2008.Spotlight on Turkey

On the Morning of July 19th, I woke up to the sounds of waves crashing against the shore and the cool, sweet smell of sea air. I ran out onto the balcony of my hotel room and stared out at the Aegean, watching as the purples, yellows and pinks of the sunrise collided with the dense blue of the sea. I could not help imagining all the people who had traveled those waters from ancient times until the present and what sort of history must lie at the bottom of the sea. It was breathtaking and once again I was reminded of how complex and astounding Turkey is. From its diverse peoples and cultures to its geography, its varied history and its delicately balanced domestic and international politics: Turkey is full of surprises. That is likely the reason why so many of the trip’s participants, myself included, fell back on words like “incredible,” “magnificent” and “awesome” when asked to describe our experiences in Turkey. A more nuanced vocabulary would run the risk of leaving out some crucial aspect of Turkey.

It seemed almost cruel that after only 11 hours we departed from the Aegean. We were pacified by promises that more wonders lay ahead. During the first days of the journey, I could not believe that every new day would bring something more awe-inspiring than what we had witnessed the previous day. I soon learned that in Turkey, there is always something equally if not more fantastic to do or see. There are always more ancient ruins, more natural wonders, more art, more music, more delicacies, and more people to experience. In the end, we were all forced to throw up our hands and admit that Turkey in 10 days was impossible. This trip was nothing more than an amuse bouche, just enough to wet our appetites. As we hugged goodbye at the airport in Istanbul, every one of us vowed to return to Turkey to finish the journey we had just begun, knowing of course, that it is impossible to “finish” exploring Turkey.

I am so grateful to the Turkish Cultural Institute for dreaming up and funding such a creative itinerary, filled to the brim with as many Turkish experiences as possible. I am also indebted to the World Affairs Council, particularly the Mid-Hudson branch, which made this experience possible for me. Our orientation session was so informative and provoked such lively discussions that I could hardly wait to board the plane to Turkey. Arriving in Turkey, I realized everyday how important the history and cultural lessons learned during the orientation enhanced my understanding of Turkey and allowed me to experience the country on a more profound level. I look forward to doing my best to repay their generosity by instilling in my students the same appreciation, admiration and affinity for Turkey that I carried home with me.