Culture Shock! Posted on March 1st, 2011 by

Turkey is another country, which is easy to forget when I am on an English-speaking campus and I hang out with mostly Americans or Western Europeans. I have the luxury of almost always being able to use my first language,  and when I can’t I can often ask a Turkish friend or fellow student to interpret for me. However, I haven’t been able to completely avoid culture shock.

Old Turkish ladies regularly wear head scarves and ankle-length winter coats.  However, the other day when I was on the bus on the way back from Marta’s, I saw an old woman wearing a full-length black burka (not a super common sight in metropolitan Istanbul) . The only part of her that was exposed to the public was her eyes.  For some reason, I was immediately enraged. I pictured her arranged marriage when she was probably only 14 and the intense fear she experienced before marrying a man she barely even knew and living her whole life behind this heavy curtain of black. Then I looked closer and realized her husband was carrying her purse. And then holding her arm gently while she walked up the bus stairs. And then leading her to an empty seat and making sure she was situated before he sat down next to her with her purse in his lap. I guess love is love, and although I might not understand more conservative Muslims, they have reasons for their customs and its not always fair for me to apply my American judgments to them.

A few days earlier, I met a friend in Beşiktaş to tour a palace there. I was a little early and she was a little late and I was a lot starving, so I decided to get some lunch. I wandered up and down the crammed cobblestone streets looking for a suitable restaurant and eventually decided on a small cafeteria-style place. I cautiously walked in and looked around warily before approaching the counter. I always feel beyond ignorant when trying to communicate with Turkish people, but I persevered through the initial awkwardness and sat down at a table, a little more comfortable with my ability to function on my own in this city.

Despite these cultural barriers, I have established a few comfort zones: the gym, my room, the wonderful world of Skype, Marta’s apartment, and my classrooms. Speaking of classrooms!

I should mention my classes! I’m taking Turkish Language, History of Soviet Russia, Modern Turkish Literature,  Inter-cultural Communication, and an acting class. All of the classes are awesome! I have a pretty diverse mix in the classes of exchange and Turkish students, and we’ve had some really interesting discussions, particularly in Modern Turkish Lit and Inter-cultural Communication. I’ve been learning a lot of random Turkish facts: they find it gross that American men don’t shave their armpits in the summer, they have an old custom of twirling money three times around their head and then kissing it if they receive a lot at once, and their language is littered with Islamic idioms despite the secular state. In addition, I am taking a class with my exchange program to discuss and dissect our experience in Turkey, and we will be meeting an hour a week. FINALLY, I am tutoring a girl in English! She has to pass her TOEFL (English exam) by the end of this semester to remain at Koç, so I am going to do my best to help that happen.

Ok, that was a lot to read. Here are some photos!

And even some videos!

Underground City in Cappadocia

Scenery in Cappadocia



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