My life as a student in Turkey for the last two years has been a journey with so many thrilling experiences and memories, and as always I have many to thank. I’ve had a great life, have tried and experienced new things and most of all have made friends for life. Though not everything went as smoothly as I hoped anything I could have expected would never amount to the amazing time I had.
20 September 2013, 7:00am touching down Istanbul. My first experience ever in Turkey was a frantic one. As I arrived at Ataturk International Airport, I had about an hour before my next flight, that’s 30 minutes to figure out the entry-point and domestic flights section, getting my passport stamped as well as checking-in. Surprisingly I couldn’t find anyone who spoke English at the airport. After a bit of a struggle I eventually found the entry point and had to ask to go in front as there were super long queues. I was the last one to check-in, with less than 2 minutes before check-in closed. I managed to board on time.
Despite the language barrier, I was delighted by the friendliness of people in Turkey. Most people in Turkey would do as much as they can to assist foreigners. They would try to speak English or use tools like google-translator to try to understand and would always offer help.
I was thrilled by the efficiency of the transport system in Turkey especially in comparison to Zimbabwe where public transport is a nightmare to most if not all. From cheap domestic flights, Subway-trains, Municipality buses and boats, in some cases Kombies (just a little more organised than ours) to well-organised road networks. Turkey’s transport system amazed me.
One of the greatest things about my stay in Turkey was the opportunity to meet and make more friends. So during my first year in Turkey I took the Turkish language course at Dokuz Eylul University. I was at a school with people from different parts of the world and it was amazing how people of different cultures could mingle and get together well. I made great friends, some of whom I even travelled with around Turkey and can always hangout with. I had a chance to try out new stuff. I boarded a roller-coaster for the first time (thrilling but terrifying), diving in the Mediterranean and Aegean seas, Drag-racing, Ice-skating, travelling and more.
After my Turkish preparatory year, I was ready for my first year at Izmir Institute of Technology. As excited as any prospective student, I was looking forward to it. I made a lot of good friends, this time mostly locals. The university is located just outside Izmir, by the Aegean Sea with beautiful mountain landscapes on the other side and a small beach along the sea. I got lucky and was admitted at the campus hostels, so I don’t have to worry about transport or time.
As I started, my academic life began getting rough. Firstly because though the university operates in English apparently no one actually speaks it. Even some of my lecturers are not too good at elaborating in English. So I have to do pretty much everything by myself and when assignments get really, really tough then I have to Skype Rodwell, Destiny or Tinashe for assistance and share screens while explaining. It was a big challenge. The Turkish that I learnt is so basic it doesn’t match classroom terminology. Secondly classes were just too difficult; the university generally has a history of students dropping out (sometimes even half the students) because it’s a challenging one. As a result I had an overwhelming first year and I could note a decline in my grades. Though I managed to pass all my courses, I’m not quite satisfied with the performance. I am hoping to improve on that next semester.
During my stay I also encountered things that were a little unusual to me. Most of the people I meet in Turkey ask me questions that sometimes sound funny or somewhat ridiculous. Questions like:
“Do you play with lions in Africa?”
“Why doesn’t your English sound African?” (The stereotypical African English sounds like a West African)
“I once had a friend from Ghana, by the name Blah Blah Blah, Do you know him?”
“Is there war in your country?”
“How did you know about Turkey?”
“How did you come to Turkey?”
“Where did you buy your clothes?”
I get these and more almost every day. Many people out there believe that Africa is one tiny village with nothing but strange stuff only. Before I left home, I never knew about the stereotypes that people outside Africa have about Africa, and now that I know, I still don’t know where to begin answering some of these questions. Sometimes when a person is approaching I know how the conversation would go, so I usually put my earphones on and pretend to be asleep – usually in buses or in subways. I always try to answer, but one answer brings another question. And even if I explain, particularly the stereotypes they still won’t believe it. They would rather believe National Geographic Channel, which I think exaggerates.
I get a lot of stares as well. People seem not to blink when they stare, I think because Africans are rare in Turkey so when people there see some they get really curious. Another thing is; quite often I find people staring, pointing, smiling, laughing or even talking about me in my presence. As much as it annoys me, I came to the realisation that it probably comes naturally; they don’t really mean to be rude. And also our hair fascinates people in Turkey. People walk up to me and suddenly touch and rub my head and the question that usually follows is “How did you do that to your hair?” or “How do you wash your hair?” So I wear hats most of the time. I don’t mind the questions; I hate the rubbing. I’m “Team Don’t Touch My Head”.
That sums up my life in Turkey for the last two years. After the stay, I had missed home so much. I really needed some time in Zimbabwe with friends and family to relieve school stress. I’m glad to have escaped the hot Turkish summers just that now I have to go through three winters (oh boy)!