Managing Myself in Turkey

Experiences of an Exchange Student wandering through Turkey in search for her future path in life.

Back to Reality

Ok, I suppose now I have to accept it. I’m really back.

Autumn semester is in full blast. New students have arrived and courses are in motion. First exams are approaching and about 10 group works have been done. Lessons are 3 hours long and the breaks aren’t in set times anymore. I really miss the Turkish way, at least because of the breaks. Presentations are actually kind of fun because they mean it’s ok to talk in class. 😛 But some of the topics seem really boring… But if I’m being fair, it’s probably because now I’m taking compulsory classes whereas in Turkey all my courses were ones I really wanted to take. 🙂 But at least many of the classes are in computer classrooms where it’s possible to do other things while tuning out the teacher’s voice. 😀

But since my exchange period – and all the additional parts of it – is now over, it’s time to say goodbye to my readers. Since this was a blog about my experiences in Turkey, writing more stuff after returning to Finland would seem a little weird. So hereby I’d like to thank you – mom, friends, my coordinator, random readers, and of course, my faithful spammers. 😀 It was nice to know that at least someone was reading my stories.

Kiitos ja kumarrus! 😉

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International Youth Project

Our group and the mayor of AlanyaAs promised, I’m going to write something about my experiences from the project I participated in. It just took a while to get it done.

At the end, the project had 20 participants from 9 different countries. Some of the people had had to cancel their participation because of money reasons. But at the end the small group was perfect for the project. We had time to get to know everyone and the group became close. Sometimes that’s not the best thing though.. At the end of the project some people were starting to get too relaxed with people and ignored their rights. A few fights came along, and at the end some old friendships were broken. But that had more to do with those people’s personalities, it would have happened sooner or later anyway. But still the project was a positive experience and I’m so glad I didn’t pass on the chance.

Actual work for the project passed by nearly unnoticed because all actions were made fun and interesting. And everything in the project was covered by our sponsor, the city of Alanya. We got fancy dinners, boat trips and other excursions, and learned many traditional Turkish things (painting water pumpkins and making Gözleme). At the end of the whole project we had our own exhibit at the marina of Alanya, where we presented our photos and pumpkins. The time we spent together was short, but great international bonds were made. And that of course means more projects in the future.

When it was time to head to the airport, it really hit me. The semester abroad was really over. After I return home, I won’t be heading back to Turkey in a few days or weeks. Now I’d actually have to stay in Finland. The soon beginning semester seemed scary and boring at the same time. Do I really have to go back?

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So far so good

I’ve now been back home for about a month. Weather has been just like in Turkey, but everything else is different. People don’t smile on the streets – at least not as much as in Turkey –, nobody says hello to passers by and most importantly, nobody’s offering me tea – which I think is rude. Also the Finnish food has made me ill. I guess the people here eat something weird. 😀 I miss dolmas, pilav and tavuk döners!

Returning home has been easier than I thought. I don’t get on the busses without paying and I even manage to speak Finnish. But still I find myself using many Turkish words and sometimes even thinking some simple things in Turkish. Or in English, but not in Finnish. In a way I’m waiting for the autumn to see if I’ll have more problems adapting back to our studies because I got so used to not having any group assignments – and in Finland the main focus in our studies is on group projects. And student life in Finland is different in so many other ways as well.

Having been away from home has made me finally realize that there are so many things I can do on my own and getting problems solved, even though there’s no common language to use, doesn’t seem difficult anymore. I feel like I’ve really grown up. Or maybe I just didn’t trust myself enough earlier. Either way, I feel better prepared to do things alone now. Like for example, joining an international project as the only Finn – which is what I’ll do about 5 days later – or heading to the airport without really being sure where I’m going to stay in my destination – which is what I’m doing right now. 😀

Going on exchange has brought out the adventurer in me. I feel like I can do anything now. Or maybe this is just my way of coping with the culture shock of returning to the country where everything´s slow and quiet, people minding their own business, avoiding unfamiliar people and stressing out if the bus is 2 minutes late. Who knows, maybe in the autumn I’ll transform into a stereotypical Finn, keeping at least 1 meter distance to other people and avoiding all situations where I might have to speak English. NOT!

Like I already said earlier, I’m now heading back to Turkey for the project I applied to in the spring. And even though it’s not strictly speaking a part of my exchange period, I’m still going to write something about it. It is after all taking place in the same country and culture – and a few of the people are the same as well. 🙂

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Whatcha say

Having been home a while, I figured it might be useful to write a short list of what I’m trying to say if&when I say something weird. That is to say some Turkish words have stuck in my head so permanently that I’ve started using them even with people who have never been in Turkey. Especially for those close to me this may be really useful. I don’t really use them that much when I’m speaking Finnish, but as soon as I start using English, the Turkish comes out as well. These are also useful things to know if you’re planning to go to Turkey.

