Hello! My name is Eleanor Diamond and I will be starting a year long placement in Istanbul in a couple of weeks. I do Middle Eastern Studies which is a rather vague sounding degree with the massive perk of taking International Relations courses at Istanbul Bilgi University. I’m leaving in a day and a half and have just finished an immense but satisfactory packing job. So far this, finding accommodation and sorting out banking and insurance and Visas and all the other grown up stuff that suddenly manifests itself when making arrangements to leave the country has kept my mind of my actual arrival.
And now I am very unsure of what to expect in the upcoming months. But of course therein lies the point of going away. In my imagination Istanbul has taken on a peculiar hybrid quality; half glossy and touristy, gleaned from shiny propaganda, and half ancient seat of Empire, this taken from the little I know about Byzantium. Clearly these are both unreliable sources to prepare me for actually living there. I rather prefer to avoid thinking about what it might really be like so as to be pleasantly surprised and completely impartial once I get there. Of course I can’t entirely ignore the fairly major undertaking of moving to a foreign city. What I am mainly hoping for is that I do get to make some Turkish friends and don’t just spend time with other International Students, I’m sure they will be very nice but I would like to hear what people who actually live in Istanbul have to say about their city. Still, I am very aware that any daydreams of me mingling in cafés (by this point fluent in Turkish) maybe having a political chat etc. are far fetched indeed.
So far my experience with Turkey has been with the Turkish Consulate. I have made a quite dispiriting discovery about this, which is probably very obvious to most people; The Consulate is not a glamorous institution at all. Up until I encountered the rigmarole that is the Visa Application I had always assumed it was part and parcel of some sexy world as alluded to in colonial style travel writing. Sadly this is not the case. There is nothing romantic about queuing up early in the morning outside a building in Knightsbridge not knowing what you are actually waiting for because everything is written in Turkish.
One thing I did gladly notice is that my Teach Yourself Turkish book is not lying when it says Turkish people often express their disapproval by tutting a lot. I was surrounded by tutting and glaring. If I can perfect this mannerism over the year I will be happy in the same way as when my French tutor complemented me on my Gallic shrug.