March 19, 2010

My Own Little Piece of Turkey

I feel like my Turkish friends will appreciate this more than my American friends, but then again, I could be wrong.

A little something I made up for my city:

February 16, 2010

New Beginnings: The Persuit of Happiness

After being back for a month, I was thinking that after leaving Turkey, the adventure had ended. Little did I know that really my adventure was just beginning. Yesterday, I got a callback from a job here in Houston. It might not sound like much but to me everything is something in order to get you to where you want to be. This is just another stepping stone on my path to being where I want to be; wherever that might be.

Also, discovering a Turkish market here in houston not far from where I live has also been kick ass. It is called Istanbul Market and it is located at 7912 Hillcroft Street. It has been a pleasure for me to share the delicious Turkish food that I had with the people who are around me now. With the food also comes the stories of my adventures and the promise of a good meal. Who knows, if this whole Aerospace Engineering thing doesn't pan out, i might just open a Turkish Restaurant here in Houston.

Thankfully, I can say that I have very supportive friends and family and that they will always share in my happiness.

You are what you eat and I am eating happiness one mouthful at a time!

January 27, 2010

Last Little Bits - Culture-Shock

Before I left Turkey, I thought that I would be the last person who would be dealing with culture-shock. Honestly, I thought that I would be able to adapt to anything after coming back from Turkey, but after coming back to America, I am not so sure of that.

Everyday, I see my friends they ask me how my semester was and then they ask me where I went. After I tell them Turkey, they all were thankful that I returned from the 'Middle East' safely. -forehead slap- It has gotten so tiresome correcting my family and friends as well as pointing to where Turkey is in relation to the Middle East and not actually part of it. But I digress... My answer to the former question fluctuates between "the most incredible experience of my life" and "the worst part of it was having to come back." When I say this, I immediatly have to recoil with their second question that almost certainly comes after I say that. "Tell me about it," (mind you that even television or cliff notes can't summarize four months of events in 5 minutes.) I tell them, sorry friend, I need more than just seeing you in passing to tell you about the new foods that I ate, the new language that I learned, the people that I met, the trips that I took, the adventures that I had, the places that I lived, the culture that I learned, the history that I experienced, and the sheer joy that I had through it all; and that isn't even talking about the classes that I took. (btw the classes that I took were harder than the Rice classes, because believe it or not, most of the classes that I took were masters courses and my professors were actually harder on the international students than the local students. Thanks Redford)

I made friends who were students, I made friends who were graduate students, and I even made friends of peoples family members. Being introduced to people's family like Candan's father, to Sema's mom, and to Ekim's family was as important to me as meeting the president of the US because of the fact that they went out of their way to arrange a meeting with the person they respect the most.  I would also add that my outgoing personality helped me meet a great deal of people and my brave new world mentality helped me to always look forward to the new and changing things in my life.  I still have to say that Yasımın and Dorukhan were the best mentors and my best friends. From chocolate parties to entering keyif by smoking nargile on top of Sariyer, they showed me so much of their lives. It was not enough for me to just have the new experiences but to cherish them, because, sadly, they would not last forever no matter how much I wanted them to.

The fast paced nature of American society made the week that I have been here fly by and what once might have been 2 days in Turkey seems like so much shorter here. Everything there moved in its own time. I aptly named it Türk Saat, but it had its own variations from person to person (Sema Saat) as well as in traveling to get somewhere as well. The time that it took to get something done was not based solely on schedules and machines. It was based on people and their relation with other people. Things happened when they happened and they happened in their own time. It might have been a bit slower than I wanted them to happen, but waiting made them that much more appealing.

Finishing my last final and going out for a good bye drink with my friend Canan, was a real heart jerker because it was one of those evenings where you are forced to remember. I will always hold that night dear. Even working until the last day, packing my entire life up in a few short hours,  and having to battle a snow storm to leave was an experience. Having my first snowball fight as I was leaving campus for the last time and even overcoming vertigo for a breathtaking view of Istanbul that night as it covered in snow during the freak blizzard when I climbed the Galata tower. All of these experences were defined by their location within the finite.

