t think the past 15 weeks are something that will ever be able to be fully described in words. However, I hope that I will look back at my pictures, drawings, and projects from this trip and be able to feel what I felt then. I hope all the colors, curves, and shadows all come to life when I look at my sketchbooks and I’ll be able to put myself back in that moment when I was drawing. That visual documentation is invaluable to me, and is a practice I will take with me on all of my journeys in the future.
My last moments in Turkey were of quiet reflection. I was surprisingly not emotional. I don’t know why, but I did not cry when the taxi pulled away from the student apartment in Sisli in the 4 am darkness. The usually bustling streets were quiet and still. It was humid and rainy. I had to keep wiping off the condensation from the window inside the cab just to get a few last glaces of the neighborhood I had become so familiar with, and the Old City as I crossed over the Golden Horn for the last time. This would have been the moment when tears should have been rolling down my face! Maybe I was worried about getting through the baggage check. Maybe I was just excited to get home to my family and friends. Maybe I was tired. Or maybe I was just at peace with the fact that this life-changing chapter was coming to a close and appreciative of everything it has brought to my life.
Italy was just one post-card perfect scene after another. Without experiencing it, I don’t know if I would have believed that so many beautiful things exist in one place. From a tattered apartment window of medieval building, to the sweeping panoramic view from the cupola of St. Peter’s; the grandeur of the architecture, the incredible food– everything was so over-the-top and picture perfect! It was, however, difficult to experience Italy outside the vantage point of a tourist. There are so many checklist items you need to see! But the moments I really cherish from my time in Italy could not be found in a tour-book. Drawing by myself in Piazza Navona on that sunny day in January; attempting grocery shopping with Natalie in an Italian store for Italian groceries for an Italian recipe; getting lost in the misty, deafeningly quiet streets of Orvieto; attending the aperitivo with local students; eating gummy candy and drinking wine as we star gazed on the hostel roof in Sorrento. As incredible as the Rick Steves certified version of Italy was, I think those can’t compare to those novelty moments. The previous time I was in Rome, I was there for 9 days. I knew I had not barely scratched the surface of what the city had to offer. This time, having spent 5 weeks there, I still feel that way! One day, I will return with my family, showing them everything like a tour guide– but, note to self: I need to continue that deeper exploration. Pursue those meaningful moments that don’t appear in all the latest tour books. I need to remember that my favorite memories were those that were entirely situational, spontaneous, and unique to me and those wonderful people I was with at the time.
Turkey was different. Right from the get-go Turkey wanted me to explore, dig in, and be Turkish. And I did! The first night, we dropped our bags and ran out to explore our neighborhood. With some crisp Turkish Lira in our hands we dispersed through the streets and began trying every and any new food we could find. Steak durum, islak burgers: these were some of my firsts. I was immediately in love! It could have been the newness of everything compared to Italy (having had at least some exposure to Italian food and culture before we’d ever set foot on Italian cobblestone). But even the people, so eager to learn about you, teach you Turkish, etc., was an extremely pleasant change. Istanbul was so strange and different. Everything was so foreign. This heightened my senses, even when doing routine activities like going to class. I treasured the call to prayer every day. My phone is filled up with countless videos of the echoing call to prayer in various settings. Turkey is 99% Muslim. This was visible in so many facets of the city. And I, never having been to a place where Christianity wasn’t the majority, noticed them all. Visiting the mosques was one of my favorite things. They were always awe inspiring and mysterious. This sense of wonder was present throughout Turkey. Hands on, sensational experiences were all around you– just the type of moments I was constantly seeking out in Italy. Though it’s impossible to pick out my favorite moment, at the top was mine, Alexi, and Natalie’s hike up Aktepe, the hot air balloon ride, exploring cave dwellings, fish sandwich lunches in the fish markets, çay on the ferry at sunset… I could go on and on.
I am so excited to come back to Istanbul one day. It will always have a special place within my heart. I’m forever thankful for all it has exposed me to and shown, in itself and in me. It’s exactly where someone in their 20’s should go to explore, try new things, and learn. This is the type of travel I will continue to seek in the future. Hands on adventure, engaging all the senses, igniting the mind, and changing my perceptions. I’ve gained so much from the experience, and only about half of that was from school itself.