Europe, Guest Posts, Travel Resources, Turkey

“That One Time In… Istanbul” – Rafael Batista

Welcome to this week’s That One Time In – the feature where fellow travelers share their stories of travel, adventure and everything in between.  If you would like to take part please get in touch – or @WhereinWorldKP – I would love to hear from you!

This week’s That One Time In features Rafael Batista who studies abroad in Istanbul. This is his story:


If you would have asked me at my high school graduation where I planned to be four year later my response would have been many things. I may have said I would be involved with politics – working for the governor or an active member of my university’s student government. I may have said I would be awaiting a response from law schools. Maybe I would have been in a relationship and worrying about what would happen once we graduated. I may have even said I would be studying abroad at one of FSU’s study center in London or Spain or Italy.

Where I am today is nowhere I expected to be, but damn does it feel good to be here. I write this from a hillside away from the Black Sea; on the outskirts of Istanbul. A month ago, I moved to Turkey for a “cultural exchange;” to study at Koc University for what is essentially my last semester as an undergraduate.

Preparing for my trip I had one expectation in mind, to set aside everything I thought I knew about this culture and attempt to learn everything I could first-hand. This is more difficult than it sounds, but upon arriving in a place like Istanbul this task has been a breeze.

Here, I must add, I did have another goal in mind. You see, along with my exchange, I am also working on my undergraduate thesis, exploring what makes life meaningful and what differences and similarities exist between cultures. With this in mind, I notice I am fascinated by stories of people I meet and the language barrier is something I often don’t notice anymore – people have ways of expressing life which go beyond spoken language.

 Just this week one of my tweets read:
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“@RafMBatista: Throughout most of my day I don’t understand the language around me. It’s weird; but not uncomfortable. I think this is important.”

 It’s important because so many of our world’s challenges are in fact challenges because of a lack of understanding. But when one accepts not understanding, they no longer feel threatened and things seem to run a bit more smoothly.

I have been here for over a month at this point. My weeks are spent studying; my weekends exploring. Always learning and discovering. I am satisfied with my courses – actually, quite fortunate – because each class not only adds to my knowledge of the world, but truly enriches my experience in Turkey.

 In Turkish Culture & Society we review the history of this nation and its people from the Ottoman Empire to popular culture today; two weeks ago, we discussed the Ottoman lifestyle while the weekend before I spent a night in a 375 year old Ottoman house in the heart of Safranbolu.

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Religion, Secularism, and Democracy focuses on democracy in Turkey. I am in class twice a week. And twice a week the people of Turkey take to the streets protesting for their freedoms. I now think that as Americans we almost take our freedom for granted. Maybe our democracy is simply more advanced, but regardless, compared to other parts of the world, our system works. The struggle is real, for real.

My two favorite classes are my cultural psychology courses: “Culture and Behavior” and “Culture and Self.” Both taught by the same professor, a leading cross-cultural psychologist in the world – the former, an undergraduate course, provides a general overview of the field while the latter is a graduate course examining the idea of postmodern idea of self as it develops within through culture. The discussions here are often comparative highlighting points of difference and similarity between collectivist cultures, such as Turkey’s, and individualistic cultures, such as the United States’. So when I say “I spend my weekdays studying” I don’t restrict it to textbooks, but also observing behavior, of others and my own.

Turkish people are some of the friendliest I have met, never missing an opportunity to offer some çay, the Turkish word for tea. Yet, ironically, their social circles can be impossible to break. The boundaries between in-group and out-group are quite clear so making friends with locals is not so easy. But I enjoy a challenge and I enjoy friends, so I will try and make some local friends before I leave.

 There’s three-fourths of this opportunity still left to experience. I plan to travel a lot, eat a lot, and sleep a little. I could probably go on and on about my time here thus far, but I need to get to bed – a paper to hand in in the morning before I catch a flight to Izmir. Overall, this is a new experience for me and, who knows, that could be the key to a meaningful life.

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[Rafael at Sultanahmet]

To follow Rafael on his adventures in Turkey, follow him on Twitter at @RafMBatista !

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