I did not get the opportunity to live with a host family in country, but people took me in and introduced me to their families. I had conversations with mothers, fathers, siblings, and friends of my friends. This is something, that I am sure of, most of the other exchange students didn't even think about. It was all thanks to the language. Unfortunately, I didn't know Turkish before I left for Turkey, but I studied hard, I asked my friends to teach me, I asked for extra practice, and I went out and I used the new found language that I learned. Sadly, very few people that I meet now either speak Turkish or know that I speak Turkish now. What once was something I was proud of (a yabanci speaking Turkish) seems to have degraded into what I dare say is almost a useless skill here. Here, I do not have to speak to the dolmuş driver in Turkish to tell him where I want to go, I do not have to speak to the vendors in the Pazar in Turkish to buy fruits and vegetables for dinner (if there were any Pazars here...), I do not have to converse with my friends who don't speak English confidently enough or are tired from speaking a foreign language in Turkish, or speak with the cleaning staff sharing my life and quelling their curiosity of me in Turkish. I miss it. It seems like a part of me has died.

I find myself coping with this by being in the kitchen daily, like I was in S-dorm. Luckily, I had friends like Sema, Fatoş, and Melody to help me eat it. I have been home for exactly one week and the number of Turkish dishes that I have made is more than 10. It's my own little way to grieve I guess or a better word would be to cope. Either way, mom doesn't seem to mind and I am still losing weight, so it can't be all too bad.

I guess the hardest thing about returning to the US is that there is nothing for me here. I have finished with my degrees, I have quit both my jobs, I am not going to school, my friends are all taking classes and I have very little money. I guess the prospects of having a job in Turkey and making a life for me was more of a dream compared to the dim reality of what I would find when I returned.  Everyone's got to have hope I guess. Also, the closeness is gone. The physical contact with other people just seems so foreign to people living here. Random people guys+girls giving you hugs or kissing you on the cheek; the lack of personal space, and the genuine interest in how you are are not here. It feels a little backwards here after learning to like it in country.

Either way, I believe that mom has said it best and conveyed my feelings in words when she said, "Four months isn't long enough; it's only good for a taste. You needed to stay longer, but sadly it wasn't meant to be." How true she is.

You are what you eat,
and I am remembering every last bit

Thanks for reading!


January 17, 2010


Everything left up to chance. Here a coin flip and the flick of a pen define where I will be and what I will do. Either I leave in 2 days or I'm here for 7 more months. It's a little all or nothing, but I wouldn't have it any other way.

"The future belongs to those of us who are still willing to get our hands dirty!"
I'm willing. I am able. I will do what I have to. Do not underestimate me!

I didn't get it, but I took a chance and that was good enough. Nothing ventured, nothing gained. :)

See you when I get back to Houston.

January 12, 2010


So last week I got a really nice little email from career services here on Koç campus that said that I had an interview at an Aerospace and simulation company here in Turkey. After dropping my resume off to them on a whim, I had landed an interview with a small but reputable company here in Turkey. One problem: the interview was scheduled during my Turkish final. After a fair bit of freaking out and then 50 mins of taking care of business and getting my interview rescheduled for Monday, I was back on stable ground.

The interview was the complete opposite of the trouble that it took to get there. Rainy, cold, windy weather closed the sea bus and an unfortunate series of events that canceled all the dolmuşes to the Asian side would have really ticked me off if I hadn't left 3 and a half hours before my interview. 2 taxis, a minibus, a bus, and a conversation with my maker I arrived suited up and ready for my interview.

Upon getting there a man who looked remarkably like my Robotics professor started the interview in the elevator on the way up to the office. Little did I know, that my interviewer was his little brother. -It really is a small world- This make the 3rd person in his family I have met (the second was my Robotics professor's wife, aka my Systems of Vibrations professor). With the way things are going, I am just waiting for an introduction to the kids so they can call me uncle Jordan. 3.25 hours later and a lunch on the company they ask me to name a price.

I've decided on a pretty nice sum. I will tell them tomorrow. Let's see how this turns out...

