So, the last four months happened – I am now in Istanbul, with just over twelve hours before my flight home. I wish I could say “It feels like just yesterday that I was getting off the plane in Istanbul,” but it really doesn’t. These four months have been long, and it feels like forever ago that I had my first day leading the students and faculty around the Hagia Sophia, even more forever ago that I was saying goodbye to friends at Lesnoe Ozero, and impossibly forever ago that I walked across the stage on Healy lawn to collect my diploma. 2014 has been a long year, and the past four months in Alanya were no exception.
Don’t get me wrong, Alanya is a beautiful place and I have tried to be optimistic and proactive about finding the “real” Alanya, but this city is exhausting. Its tourist hub/beach town vibe is not as whimsical as it was two years ago. I have now spent 8 months of my life in Alanya, and I wish I could live in another (more real) city in Turkey. The all-inclusive resort/clubbing way of tourism is not how I travel, and I hate that when I walk down the street, locals think I’m just another Russian tourist. It makes me sad that I have to divert my eyes and look at the ground when I walk down the main streets of Alanya in order to avoid being called at to come inside a store selling neon knock-offs, but it’s the only tactic that works – smiling or responding in Turkish results in being followed and yelled at more loudly, in my experience. On weekends when I visited other Turkish cities, it was such a relief to see that other places have completely different vibes – more full, more real. While it was nice to escape for short trips, it also might have been nice to spend the past four months in one of those cities and to have acclimated to that city’s vibe, rather than see it as an escape from Alanya’s weirdness.
With that said, Alanya is GORGEOUS, and few other places I’ve been in Turkey rival the natural beauty of Alanya’s surrounding area. The view from my third-floor apartment was stunning, as was the view from the balcony in the villa where I worked and ate every day. I took advantage of Alanya’s beaches more often this time around than when I was a student here two years ago. The city’s natural beauty has been a major plus for me; whenever I was feeling crabby about the state of the world, the beauty of the sunset, or storms over the ocean, or the castle walls on the peninsula managed to cheer me up.
Though Alanya is a bit isolated from airports (fifteen to thirty lira shuttle rides, one to two hours on a bus, usually at awful hours in the middle of the night), I have been able to travel SO MUCH in the past four months. I visited Kyrgyzstan and made a brief jaunt into Kazakhstan, a trip that I am so happy to have made and that played a big role in decision-making about the Peace Corps. My mom met me in Croatia for an adventure through the western Balkans, an incredible experience and amazing chance to see cities with incredible cultures and histories. I spent ten hours on a bus to get to Adana, where I got to see my trollmate Rebecca and meet her lovely host mother Yasemin. Through the Georgetown program, I had another chance to go to Konya and Cappadocia, a weekend trip that ended up being really great. The highlight of my Georgetown excursions was definitely the weekend jaunt to Cyprus – so much laughter, so many memories.
Words cannot describe how much I treasure the relationships I’ve built with several Turks in Alanya. I fell in love Emine, who worked tirelessly to feed 20 people daily, and Umran, who kept our lojman clean and was always open to drink tea and chat with me in the mornings. It was wonderful luck that our neighbor, Ayşegül, invited me over for coffee one afternoon – I ended up visiting her beautiful apartment several more times, sometimes alone and sometimes with the students. Her daughter Defne is an inspiration for all polyglots; at fifteen, her English is impeccable, and she has also dabbled in German and Japanese. I am of course thankful to Mustafa and Zehra for having me to dinner several times at the beginning of the semester and showing me just how universal it is that parents embarrass their teenage daughters. I was also able to see Deniz and Suha, my host parents from two years ago, and play with their young daughters, Melisa and Mira, who are çok tatlı (so cute). Of course, I owe so, so much to Necmiye Hanım for Turkish classes and for teaching me plenty of idioms that make Turks giggle when I use them, and to Mehmet Bey for his neverending enthusiasm, and though I don’t always believe him when he says “Yes, that’s right!” his encouragement makes me feel like I could write a novel in Turkish. It has been wonderful to work with Neşe, who let me feed the cats near the villa every day, and Emel, who always looks flawless and throws out the most hilarious one-liners. Finally, I would be remiss to leave out the men with unlimited patience and who brought the gift of American comfort food to the Lojman: to all the guys who brought Dominos on their motorbikes at all hours of the day, teşekkürler.
The professors – Betsi, Bryan, and Alan – have been great to get to know better. It has been a joy to chat with them at lunch and on long bus rides (always an interesting conversation); and I really enjoyed the dinner parties with Betsi and soccer with Bryan. While trying to decide my post-Alanya plans, the professors offered really valuable insight. It has also been a total treat to meet the professors’ families. Betsi’s daughter Anne came to visit Alanya for several days, and Bryan’s and Alan’s wives and children came along for the whole four months. I have really valued getting to know Mary and Kelly, and being able to see them bring their families to a foreign country while managing their own (super awesome) careers from abroad has been amazing and really inspiring to watch, especially as debates about “having it all” rage on the Internet and in the real world. It has been so fun to get to know their children, as well – I performed in a movie produced by Bryan and Mary’s son and received a lovely drawing from Alan and Kelly’s son, and my mood was instantly lifted whenever Alan and Kelly’s daughter Ruby ran into the lojman.
And, of course, the öğrenciler, my students. It’s been quite a roller coaster with these guys, and I appreciate that they were (usually) patient when I (usually) did not know the plan. Though the students were sometimes the biggest source of frustration in my life, they were also the cause of my happiest moments. Playing soccer every week, rose-bud-thorning at dinner, ukulele jam sessions, Bulgarian ladies on decks of cards, lounging at the beach. I am so thankful for their kind words at the end of the semester, and I really hope I was able to help them in some meaningful way in the past four months – whether to learn to go with the flow (burası Türkiye, after all) or how to ask to turn on the air conditioning. İyi şanslar with everything back at Georgetown and beyond.
Working at the McGhee Center has been a real learning experience, and I greatly appreciated the ample free time I had to read, write, and think. Admittedly, living with fifteen undergraduates has made for a bizarre transition from my college to post-graduate life. I’ve been in this weird limbo, suspended between college life, with its talk of clubs, course requirements, and unfair grades, and the real world, where I hear friends complain of unnecessarily long hours, office politics, dating, and happy hours. I have outgrown the former but have definitely do not feel as though I’ve yet made the leap into the real world. Maybe this is a function of my choice to work for Georgetown, or maybe I wouldn’t have felt part of the real world even if I had paved my own path in Turkey as I had planned to do until August. As I prepare for a long trip back to Minnesota, I look forward to living near family, having friendly, housebroken cats to play with, seeing friends from high school, and starting a new temporary job before setting off on the next big adventure and chapter in my life in Kyrgyzstan.
Türkiye, seni gerçekten çok özleyeceğim. Her şey için teşekkür ederim, ve inşallah bir gün dönebileceğim. Şimdilik, görüşürüz…