10 Things I Can’t Wait to Experience in Turkey

When I first tell people that I’m moving to Turkey, the reaction is varied.  Of course, there’s the paranoid, xenophobic “OMG you’re going to get beheaded by ISIS” response.  I don’t think my eyes can physically roll as hard as I’d like them to when I get that one…*sigh*…ignorance.  I have also gotten the “I don’t know where the hell that is…but I bet they have great Turkey!” reaction.  Still a bit ignorant, but at least it’s less blatantly prejudiced.  There are, thankfully, those who have some idea of where it is we’re going, or at least a general appreciation of travel and culture who congratulate us and wish us well.

I still remember when I was initially drawn to Turkey, and looking back, it kind of feels like it might have been foreshadowing.  I just happened to read this article, and even though I’m not a parent yet, it really struck a chord with me in a way I can’t quite explain.  Something about the friendliness of the people, the food, and the lovely vibe of Istanbul seemed very inviting, and I remember instantly thinking, “I need to go there someday.”  That little spark of interest carried into our job search, which started just a couple months after reading that article.   While we were keeping our minds very open about where we went, Turkey was high on my wish list.  When we landed an interview in Turkey, I was super excited, and when we landed a second interview and then got the jobs, I was in full on dance party mode.

Turkey seems like a seriously amazing place, and now that we’re going, I couldn’t imagine starting this adventure anywhere else.  The more I read about it and talk about it, the more awesome it seems.  As we prepare for departure (just a few months away now!), I thought it would be nice to reflect on some of the things I’m most looking forward to.  Not only will this be really cool for me to look back on once I’ve actually experienced these things, but hopefully it will also show those who are reading (probably predominantly friends and family, but still…) a little glimpse of what Turkey has to offer and why it’s a place worth knowing about.

1. The Food

Okay, this is probably #1 on my priority list for most of the places I travel to, but in the case of Turkey, I mean it tenfold.  Turkey is rumored to have some of the best food in the world; kebabs, fresh veggies, Mediterranean foods, baklava, not to mention all the tea and coffee!   Seriously – Google some pictures of Turkish food and try not to drool.  I have a feeling there will be a lot of blog posts about food once I get there.

2. The People

Pretty much everything I have read or been told about the people in Turkey has been positive.  Turks have a reputation for being very friendly, welcoming, and hospitable.  The best way to really experience a place and its culture is to interact with the locals (which I seriously can’t wait to do) and it’s ten times more enjoyable if the people you are interacting with are actually happy to see you (not always the case, unfortunately).  I really can’t wait to see who we meet on our travels – both from the area and from afar!

3. Istanbul

Huge, sweeping generalization, I know.  Istanbul should really have its own list because there is SO MUCH I can’t wait to see and do there.  The Hagia Sofia, the Blue Mosque, the Bosphorus Bridge, The Grand Bazaar…the list goes on.  It’s a very diverse and exciting city that is chock full of history and has seen a lot of change since its inception.  It has also developed a very unique culture, having been influenced by both the East and the West.  Having spent my whole life in podunk Kansas, it’s pretty unreal that we will be living thirty miles from one of the coolest cities in the world.

4. Cappadocia

I’m a huge sucker for breathtaking geography.  That’s one of the main reasons why we chose Iceland for our honeymoon last summer.  The Cappadocia region in Turkey is home to some very unique rock formations, affectionately referred to as “fairy chimneys”, and one of the most common ways to experience them is via hot air balloon (sign me up!)  Cappadocia is also where they have recently discovered a massive ancient underground city, which is equally awesome.

5. Pamukkale

As you can probably guess based on the aforementioned fact that we honeymooned in Iceland, I’m also a huge fan of hot springs.  When I found out about this place, I immediately put it on the bucket list.  You generally can’t go wrong with hot springs, but these have the added bonus of being very aesthetically pleasing (again with the geography nerdom).  The white, terraced formation of the springs looks like something out of a fantasy realm.

