My earlier articles have portrait a pretty dark image of Turkey. I wrote about institutionalised homophobia and politicians drifting away from reality (fun fact: Egemen Bağış, about whom I wrote the last article, was kind of sacked as a consequence of a corruption scandal shaking Turkey until today). Other news non-Turkish readers will receive from beyond the Bosphorus recently add up to this; just yesterday, protests rocked several districts in Istanbul. And even though this article will look at some bright sides of my stay, I want to give a brief overview of what’s going on.
Ever since the Gezi Protests, in which traditional and especially government controlled media utterly failed while social media and independent websites excelled, the ruling AKP government seems to try to get back at the internet and rebellious youths in general. Recently, the Erdogan administration struggles with the political opposition, investigating policemen and lawyers, the high courts, prosecuted journalists, army generals demanding retrial, the elusive Gülen movement, etc. The cause for the recent protests was a law granting the government the right to easily block websites. It’s the newest of several restrictive laws passed by the AKP, which appears to know no retreat. Important human rights and economical associations heavily criticise the bill and call for president Gül to veto against it. In the mean time, government controlled media either advertise the bill, or denounce protestors as henchmen of the “Porno Lobby”. To explain the connection your mind probably can’t establish (partially because you’re still busy wondering about the Porno Lobby); porn is illegal in Turkey and porn sites are usually blocked. This is resulting in surprisingly open discussions among foreign exchange students of all origins and either gender focussing on how to get around the blockade mechanisms.
But regardless of Turkey fighting over its future, I enjoyed my stay in Istanbul. I’m not sure if it’s the Erasmus program or the mere size of Istanbul, but you can meet someone new every day if you want to. This luxury is at the same time a curse, since the size of the metropolis also makes it impossible to stay in touch with everybody. Many people criticising the Erasmus program claim that students don’t socialize with natives, and instead just hang out with each other. They say the exchange misses it’s point, but I disagree. First of all, I still had contacts with many lovely Turks. Something I noticed, by the way; countries people emigrate from (Russia, Turkey, East Timor) appear to be more hospitable than countries which experience a lot of immigration (Germany, France). Hungary is kind of in the middle. Back to the topic; even the folks who don’t have many contacts to the natives in their guest nation still meet a lot of foreigners from all different origins. It’s almost inevitable to finish an Erasmus semester without having friends all over Europe. Besides being super awesome for your personal development, even my grandma understands (without me even mentioning something in the likes) that this is a long-term strategy to prevent war such as the one she was born into.
Oh, and there are so many places I saw I’m not going to forget. My older articles featured astonishing Ephesus. In the later months, I stopped shooting pictures as much. I guess there was just too much to see. Being from Northern Europe, I’m familiar with the idea that ancient ruins are seldom and must be protected. What do we have in Germany? Some Roman bridges and lots of castles (I love castles). In Anatolia, however, masonry was already old at a time in which my ancestors probably spent their days hitting wooden clubs against their heads and being amused by the sound it makes. Ancient walls, amphitheaters, random towers from who knows which era; whenever I read about Alexander the Great, about Byzantine emperors, or the Sultans of the Ottoman Empires, I know that I walked where they walked. I crossed their paths. In some cases, I was inside their homes. I travelled within hours through territories the medieval army of German Emperor Barbarossa needed months to pass. To them, the bald mountain ranges seemed dangerous. To me, they were beautiful.
If you study, go abroad. The personal gains you make are unquestioned; empathy, self-esteem and self-awareness, decision-making abilities, critical thinking, socializing skills, and so on. But that’s nothing against the memories you will collect. Finish the time of your schooling passing through the institutions as fast as possible if that’s what you like. Later in your life, however, it will be nothing than a time of work in which vaguely every day was the same. Go abroad, change your environment, and you will not have one past to look back at, but plenty. After all, how do you even know you’re happy if being content is all you ever strived for?
Recently, I returned to Germany. The first thing I noticed (except for Germans being huge and having edgy faces) was that I apparently travelled through time. In my home city, nothing had changed. I know, many fellow travellers are being pulled into depression by this. I remember a story about a friend who returned from a year of work-and-travel in Australia. Back home, she worked in her kitchen and upon returning a tool to the exact same spot it ever was at, she burst into tears. Non-travellers might not understand this. It’s like you had another life abroad, one to which you will never be able to return to, nor see most of your friends you made again.
I personally developed an own strategy to fight post-travelling sickness; more travelling. Off to Eastern Europe next week.