January 3, 2010

Family: The Key To Turkey’s Success

In my search for the best food, the most exciting places to go, and to immerse myself in the culture of the amazing country that I have been to, I have encountered one really important aspect of Turkey that many other exchange students haven’t. I am speaking about family. Forget that on every single official form that you have to fill out for Turkey there is a small and inconspicuous box for your religion or that it claims to be a secular country. Forget that here Christmas is not seen as a holiday and there are classes that are held on it. Though it kind of makes you miss the stereotypical white Christmas that is the norm in the states.  Forget there are many New Years decorations to help offset this. Forget the colorful lights, icicles, New Years trees, and commercial ventures by companies to sap people for as much money as they can. It’s the family ties that I see that give me a small slice of home in this far away land. Because we don’t have our families here we band together to generate a small sense of normalcy. This of course culminated in the exchange student’s wonderful Christmas dinner before we all parted ways. Even on the small scale that we did it, it helped fill the missing part in our hearts; our families. None of the exchange students can remember spending a Christmas apart for their families nor would they want to.
Traveling to Ankara by train on Christmas day to visit my friend Ekim helped me fill this void in my own special way. Seeing a sense of familliarness as well as belonging, I stayed with her and her family for two days, laughing, eating, dancing, and enjoying the family time that we spent together. Even if it was short and even though I was working on my Seljuk paper for a great deal of the time, I still had a wonderful time connecting with her and her family. Eating dinner with her family at an amazing fish restaurant in Ankara (weird because Ankara is completely landlocked), was complimented by the gratuitous amounts of nuts and fruits that came my way from the infamous Turkish Hospitality. After sitting down for breakfast together with her family, enjoying the delicious sour cherry jam Ekim had made for me, her father asked me, kind of out of the blue, how did Turkey compare with the United States? There was only one thing that came to mind; Family. I tried to express to him that in America, or at least in my family, we lacked the togetherness that I have witnessed here in Turkey. No matter how far someone might be, they always feel right next to you here. He expressed that family was the base stone for which this country was founded. With a strong foundation on family, the country has turned from a land of peasants and sultans, to a world power in just under 100 years. Tying his own family history as well as meeting his wife and forging a future for his family out of the education that he received was truly an inspiring story. I was humbled by his statement and his history. It made me recall my own mothers tale of traveling far and wide and overcoming adversity at every step in order to make a future for herself and eventually making it to America.
For the New Year, most of my Turkish friends told me that they were going to spend New Years with their families; it struck me as a little odd. In America, we celebrated year after year with our friends. It wasn’t any different for us being here because we would celebrate New Years with our friends. It struck me then with the full force that Ekim’s father imparted to me. The reason that my Turkish friends went to celebrate New Years with their families wasn’t because they were obligated, it was because they had their families here and because their society and their culture was based on the togetherness of their family. I cannot say that just because we did not have our families here we would not enjoy ringing in the New Year. In fact, we had created our own family from the people who also could not be with their families. We decided to have a more toned down celebration focusing more on the actual night rather than on where we would be going. That being the case we celebrated together under the Bosphorus Bridge in a small neighborhood of Istanbul called Ortaköy. From the sea side, we watched the fireworks shot from numerous ferries crossing the water with about a 1000 other people who had the same thoughts as we did. With the waves splashing and the sounds of distant fireworks, the Bridge lit up with thousands of flashing lights. After saying our well wishes and sharing our memories of the past year, we decided to ring in the New Year the only way we knew how; dancing! After dancing until the early morning, I finally made it back to my bed the next day. I can say that 2009 was definitely a good year filled with the memories of love, friendship, hope, and success. While I bid adieu to last year, I am looking forward to the promise of 2010 in front of me with all that it has to offer and with a new focus of the importance of family in whatever shape it might take. 
Until next time,
you are what you eat, and I am eating in the company of my new family!

December 13, 2009

White and Black: The Cairo Diaries

While many other exchange students flocked to European destinations there were a few of us that decided to delve further into the Middle East. After a decision made on a whim, I decided to travel to Cairo with my friend Melody to experience the wonders of Egypt. Little did I know it would be the start of what I have come to refer to as the Cairo Diaries.
From the first day, the problems with the trip were apparent. Booking my taxi early because it was Bayram was all for naught when the taxi company called me to cancel my reservation 3 hours before our flight. Luckily I was able to flag down a taxi dropping off a Koç student and negotiate a deal with him to take us to Atatürk Airport. Luckily for us our flight was delayed 3 and a half hours due to the dense fog that descended on the city of Istanbul. Luckily there were other exchange students going to Egypt and conversation in the newly found free time made the delay fly by. After keeping our pickup waiting for 4 hours, we had to go through Egyptian customs and purchasing visas. Unfortunately for me, the banks of Egypt did not exchange Turkish Lira for Egyptian Pounds. I don’t think that I loathed not having any American currency more. Luckily for me, Melody was able to access her account and we were on our way.
Our first views of Cairo came into focus out of the back of a 1970’s Diesel Mercedes with our hosts Amad and his cousin Fatma. The crowded streets of 18 million people with the sounds of incessant honking and clouds of black smoke were, putting it lightly, overwhelming. Completely submerged in the Arabic speaking country and the swirls of youth that surrounded us wherever we went, we made our way to a district of Cairo called Heliopolis where our hosts lived. Our generous hosts prepaired mountains of food for us, the weary travelers. Plates of salted fish, eggs with beef bacon, warm pita, and hummus were complimented by the travel stories that we heard. Our hosts would not let us leave until we downed our 3rd plate of food and insisted that we were too thin and needed to eat more. Needless to say, we were both uncomfortably full, but happy that we had made it to Cairo in on piece. Masha-allah(Maşallah)!
There wasn’t enough room for me to stay with the family. Luckily, I booked the closest hostel to where Melody was staying to make getting together more feasible. After what seemed like 2 hours of driving through the crowded downtown streets of Cairo, in what seemed like the 1970’s from all the black and white checkered taxis, we arrived at the Jasmine Hotel. So far, the language barrier had not been an issue, but deep down I knew eventually it would…
The next day I arranged transportation to the Pyramids of Giza. Driving down the highway in the back of the hotel manager’s friends car at speeds faster than taxi drivers coming from Taksim, we caught our first glimpses of the Pyramids looming on the horizon after crossing over the Nile river. The pyramids were on the outskirts of town and upon reaching them; we used our ISIC cards to wrangle discounts on both the enterance fee to the area and on Camels to take us through the desert!

