When I was little, I used to beg my dad to tell stories from his time in Japan during college. Together, we filled my childhood room with his old maps and souvenirs. I dreamed of going to a place that felt far away yet familiar. At the end of each story, he would remind me of the importance of trying new things, exploring new places, and sitting comfortably in the unknown. So, in my undergraduate studies, I took his words seriously and jumped at any opportunity to go abroad.
Indiana University’s extensive network of partnering universities abroad and the vast funding opportunities to support my dream of traveling the world were huge selling points for me.
I didn’t really know what I wanted to study at first—I knew I liked learning languages; I knew I was interested in political theory, security studies, and history, but that all felt vague and undefined. That is, until I learned about the Hamilton Lugar School, exposing me to the possibility of combining my interests in gaining regional expertise, language learning, and policy work all into one.
In particular, my Eurasia classes enraptured me, and I began studying Turkish, majoring in the Central Eurasian (CEUS) department. For two years, I studied as much as I could before I got the chance to spend a summer in Istanbul with my classmates, advancing our Turkish language acquisition levels.
The whole experience was incredible and surreal. I had arrived in Istanbul, jumped right into classes at Boğaziçi University, met my roommates from all different cities in the U.S., and explored the city at every opportunity we could. My IU classmates and I used weekends to fly to other parts of the country to meet up with our tutors and teachers who were home for the summer. We attended local movie showings, comedy circuits, and lectures on Ottoman art history. Our world was idyllic, safe, and full of adventure and new things. One of the best parts was that HLS helped me receive Foreign Language and Area Studies (FLAS) funding, allowing me to focus on being a fully-immersed student that summer, not having to worry about how I was going to pay for my stay.
There was one special day, around three weeks into my study abroad program, when I remember walking into my favorite Poğaça shop. The owner immediately brought a pastry and coffee to the register. We exchanged greetings, and I assured him that I would be back tomorrow. It was my Papaw’s birthday that day, so I took my breakfast to the college campus to call him. I remember the absurdity of the moment, realizing my “corrected” Midwestern accent was slipping to match his Tennessee drawl—all while the Call of Prayer was sounding in the background. I was in Istanbul—so very far from home—yet I had a morning routine, regular-customer status, and a metro card and student ID in my pocket. I remember thinking that this is what my father must have felt like and that this must have been the whole point of “bringing Indiana to the world and the world to Indiana,” like Herman B. Wells is famous for saying.
To be honest, I have no idea when I will get to travel again due to larger priorities under the COVID-19 pandemic. I have no idea when I will go back to Turkey or the exact specifics of my future. So much of our lives right now are contingent on a better collective, bold policy, and more time. Therefore, as we make our way into 2021, I am instead trying to focus on what trips like this gave me and how grateful I am to have experienced them. I have a lifetime of memories, new facts, grammar structures, and sights burned into my brain, friends, and mentors all over the world, and a place to return.
Though the world will need some time to recover from 2020, when the world opens up again, and it is safer to travel abroad, I encourage you to take the opportunity. Don’t miss your chance to see and explore the world.
Class of 2021
Central Eurasian Studies, Individualized Major in Media & Conflict