Turkish class was cancelled on Thursday to free up time to prepare for our giant Thanksgiving feast. Some students helped cook American Thanksgiving essentials – mashed potatoes (which our program director adorably called “smash potatoes”), stuffing, and gravy – and some had an adventure in arts and crafts at the Lojman. We made construction paper chains, a pilgrim hat, a “Happy Thanksgiving” sign, and a hand turkey where people could write down the things in life they’re thankful for. We gathered in the living room to stream the Macy’s Day parade, listened to country music, and reminisced about our families’ Thanksgiving day traditions. There was a bit of bickering about American football, but the mood remained light and sweet. Finally, it was time for dinner to start (in contrast to stateside celebrations, which usually start in the early afternoon, we had a real dinner at 7:30pm) – the students flocked to the local Yamaç Kafe, where we have lunch every day. At the cafe, there was a Thanksgiving buffet set up – with salad, cornbread, turkey, cranberry sauce, tomatoes from a local organic farm, and the other snacks the Georgetown students cooked up. During dinner, the students mingled with locals – our host families, government officials, and friends we’ve met throughout the semester. I had the most lovely time talking with the mayor of Alanya and his wife, translated by an actor who has been working with one of the students here on her research project. We chatted about Europe and Thanksgiving food and laughed a lot. After dinner, Mehmet Bey (the organic farmer, not our Turkish teacher) introduced me to his wife and we joked about the need to respond, “Afiyet olsun” (Bon appetite, basically) to the phrase “Elinize sağlık” (Health to your hands). Mehmet Bey called his daughter, who lives in Istanbul, and had me chat with her for a few minutes – they took pictures of me talking to her on the phone, which was a little strange, I guess, but also quite heartwarming.
Before eating, the students posed for a photo that will undoubtedly end up in the local tabloid. Kourosh gave a short speech about the meaning of Thanksgiving, and each of the students shared a thing they’re thankful for. I could have gone on and on with my list of gratitude and appreciation – to have the chance to attend one of the best universities in the U.S., to have the financial and academic support from my college to spend a semester with this program, to enjoy the company of such lovely people every day in Turkey and for my friends at Georgetown and in Minnesota, and for my incredibly supportive and encouraging family cheering me on from home. This whole year has been magical – I finished the first half of my undergraduate degree, visited seven countries, and met interesting and inspiring people from all over the world. I am so fortunate to be living here, where I wake up and admire the view of the Mediterranean Sea, and to have the opportunity to study in a field I’m passionate about. Certainly there are legitimate political objections to the history of European settlements in what became the United States, but the aspect of this holiday that compels us to reflect on the gems and joys in life is definitely of value.