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Postcards: a love letter to Istanbul, courtesy of Carolyn Stransky

April 30, 2013

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Name: Carolyn Stransky’15  Twitter: @carostran  Instagram:_carostran

Hometown: Seattle, Wash.

Where are you studying abroad? Istanbul, Turkey!

What are the three most important things you packed in your suitcase? Why?

Leather jacket – People here go nuts over leather. I swear every single person in this city who isn’t wearing a burka owns a leather jacket. There is even an entire section of the Grand Bazaar devoted to leather.

Combat boots – The streets and sidewalks in this city are often extremely underdeveloped and can be difficult to walk on. My black combat boots are fit for every type of street or weather and they go with any outfit.  

iPod Touch – Easily the best purchase I’ve made out of an airport vending machine. This iPod has become my main source of communication within Istanbul and it has allowed me to stay synced with life back home.

What is the most unexpected thing you have encountered so far during your off-campus study experience?

My top three are:

1) having the bus I was on hit a woman and NO ONE caring

2) watching a sheep be killed outside of my apartment building as a celebration ritual and

3) some of my political science classes denying that the Ottoman Empire had anything to do with Turkey.  

Just shy of that list is the Turkish ‘squat’ toilet, which was also unexpected especially when it’s your only option after a night out.

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What is your favorite place in your host city/country?

I’ve noticed that I really like heights. Even back home in Seattle or in Beloit, my favorite spots are always lookouts with a clear view of the skyline or the roofs of buildings that provide a panorama of the campus. This trend continues in Istanbul. Whether it’s my cityscape laundry room that I’ve transformed into a writing space, the Kafka Café that extends over the water in Kadıköy where I get most of my studying done or the balcony in Taksim’s Papillon bar that serves as the perfect escape from a stressful day—scenery of the city is a guarantee.

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What is the best meal you’ve had abroad?

If I’m on the European side, nothing beats a fish sandwich from one of the boats lining the Karaköy fish market. The sandwiches themselves are simple—just a roll with fried fish, lettuce, onion and a squeeze of lemon—but they are fantastic.

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Location is also a large part of why these sandwiches are my favorite. The market they are sold at is located right off of the Galata Bridge, which is known as the vital link between the two sides of European Istanbul. Every day, dozens of local men form a row along the top level of this bridge and fish over the edge. The lower deck—directly under the walkway—is home to restaurants, bars, and teahouses with waterfront seating ideal for boat watching.
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What do you miss most from home/Beloit?

My sister Katie, Doritos Locos Tacos, everything Kappa Delta (because it’s near impossible to explain sororities abroad without it sounding like a cult), Starbucks that open before 7 a.m. and people that are able to speak English.

What is the biggest difference between Beloit and your host city/university? Similarity?

Similarity – Turkish Muslims perform a prayer ritual (namaz) five times daily, according to the tenets of Islam. The ezan (call to prayer) summons the faithful to the mosque for prayers. The ezan is chanted six times daily and can be heard throughout the entire city. Although the call to prayer itself does not happen in the United States, I find that the ezan is similar to the bells in the churches that ring every hour, half-hour, 15 minutes, etc.   

Difference – Mosques in the skyline! They are so majestic and beautiful.

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What has been your proudest/most exciting moment abroad?

My first weekend in Istanbul, a few flatmates and I went out with our landlord and his friend. We were driving over the bridge that crosses over the Bosporus and connects Asia and Europe, when our landlord opened the sunroof of his car and he told us to stand up (FYI there are almost no traffic laws enforced in Turkey). I timidly popped my head up through the window and opened my eyes to the buildings that sparkled over the darkened sea and the lights lining the bridge that seemed to fly by with each passing second. I could feel the wind dart through every strand of hair on my head and my heart was pounding with the knowledge that this was the only place on earth where I could casually cross between two continents while remaining in the same city.  

I wanted so desperately to feel alive since everyone said that this experience would change me, but—and as stereotypical and “perks-of-being-a-wallflower-esque” as it sounds—I hadn’t truly felt it until that moment.

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What will you bring home as a souvenir?

During the past three months, I’ve been heartbroken, gotten lost, developed a new perspective and lived under a different set of cultural values. Now I’m learning not to sweat the small stuff and I’m searching for strength within myself instead of looking to others for it. I’m realizing that the heart only aches as long as you let it. I may have gotten stuck, but I found freedom in being lost.

I rang in the third decade of my life on a metro bus passing over the same bridge where I learned to feel alive again. I now recognize that your 20s are a time to immerse yourself in every single thing possible: to travel, to explore and never touch the ground.

I was interviewed for an Austrian radio show and failed at keeping a blog. In this process, I devoted more time to drinking tea and exchanging stories. I rediscovered that everyone has gone through something that has changed him or her. Everyone has a story to tell and that is why I want to become a journalist.

They say fortune favors the bold and that the greatest rewards come from doing the things that scare you the most. Istanbul is a very large and crowded city, which can be overwhelming and even intimidating at times, but while some call it chaos, we now call it home. This city has forever changed me and I’m already jealous of everyone studying abroad next year.

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