Tamam – OK. This has stuck to my head so well that I don’t even notice saying it anymore. One of my teachers was really surprised when she heard me say it the first time and at the same time I was sure I hadn’t said it. About 2 minutes later I said it again. 😀 Also tamam mı? – ok? comes out pretty fluently.

Ne? – What? Another one I don’t even notice. And it’s so much easier to say that what/mitä – which is what in Finnish.

Ne oldu (nooldu)? – What happened?

Ne haber (naaber)? – How are you?

Teşekkürler/Sağ ol (saaol) – Thanks

Hadi ya – Come on

Off ya – Come on/ F*ck

Oha – Something similar to damn or f*ck. In Finnish it could be Ei helevetti.

Lütfen – Please

Görüşürüz – See you

Neden – Why

Nicin – Why not

Tabii – alright

İyi akşamlar (jakshamlar) – Good evening.

İyi günler – Good day

İnebilirmiyim – May I (get off the bus). This I actually managed to say to my bus driver when he nearly missed my stop. First I was wondering why the whole bus is staring at me and then it finally dawned on me that I was speaking the wrong language. Easier way to get off from a bus/dolmus is “durakta” which means on the stop.

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Back home – but still in Turkey

After a week of exploring Fethiye and the surrounding area, I returned home. Sort of. What I mean is I travelled to Alanya which has always felt like a home to me. The owner of the pension called to the bus company and they sent a shuttle to pick me up from the pension. I guess it would’ve been too much work for me to walk down the 200 meter hill and take the shuttle from the office like all the other people. 😀 At the bus station I was greeted by staff speaking English – which was the first time during my travels in Turkey. Also the host on the bus spoke some English but after realizing I said Merhaba in stead of hello, he only spoke Turkish. 🙂

A 4 hour drive through the spindly mountain roads while watching movies and I was back in Antalya. But only for a quick visit. The good thing about having way too many bus companies, is that you can just go to the station, say where you are going and you’ll have at least 4 companies offering tickets for busses leaving within the hour – unless it’s a national holiday. So after 40 minutes of drinking tea and chatting with the salesmen of the company, I was on my way to Alanya. For some reason the bus was full of men. There was only one woman there and if I understood her yelling correctly (she was yelling at the bus driver in Turkish and all the other travelers were listening and laughing), she had bought a ticket for a 500 km drive but for some reason she didn’t want to travel the whole way, just 3 km out of town… :/

At the bus station of Alanya I was offered a taxi ride to my hotel – which isn’t uncommon, I know. But the “taxi” was a camel. It would have been nice to see what they would have done with all my luggage if I’d decided to accept the offer. Anyway, after some walking around in circles I finally managed to find my hotel. I was given a room on the sixth floor, overlooking the lovely mountains. Now I have 3 beds all for myself. 🙂

But after spending time travelling around I’m starting to see the bad sides of studying tourism and hotel management. And that is that now I can see all the mistakes the workers in tourism areas are making. 😀 For example, the receptionist at my hotel in Alanya is the most unsuitable person for the job I’ve ever met. And I’m not the only one who thinks like that. I guess it’s really true that ignorance is bliss. 😀

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Fethiye – an annoying little jewel

So I took the over-night bus from Ankara to Fethiye. In the morning I woke up in the middle of green mountains while the bus was swinging down the road. The view was something different from what I’ve seen in Turkey before. Everywhere was full of plants and the nature looked really beautiful. Most areas of Turkey are dry and there aren’t many trees.

The owner of the pension where I had reserved a bed from had promised to come and pick me up from the Fethiye bus station. And after a little wait, he did show up on an old jeep. After a fast ride – as the owner is a typical Turkish driver – we pulled up in front of the pension. After showing me to the room, “Uncle-Ömer” told me that breakfast would be ready in about half an hour. Now is it just me or don’t hotels/hostels usually offer breakfast on the next morning, not first thing after checking in?? 🙂 You gotta love the Turkish hospitality! I stayed in a dorm room (six beds, bathroom) and during the week I spent in the area, I shared the room with girls from Latvia, Australia, Canada and Argentina.

Fish & Chips in the seaAfter just a few hours in town it became obvious to me that Fethiye has been made into a dream holiday destination for Brits. All prices are marked in pounds, some not even in liras, and all salesmen have a fake British accent. Also fish & chips are available nearly everywhere and I even saw a restaurant advertizing pork chops as their offer of the day. Every now and again I had to stop to think if I was really in Turkey or if I’d somehow ended up in England.  In addition to saying ”I’m not British” over and over again, I had to spend a lot of time discussing about the reasons why Finns don’t come to Fethiye anymore.

