It’s funny how one decision sets life on a completely different course. After having a week that left me feeling unusually comfortable with my life in Germany – definitely the most comfortable I’ve felt since arriving in June – I wanted to reflect on just how I ended up here. When had I decided that committing to a full-time life in Washington wasn’t what I wanted and that being an unemployed, degree-holding American living in Marburg would make me so happy? I guess there are different ways to answer these questions – though why I’m here in Germany seems pretty obvious – but, ultimately, it all comes back to my time in Istanbul.
I came very close to deciding not to go to Istanbul. I applied reluctantly, and to be honest, I think I questioned my decision the entire two months leading up to departure. I spent the entire day before my flight crying and trying to figure out how to re-enroll at UNC. The only thing that got me on the plane was the fact that my three best friends had already left for their own semesters abroad, and if I was going to be alone somewhere it may as well have been Turkey. It’s the best decision I’ve ever made and it has given me some of the best times and some of the greatest relationships.
I am so unbelievably grateful to Istanbul. I know that everyone studies abroad and that everyone has the time of their life, but my time in Istanbul was different. I needed to be there. At home, I was stuck, unsure of myself and a little lost. Istanbul gave me a different routine, it challenged me, terrified me and forced me to grow. Not only did I learn to read maps and navigate the sidestreets of Taksim, but I found independence, learned not to sweat all the little things (how very Turkish of me), became more confident, and found happiness. Not to mention I found the funniest, loudest German, but that’s a story for another time.
Being an English-speaker in a non-English speaking country, everything was that much harder. The proudest moment from my entire time abroad – now that I can properly look back on it in retrospect – also happens to be the most terrifying, and it happened my first night in the city. I hesitantly chose a taxi sitting outside the airport, beginning my bizarre two-hour (and 75 lira) journey through the stupidly confusing streets of Meceideyköy with my very friendly, talkative driver. With no way to explain where exactly the driver was supposed to take me and no way to contact my roommates, the two of us drove around to three buildings – all inconveniently with the same name – looking for my apartment. While I frantically searched through messages for the address, my driver passed the time by telling me about his kids, his divorce, and pointing out where the police had found the body of a murdered American tourist. After a while, I did find the right building and spent the rest of the evening eating grape leaves and drinking çay with my neighbors.
Looking back, this was the most terrifying thing that could have happened. I was alone in a completely foreign city, with no directions, no phone, and very little Turkish, trusting this cab driver not to drive off with all of my belongings while I roamed the streets at night. But at the time it was the most incredible thing I’d accomplished by myself (though I did spend the majority of the night crying once the adrenaline wore off..). I distinctly remember thinking it seriously cannot get any worse than that and with that attitude, I took on Istanbul.
I was right, it only got better. Though Istanbul continued to challenge my patience and my courage, it also showed me how to be resilient and strong, and that when shit happens it isn’t the end of the world, that you just deal with it. Whether it was getting dropped off at 2 AM on the side of a highway by a cab driver trying to rip us off or the nightmares of navigating Turkish bureaucracy, I am better for all of it.
It was in Istanbul that I fell in love with exploring different cultures; it taught me to absorb everything – the good and the bad – and to learn from it and to grow from it. And as hard and frustrating as it is living somewhere foreign and completely outside of my comfort zone, that challenge is exciting – dare I say addicting. When I came home from Turkey, everything was different. While my friends got carried away applying for jobs, I started to unravel my seemingly sure life plan. I was less and less excited by the idea of applying for jobs in Washington, not wanting to be stuck somewhere right out of school. Instead, I wanted to see and do everything. So F and I started to plan where our long-distance relationship would go next. Fast forward through an incredible senior year, two German classes, a tearful graduation, planning and re-planning, and here I am.
Living in Germany hasn’t been as difficult as living in Istanbul – mostly because I’ve got F for backup – but it’s still been a challenge. I’m just now starting to know Germany, slowly and mostly by trial-and-error. I’ve seen how painful eighty-year-old scars can still be for some people, learned that you won’t publicly see German patriotism unless it’s during the World Cup, and discovered that the Turkish döner has become almost as German as sausages and schnitzel. Germany is punctual, cloudy, neat, and doesn’t mess around when it comes to their fußball, their 4 o’clock coffees, and their cars.
After the great week that I had – so great that I actually caught myself thinking of Germany as home on Tuesday – I think Istanbul deserves a huge round of applause for pushing me here. And one day I’d like to get around to putting all the stories, the lessons, and the kooky characters down on paper for everyone to read.
Have you ever had a city or a decision have such a profound impact on the direction of your life? Are you as terrified as I am to think where you’d be without it?