For this column, I may stray slightly from my usual theme of travel tips and experiences. Being as I am in the last month of my life as an undergraduate student here at Bilkent University, this is a very special piece for me to write, because it embodies everything I have experienced, adapted to and absorbed in my four years here as an international student. I never really expected, when I first came to Turkey, that the people I would meet and the things I would experience would have such a significant impact on my life and create memories that would always feel as if they were only yesterday.
Traveling in Turkey has been an overwhelmingly multifaceted and unique collection of experiences, and although I have now lost count of how many cities and regions I have visited, there are still many more to see, which I will not forget about even after I stop being a student here. In fact, I plan to spend the time between the end of my final examinations and the date of my graduation in exploring all the places I have not yet been able to – I would have it no other way. It has been through travel within Turkey that I have gotten to meet many different kinds of people, and to see various places and experience everything that is unique about each: the history, food, landscape and geography, dialect, ethnic background, traditions and much more. There is no denying that this country is by no means two-dimensional; rather it is constructed from such a distinctive and diverse mosaic of people, history and cultures that no matter where you go, you’ll find some aspect of the area and its people that is completely one of a kind. This amalgam of variations is what makes Turkey an exciting and endless place to explore, never leaving a dull moment for those who seek its treasures and secrets.
My favorite among the areas I have traveled to in Turkey is difficult to choose; although many have asked me about this, I have yet to settle on a single answer. Each general area of the country has given me something I have loved and had never before seen.
The area in the southwest, from İzmir to Antalya, is a vast region blessed with the breathtaking natural beauty of mountains and coastlines, but more than that, historical landmarks and treasures that retain their timeless fascination and mystery. It is truly an experience like no other to walk through Ephesus or hike the Lycian Way past Myra and all the way to Olympos. The Marmara Sea area of Turkey, which includes İstanbul, needs no description of its limitless aesthetic and historic significance, in relation to not only Turkey but the whole world. The region along the Black Sea coast boasts some of the most peaceful, calm and green landscapes one can ever see. Not heavily populated or industrialized, these areas preserve the natural beauty that the land holds and within it, all the history of that land as well. Places like Rize, Trabzon, Amasra and Akçakoca have no competitors in that region when it comes to such beauty, as well as the wondrous hospitality of the people. Central Anatolia’s unique landscape always takes my breath away; the mountains and the plants, so magnificent and old, remind you of the vastness of the planet as they stretch far and wide, holding under the ground so many mysterious histories still uncovered. And lastly, there is the eastern part of Turkey, which itself can be divided into the northeast and the southeast, both so historically rich and diverse. And all of this is just an overly generalized depiction of the country, in which these areas contain within themselves such diverse and various features.
Beyond just the sites and landscapes, I cannot ignore the great love and hospitality of the people in Turkey. They have been some of the most helpful, kind and generous people I have ever met. Prior to coming here, I had not known what to expect but assumed, given the general Middle Eastern culture, that people would be joyful and kind. What I found was that, and much more. I have been lucky to have gotten to know so many people from Turkey and to have had an opportunity to understand the culture, traditions and lifestyle in such depth. I have gained a second family in this country through the immense love and care I have received, and that’s not even including the non-Turkish people I have met in my four years here. Getting to that now, as an international student it was inevitable that I would come to know many more international than Turkish students, and I consider myself lucky to have created a family for myself from them, too. Not only have I gained sisters and brothers for life, but I have also gotten to learn so much about the various cultures, languages and lifestyles of the countries surrounding Turkey that I would have never known otherwise.
My experience in Turkey may or may not speak to that of others, as everyone is unique in the way they receive and perceive their own experiences. But one thing I am certain about is that living in and coming to know Turkey from the perspective of more than just a tourist has been positively unique and unforgettable; and to have seen and understood a country that is so wrongly perceived by much of the rest of the world has created an urge within me to advocate and represent the nation as a part of myself, which it has surely become, and to continue exploring the land and its people, of whose wonders and charms there is no end.