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My first few days in Istanbul

by Carmen McClelland

View when walking to campus from the dorms

I have been in Istanbul for about 5 days now and it is not what I expected. I wasn’t sure what I would expect because I have only been to Western Europe, but it’s very different compared to Western cities. The biggest surprise has been the cats. There are many, many cats that wander the streets of Istanbul. I had never seen so many cats in one place before! They are not afraid of humans either, but instead act as housecats would. They hop on your lap, nuzzle your legs, and one cat even started pawing my hair. I am shocked by their numbers. There are many dogs here as well, but the cats completely outnumber them.

I have also discovered that public transportation is fairly easy. I thought it would be much worse because of the sheer amount of people in this city but it runs fairly smoothly. Sometimes you have to wait for the next tram because the first one was too full, but they run consistently on time. I think I would be writing with a different tune if the public transportation was bad. The taxi drivers are my least favorite part of transportation. It is obvious that I am a tourist (my American accent and lack of Turkish do not help), and they try to take advantage of that by making us pay more for a taxi ride then if we were locals. I was able to haggle my first taxi ride and pay what I think was fair and what the driver did as well, and I will admit that I did a little jump in the middle of Taksim Square.

On our way to dinner in Bebek

On our way to dinner in Bebek

I should have studied more Turkish before I arrived because you need to know some. There are a lot of people that speak English but there are some that don’t, and if they do, it is pretty broken and they don’t understand everything you are saying. My AIFS group has a wonderful woman, Gamze, who also attends Bogazici and helps us with learning new words. Without her, our group would be struggling a lot more then we currently are. We have actually had the best luck because one of our members speaks fluent Turkish! She has been handling details at the restaurants, taxis, and other occasions where it is best to let her handle it because she is the most capable. We still try and learn a few Turkish words each day, and hopefully I will be able to take the Turkish for Foreigners course so that I can do a better job negotiating, and especially ordering in restaurants.

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