6. Travel Opportunities

Obviously, there’s tons I want to see and do within Turkey, but it’s also pretty awesome to be located in Europe, where you can pretty much hop on a plane or train and be in a different country within a couple of hours.  We plan on spending at least three years in Turkey and will have plenty of breaks throughout the school year, so obviously my brain is going haywire over all of the potential places we can go.  Greece and Bulgaria are close enough to be weekend destinations and the rest of Europe is easily accessible during longer breaks.  I also would really like to explore a couple of Middle Eastern places, like Jordan or Egypt.

7. The Language

Those who know me know that I’m a HUGE language nerd.  At this point, I should probably just admit that I’m a nerd in general, but it’s especially true for languages.  I have loved and studied languages pretty much from the time I could talk and am always looking to add more to my arsenal.  One of my major life goals is to speak five languages (not including English) fluently before I die.  Right now, I can speak French and Spanish, but seldom get to put those skills to use.  When we first looked into teaching abroad, I vowed to myself that I would not choose a country where English was the primary language or was widely spoken.  Not that Anglophone countries aren’t worth visiting or living in, but for my first time living abroad, I really wanted to be able to immerse myself in a new language and vastly different culture.  I was very excited to find out that many people in Turkey do not speak English well and that we would likely need to learn some Turkish to get around.  Challenge accepted!

8. The School

I have always loved school, so making the decision to become a teacher was very natural for me.  I have also always loved language and literature (read #7).  The fact that I will be living abroad and teaching a subject that I love is honestly a dream come true.  On top of that, this particular school has a couple things going for it that make it even more awesome.  First of all, it is a school for gifted students, which means I will have the privilege of teaching very bright and motivated individuals.  It’s also a boarding school, which means that I will have plenty of opportunities to bond with the students and other staff…the whole concept kind of makes me think of Harry Potter, which is a win-win in my book.  I’m really hopeful that it will become our home away from home.

9. A Sense of Home

Speaking of home…I’m going to be honest; the last couple of years have been weird and rough in many ways.  It all started about two and a half years ago, when Dakota had a stroke over Winter Break, just three days before I was supposed to start student teaching.  We suddenly and unexpectedly had to move out of our apartment, put everything we owned in storage, and move back in with our parents.  Dakota also had to drop out of school for the semester.  At that point, we had lived in Emporia for three years and it very much felt like home.  It was horrible to have to give up our apartment (which had been the first place either of us had ever lived on our own) and to leave behind all of our friends, most of whom were soon graduating and leaving.  Living with parents was a huge help during that time, but it was not easy to adjust to after being on our own.  Even though we were back in our hometown, it felt like anything but home.  All I wanted was to be back at our school, in our apartment, with our friends.  After seven, long, horrible months, we were finally able to move back to Emporia, but we quickly realized it was not the Emporia we had left.  Almost all of our friends had moved.  It was also weird no longer being a part of campus culture.  I suddenly felt very alone and out of place.  While the last two years here haven’t been awful (certainly better than living with parents in P-town), it hasn’t felt like home like it once did.  I’m hoping we can finally build a feeling of “home” again in Turkey.  I think it will feel good to have a fresh start.  We also plan to be there for a few years (which is more stability than we’ve had in a while!), and while I’m certain there will be some initial culture shock and some “OMG why did we do this?” moments, I’m looking forward to feeling like I belong somewhere again.

10. NO. MORE. CARS.

#9 was a little on the heavy side, so I feel the need to end on a lighter note.  This might actually be illegal to say in the Midwest, but I HATE cars…or at least being forced to rely on them.   Seriously.  Unless you have a small fortune lying around or don’t mind taking out a huge loan, it’s difficult to own a reliable car.  I can’t count the number of times we have had a car break down on us, usually resulting in a few hundred dollars’ worth of repairs and a week without a car.  The whole idea of towns being designed so that you can’t function without owning a vehicle is ridiculous, but that’s how it’s done here.  I also have an absolutely horrible sense of direction while driving, so I won’t miss that either.  It will be pretty nice to have easy access to public transportation.

So there it is.  I’m really surprised that I managed to fit this list into an even ten items.  I’m also extremely curious to see how all of these things unfold in the coming months.  In the meantime, I guess I’ll just keep daydreaming.

To anyone out there reading this:  Have you been to Turkey?  If so, what do you recommend?  If you haven’t been to Turkey, but want to go there, what’s on your top ten list?  I’d love to hear other perspectives.

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