A couple days later I was faced with the Turkish hospitality once again. One of the many boat tour organizers invited me to spend time on his yacht. During the few days I was wined and dined many times by the captain of the yacht – and made fun of by the staff for being too lazy to make tea for them (on their boat). 😀 I just wish I would have had money to actually go on a boat trip in stead of just looking at all the wonderful pictures while sitting in the marina.

Fethiye was definitely worth a visit, and I’d love to go there again. It’s funny how a place can be so fully made to fit the needs of English tourists and still have so little to offer to other nationalities.

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Pros and Cons

What a better time to write about all the good and bad things of my exchange period than on the bus leaving from town. 😀  (And posting it a couple days later just because I forgot to do it earlier :D)

Good

Great friends. Coming to Turkey, I thought that I would spend a lot of time with the exchange students and some time with the locals, but in the end I ended up spending nearly all my time with the locals. In the beginning it was difficult to get to know the local students – later on I found out it was because of problems with English – but at the end I got a few really close friends who I’m really going to miss. Luckily some of them will spend next semester in Finland on their Erasmus period.

Free busses for students. On campus all busses are free which is a very good thing seeing as the campus is huge. Also the busses from Bilkent to the center of Ankara – about 12 km – are free of charge for the students. For this reason I’m used to just getting on the bus and finding a seat. I wonder what’ll happen when I go back home and start using the busses there. 😀

Interesting courses. The courses at Bilkent really helped me get perspective to what I want to do in my future. Even though all the courses were general studies, they still gave more insight to the things and helped me make up my mind of what I’d like to do after I graduate.

Long-distance busses. In Finland our busses have toilets and they stop every 3-4 hours for a coffee break. And sometimes on the night bus you might get lucky and manage to get a pillow and blanket – provided by the driver, not the bus company. And there’s basically one operator that controls all the schedules and prices. We don’t need to reserve seats as the busses are never full. And even the tickets are valid for a month, not only in a specific bus.
In Turkey there’s about 50-100 bus companies ranging from small companies operating between 2 cities, to big companies that cover most of the country. And the prices with big companies are the same, and smaller companies are a little cheaper. The busses are usually sold out and they have female and male seats – so I would never have to sit next to a man, unless I’m travelling with one. All the busses have hosts/hostesses serving refreshments to the passengers. And the refreshments include everything from drinks to biscuits, sandwiches and ice cream. And usually they are served 2-3 times during the travel. Some of the luxury busses have toilets on them but most don’t – which is an interesting combo with all the tea and coffee you’re served. 😀 The busses stop every 3-6 hours and the breaks are 30 minutes long. The biggest bus companies even have their own gas stations where they stop for breaks. Once the bus had to make an extra stop at a non-corporation station (and older passenger was feeling ill) and the whole time he was in the bathroom, the bus driver was jumping in his seat, yelling let’s go already. 🙂

Weather. Before going to Ankara everybody told me that it’ll be freezing, there’ll be lots of snow and it’s dark – even worse than Finland. But in reality all the snow was gone by the end of February and now it’s nearly 30°C with the sun shining nearly every day.

Easy connections to everywhere. As Ankara is in the middle of the country, it’s easy to get just about everywhere from there. Busses leave from Ankara every 30 minutes and everywhere is within reasonable travel – even east of Turkey is “just” 20 hours away. 😉 Also trains connect to the biggest cities of Turkey.

Lots to see in Ankara (even if it is “just” the capital city) – but it’s still no Istanbul. Many travelers skip Ankara because they think that there’s nothing worth seeing, but it isn’t the truth. As Turkey’s capital and second largest city, it has many things to offer to people. As it’s surrounded by mountains from 3 directions, the view is really beautiful and many historical attractions offer a good way to spend a few days.

Bad

Language. Even though the university operates in English, nobody actually speaks it. Especially the staff. If they find out you speak some Turkish, they’ll start talking at a speed that all sport broadcasters master. And if you don’t understand something, they’ll just repeat it over and over, getting louder and louder until they are practically yelling at you. 😀

“Yabanci, Anlamiyor.” “A foreigner, she/he doesn’t understand”, which is something I heard often in my first weeks in Ankara. And it’s not just with the language. If you do something weird – for example you pack your groceries in your backpack instead of a plastic bag (OMG) – be prepared to hear it.

