Now that I’ve nearly survived all of my responsibilities at the school this first year, I’ve been doing a lot of reflecting. In the moment, so much of it seemed like a blur, but now I find myself trying to look back on (and over-analyze) everything that has happened since I moved to Turkey. There were some moments that felt so difficult and so dark that I didn’t think it would ever get any easier, but now that I’ve gotten through the biggest waves of culture shock, I can appreciate how amazing this opportunity really is and all of the incredible things I’ve been able to do that before seemed like a distant dream. When I think back through this year, there are a few moments that really stand out.
Crossing the Bosphorus for the first time
This is something that takes my breath away again and again and again. I’ll never forget how blue the water looked or how magical the 360 view of seagulls swirling around the sea of minarets was the first time I took a ferry to Eminonu. It has to be one of the most incredible experiences one can have in the world for under a dollar. Even after almost a year, I still have a “holy crap, I can’t believe I actually live here” moment every single time I cross over to Europe.
Hitchhiking from Perge in Antalya
I still can’t believe this happened only two weeks into our expat experience, but that’s also why I think it’s so memorable. In that moment when we were deciding what to do, I remember a tiny voice reminding me that my mom would have a heart attack if she knew I was doing this, but I also had a voice telling me that it was cold and raining and the guy offering us a ride definitely didn’t look like a serial killer. He ended up being an incredibly nice and genuine person and that experience really taught me the importance of trusting humanity when it comes to traveling. Most people really are good.
Experiencing a true White Christmas in Eskişehir
I had my worst bout of culture shock in the fall and I was so overwhelmed and unhappy that I really don’t remember much of that time period. The weekend we spent in Eskişehir is kind of where my memory starts to kick back in because it was a spot of pure bliss. It was obviously very difficult to spend Christmas away from home for the first time, but when I saw the first snow of the whole year happening on Christmas day? I knew everything was going to be okay.
Getting snowed in on New Year’s Eve
I saw my work/home in a whole new light when it was buried under a foot of snow. This place is gorgeous in the spring and summer, but I wasn’t prepared for how beautiful it is in the dead of winter. I’ll never forget how happy I was when I read the email that lessons were cancelled and all of the students and teachers who couldn’t beat the weather out gathered together for a giant snowball fight. Definitely one of the best New Year’s Eves I’ve ever had.
Sipping hot wine at Buda Castle in Budapest
Wine is not a drink I ever imagined would be good warm, but it certainly is. They were selling this stuff all over Budapest and I finally caved and had to try it when we were up at Buda Castle and it was FREEZING. They add some fruit and spices that make it taste more like a warm sangria and it was the perfect way to warm up and relax while enjoying the incredible view of the Chain Bridge to Pest.
Walking from Hungary to Slovakia on the Maria Valeria Bridge
Another fabulous moment in Hungary was the time we spent in Esztergom, a little town that is only a short walk away from Sturovo in Slovakia. At first, we thought we might regret stopping in such a small place without much going on, but it ended up being one of the highlights of our winter break. There was something that felt so cool about being able to walk from one country to another in a town that’s barely changed since the Middle Ages.
Standing before the Library of Celsus at Ephesus
Our trip to Ephesus was our first taste of warm weather after a winter that felt like it lasted a billion years. When I first laid eyes on the Library of Celsus, I couldn’t believe how intact it was after over 1,000 years. The way the yellowing stone contrasts with the bright blue sky is truly mind-blowing. It is an absolute must-see in Turkey. I even want to go back, which is not usually the case when it comes to things like ruins and monuments.
Hiking the Fira Trail in Santorini
The hike from Fira to Oia in Santorini is an unforgettable journey. 10 kilometers of the most beautiful white-washed buildings you’ll ever see and blue Aegean water that stretches out into forever makes you feel like you’ve tripped and fallen into a dream. I’ll especially never forget the delicious Greek picnic my husband and I had on the side of a volcanic cliff. It felt like we had the whole world to ourselves.
Indulging in local hospitality in Naxos
I have never received a warmer welcome than the one I got at Hotel Kymata in Naxos. It turns out the whole island is unbelievably friendly and hospitable. Although a part of it is definitely due to a decline in tourism following the economic troubles in Greece, I still believe that hospitality is a central tenant of Greek culture. Much of the hospitality came in the form of free food, which is my fave.
Nerding out in a Sci-Fi bookstore in Stockholm
Stockholm was such a whirlwind trip that much of it seems very fuzzy, but I remember almost every detail of the incredible book store we found near the main palace. I am a gigantic nerd and this place was designed for people just like me. They had a very unique collection of anime, comics, sci-fi titles (mostly in ENGLISH!), board games, and all kinds of nerdy collectibles. If I ever win the lottery, I’m probably going to buy one of everything in that store.
Watching my students blow their end-of-the-year performance out of the water
Being a teacher is exhausting and time-consuming, but somehow, the students make every ounce of the blood, sweat, and tears worth it – at least most of the time. After a hectic first year, it was so satisfying to work on a big performance with all of my first students and watch them do such a great job. It definitely ended my year on a high note.
I am so thankful for everything I’ve been able to experience this year. It was a lot of hard work, but it’s only proven to me how much hard work can pay off. I’m already looking forward to the long list of adventures that are sure to come next year!