Cansu Cabucak is a junior philosophy major from Izmir, Turkey.
What were you expecting before you came to the US?
Sadly, Hollywood plays a huge role in the perception of the US. As a child, I always imagined America as being full of wealthy and attractive people with their Starbucks coffees. Because of this influence, I only really knew about California and New York. When I thought of America, I thought of this country of beauty and money.
I had very contradictory views, though. People also referred to Americans being less intelligent; that was another thing I kept hearing. I had also heard about fast food and obesity, but had this image of extraordinarily beautiful, successful people.
What was it like when you did come to the US?
When I first came to the US, I spent a short time in Florida, in Orlando and Miami. There were cafés where you could eat outdoors; it was warm. It felt almost European, especially in Key West. It was pretty much how I expected it to be, probably because it was an affluent area. However, there were times when I didn’t feel safe, which was very different from how I had expected America to be; I had thought that when I was there I would be very safe.
Later, I was an exchange student in Cass City, Michigan. That was the time when I realized there was another America. Coming from Turkey, I thought that I lived in a very conservative culture, but I had never experienced such conservatism as when I lived there [in Michigan].
There were controversial things in the high school I attended; some of the girls at the school were pregnant. Things like that may happen in Turkey, but it is extremely rare. In villages in eastern Turkey, perhaps it does, where girls are married very young, but where I went to school, teenage pregnancy was almost unheard of. Also, since abortion has been accepted for a long time in Turkey, I was very surprised that people were still talking about abortion being wrong in Michigan.
This was also the first time in my life that I felt religion forced on me. I was the target of many religious friends, churches and youth groups. I did go to church for part of that year, just for fun, but I have never been religious. It was very strange, having people trying to convert me all the time, especially when I had thought of America as a progressive place.
What is a difference or a similarity that you see between the US and Turkey?
American trends come to Turkey. Turkey often has familial housing, where family members either live together or very close by. Now, however, many people are starting to buy apartments away from their families and lose the community culture. It can be good in some ways, but I think we are losing our authenticity. It is happening with individualism, and also with fast food.
Abigail Hindson is a junior anthropology and Spanish major from La Crosse, WI.
What did you expect before you went to Turkey?
When I am preparing for a trip, I actually try not to think too much about where I’m going, not to expect anything; when I get there, I just want to soak it up.
However, I was a little nervous because there had been violence in Syria earlier that year, and I was also nervous about traveling to a country where I didn’t speak the language.
What was it like when you got to Turkey?
One thing that really struck me was that I just saw mosques everywhere; I had also never been to a predominantly Muslim country before, so it looked very different. Also, Istanbul was just a sea of city. There were rolling hills of buildings and very little greenery anywhere. However, [the] friend that I was visiting was going to Boğaziçi University, which is right on the Bosporus, and you can look over to the Asian side and there were a lot of trees and funky boardwalk restaurants there.
Everyone was extremely kind and hospitable, which was wonderful. There was also a huge variety in dress styles. Obviously, you would see women in headscarves, but, although they might be wearing conservative clothes, they might also be wearing a shorter skirt, leggings or super fashionable boots. For me, it shattered a lot of the stereotypes you see in the media about Islam. And there were also a lot of people who didn’t wear headscarves.
We visited a particular corner in Istanbul [that] was special because it had a Greek Orthodox Church, a synagogue, and a mosque, all kitty-corner from each other. For me, that’s what Istanbul is about: cultures and religions colliding and coming together.
What is a big difference between the US and Turkey?
Well, it seems that a lot of times families will stay together and live in the same place for a long time. My friend in Istanbul told me that extended families owned many of the houses in her area, and that different family members lived on different floors.
I know that I felt as safe walking at night with other people [as] I do here, and a lot safer than I did in Ecuador. It seems like people watch out for each other a lot in Istanbul.