Rich kids. OK, I lived in the worst possible building for this, but still. Some of the girls in my building simply don’t care about anything. – Accidentally press the alarm on the elevator? No worries, just use the other elevator or go down the stairs. The staff will turn it off (even if the elevator is now stuck on the fifth floor and they’ll have to run up the stairs to turn it off). What about if all washing machines are in use in the laundry room? Just pick one, empty it and put yours in. And of course, use the whole package of detergent to make sure your clothes are spotless (and the washing machine’s useless).

No sea. Basically the only thing missing from Ankara is the beach. On a warm day it would have been really nice to go to swim and relax on the beach. There is a lake that offers a water-environment, but it’s not enough to fill the need for swimming.

Kokoreç & İşkembe. The two Turkish foods I hate. Kokoreç is basically grilled intestines and İşkembe is a soup made of guts. If Turkey joins the European Union someday, Kokoreç will become illegal which is one of the reasons why so many Turks are against joining – it’s their favorite food. :/

Swinging both ways

Drivers. The Turkish drivers will give you a blood rushing thrill with their crazy way of driving and I’m still undecided on whether I love it or dislike it – but I don’t hate it. On my first morning in Ankara the taxi driver was speeding at a speed of 140 km/h through speed bumps while I was jumping up and down on the backseat banging my head on the roof and wondering if I’ll ever see the campus. And while writing this, the bus driver is speeding down curvy mountain roads at a speed that would leave race drivers second. And I’m trying very hard not to spill my nearly boiling tea on my laptop. 😀

Now these were just a few things to mention and only my opinions. There’s definitely more to say about Turkey but I’d like it if people would make their own conclusions about the country, not just listen to others.


Hoşça kal Ankara!

This is it. My Erasmus period has come to an end. My bags are nearly packed and tonight I’m leaving from Ankara. Time here has passed really quickly and I would love to stay longer – if my loved ones would be here with me. I’ve always felt at home in Turkey but during these months that feeling has increased. I feel closer to the Turkish culture, understand their customs better than ours and feel nearly a nationalist rush hit me when someone criticizes Turkey – even when the other person is Turkish. 😀 Even though the country has many bad sides (What country doesn’t?), the warm-heartedness and kindness of the people makes up for a lot. There’s a saying that once you become friends with a Turk, you stay friends for a lifetime. I really hope it turns out to be true.

Beautiful weather on campus

When's the best time to go to market?!? During a storm! (And I wish my camera was this good, it's a friend's pic)

Even though my time at Bilkent comes to end, I’m not returning to Finland yet. I still have nearly a month left for travelling, relaxing, tanning and visiting old friends. Feels like I haven’t done anything or visited any of the places that I wanted but maybe three weeks of sitting on busses and staying in hostels will make me feel better about it. And luckily I can always come back again – unless all the volcanoes in Europe decide to erupt one after another.  I really hope the volcanoes in Iceland stay calm for a while (experts are saying that Hekla will be erupting soon) because I really don’t feel like travelling back home by train – it takes 4 days.

But tonight I’ll get on a bus and head to Fethiye in south-west Turkey. The bus ride there will be a nice, relaxing 9.5 hours which is why I’ll be travelling at night. Tomorrow morning I’ll hopefully find Uncle-Ömer – the owner of the hostel I’ll be staying in – waiting for me at the bus station. My plan for the next weeks is to travel trough the Lycian region of Turkey: Fethiye –Patara – Kalkan – Kaş – Antalya – Alanya. This area is known for the beautiful landscapes and turquoise waters as well as many ancient cities. I’m also hoping to be able to visit the Butterfly Valley in Fethiye.

 And now I’ve found out that I’m coming back to Turkey in August for at least 9 days. A friend of mine told me about a youth project taking place in Alanya in the beginning of August, and after a while of thinking, I decided to apply to it. A couple days later I got an email from the organizer telling me that I’d been chosen to the project. And to make things even better, my friend Mirka (from the language course) will be joining me there. It’ll be perfect to show her the city that I (still) love the most – even though it’s really become a mass-tourism place.

The semester in Bilkent has really been an interesting experience. In my next piece I’ll write about the pros and cons of my time here, and things I’ll miss vs. things I definitely won’t miss.


A week of evaluations, humiliation, FUN, lost things and life lessons

The semester is really coming to end. Last week we were asked to give evaluations for our courses and teachers. They seem to take the evaluations really seriously here at Bilkent. The instructors aren’t allowed to be in the classroom when the evaluation forms are filled and the teachers will never see the actual forms, they get the results (averages of grading and summaries of written comments) after they’ve been typewritten by assistants, grades have been posted to students and semester has finished. So in other words, this was the first time I could actually write how I felt about the courses without having the nagging thought at the back of my head saying “what if he/she compares the handwriting of the evaluation on the exam papers”. Unfortunately, we didn’t fill the evaluation of the course I’d have most to comment about. Well, here’s to hoping we’ll do it this week.