The greenery that we were once surrounded with completely replaced by desolate desert! Tourist police on Arabian horseback patrolled the area like vultures and we were only able to climb up to the 10th or 11th stone on the smaller pyramid before getting yelled at for climbing a priceless structure.
I would say that the biggest problem with our travel was the fact that Melody and I were not married and just friends traveling together. It was such an alien concept to them that we just said that we were married in order to belile their speculations. This worked until we got to Alexandra after riding the Egyptian rail. We decided to get dinner at a restaurant famous for its seafood and walked along the port sea wall to get there. Apparently, we had not got the memo that a white girl from Canada and a black guy with dreadlocks from America was such a big event. Swarms of children, their parents presumably at Friday prayers, turned into our official entourage and proceeded to follow us and yell at us the only English that they knew. Unfortunately for us, it was either ‘where are you from?’ or a colorful swear word that they presumably learned from American television. It wasn’t until we heard ‘white and black’ from one of the young children behind us that we understood our situation. While the calls made us uncomfortable at times, our hunger was our motivation to press on.
Reaching our destination, we proceeded to order, in English, grilled, whole fish, calamari, while plate after plate of meze were set in front of us. Pickled carrots and peppers, hummus, babaganush, brown rice, salad, and pita were stacked 2 high on our table. Needles to say, we were in food heaven. Finishing off our epic dinner with tea we dropped 120 Egyptian pounds, roughly 23 American dollars, and explored more of the city ending up at the fort at the tip of the city before proceeding back to our hotel.  
Our travels, which did infact correspond to the Muslim holiday of Al-Hajj, only really hampered our aspirations to visit the Biblioteca Alexandria, which was closed for the duration of our time there. Luckily, we turned disappointment into time spent on the white sand beaches of southern Mediterranean. We saw a fully burkaed woman splashing around in the water with her husband and his friends and a lifeguard dressed in street clothes yelling at the kids swimming that he was not dressed to save them if they needed help. Sleeping on the beach, we soaked up the warm sun while our clothes dried.

Returning to Cairo late one afternoon, we decided to go to a quaint French and Egyptian restaurant in the heart of downtown Cairo. The crowds and crowds of people and the fact that we were literally elbow to elbow with people for almost half a kilometer made getting to the restaurant quite difficult and aggravating, but completely worth it when we were seated in the almost completely empty restaurant. After escaping Turkey, I thought I would take a break from eating meat with every meal. Sadly, the waiter did not accept my sentiments and after thoroughly convincing me to eat meat proceeded to bring our order with a stuffed pigeon. The food was incredible with the expected mezes close at hand. The pigeon was definitely a good recommendation a dish that I will surely not forget.
Rounding out our trip, we returned to Cairo in order to pick up souvenirs for our friends in Turkey and our families back home. Conveniently, many of the shop owners did not speak Turkish, which gave us a separate language in which to haggle while we were bargaining with the vendors. It was a perfect opportunity for us to practice our Turkish as well as getting the base price on all the items we brought back.
After what seemed to be a trip free of language complications, we tried to take a taxi back to Heliopolis. Unfortunately for us, he didn’t know the area we wanted to go in Heliopolis and between Melody and I being able to speak English, Spanish, French, and Turkish we were not able to get anywhere without speaking Arabic. Luckily for us, the cab driver had a cell phone and we were able to contact our hosts and were successfully able to navigate our way back to their place.
With the troubles that we had in getting to Cairo, leaving it was thankfully uneventful. This was offset by our complications with transportation in order to get us back to campus. Thankfully after only a 30 minute setback and ending up in Bakıköy, we were able to get back on the right track.
Gürüşürüz arkasaşlarım!
You are what you eat, and I am eating the world!