The humiliation part of this spring was included in one of my courses. It’s traditional at Bilkent that all foreign students who study Turkish have to make a show for the rest of the students. In Turkish of course. My Turkish course decided to make a modern version of Snow white and the seven dwarfs. In two weeks we crammed together a play and had our first practice one day before the actual Showtime. Which obviously wasn’t enough. But luckily I was the storyteller of the play so I didn’t need to make a fool of myself like the others did. 😀 But unfortunately I had to use a microphone. Now those of you that know me, also know my poor experiences with microphones – lets just say it’s a hate-hate relationship. So needless to say, I wasn’t happy when the teacher told me I’d have to use a mic. But now that the play is done and the humiliation has passed, I can honestly say I wasn’t the one that F-ed things up in the play. 😀 This time it was someone else.

MayfestAfter the play it was time to relax as last weekend was Mayfest at Bilkent. Mayfest is the biggest event of the year on campus which includes concerts, shows, fairground rides and naturally drunken students – even though alcohol is strictly forbidden on campus. But as everyone who’s once been young knows, just because something is forbidden doesn’t mean it doesn’t happen. Unfortunately some people seemed to run out of drinks or just needed more excitement to their lives as they decided to go through some bags. As a result, some of my friends lost their drinks and I lost my keys, earrings and a T-shirt. 🙁 So now every time I want to get into my room I have to explain to the staff of my building why I don’t have my keys with me – because for some weird reason they can’t tell each other that my keys have been stolen and I haven’t received replacement keys yet. But at least I’ve learned the Turkish phrase for “My keys were stolen from my bag on Friday and I need someone to open the door for me as I don’t have new keys yet” by heart. I guess it’s true that repetition is the key of learning.

But the weekend wasn’t all bad as I learned who my true friends here are and who I shouldn’t trust. Also the summer as definitely arrived to Ankara. The whole campus has turned green and for the past week the sun has been shining like there’s no tomorrow. All grass areas of the campus are full of students playing games, having picnics or just cuddling with their sweethearts. Feels like time has stopped on campus. While writing this I’m lying on the grass watching the sunset while listening to the sounds of Bilkent – birds, grasshoppers, laughter, distant cars and airplanes and finally a lonely tuba. Maybe I should have chosen another location for my nature dosage, not the grass area next to Bilkent’s concert hall. 😀


Running out of time

Normal day on campus

Turkish culture day on campus

The last month of studies in Ankara has started. Or actually there’s only 2 weeks of courses left and final exam weeks after that. With some of my courses I’m starting to wonder what the final exams will be like. E.g. one of my teachers just told us that the material we’ve studied after the mid-term won’t be included in the final. So the material for the final will be exactly the same as mid-term materials. OK. So why have we studied those things if we aren’t expected to know them? :/

Another teacher of mine has really turned out to be Anti-Turkish. She is really strict with the local students (correcting their pronunciation, commenting on their presentations and sometimes even laughing to their faces) but we foreigners can do just about anything in her class. One day I lost my voice just before her class and of course couldn’t answer her question in class because of it. After the break she showed up to class with two cups of tea, one for me and one for her. She also told me to contact her anytime if I ever need anything. As a reference, the Turkish students aren’t allowed to talk to her about anything that isn’t related to the course. 😀

Last Friday was a national children’s holiday (Çocuk bayramı) which meant that all schools and universities were closed for one extra day. In Turkey a national holiday means that just about everybody travels to see their families or, like students, travel to the coast to relax a little more. 🙂 And this of course meant that all busses were sold out days in advance. Normally we can just go to the main bus station without a ticket and get on the way within 2 hours. Last week all busses were reserved full on Monday. Luckily I managed to get a ticket to sunshine (also known as Antalya) even though my original ticket was sold to someone else 22 minutes after I’d bought it… 🙁 A weekend relaxing on the beach was just what I needed to get enough energy to focus on the last few weeks of studying. Also Ankara is now in full summer-mode but it’s still a lot colder up here than on the coast. And here’s no beach which is the biggest minus for Ankara.

Even though my time at Bilkent is nearly over, the good news is that my time in Turkey won’t end at the same time as my studies do. I booked my flights for mid-June so I’ll have a nice 3 week holiday in Turkey before returning to Finland which is a good thing because I feel like I haven’t had time to do anything even though I’ve been travelling around Turkey and even getting to know Ankara but there are still too many places I want to visit. I wonder if it would be possible to clear out next semester and stay in Turkey travelling around?! 😉

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