I started following Hayley from Turkish Musings almost four months ago when she was just in the process of preparing for her semester in Ankara. As a study abroad advisor, I can say from experience that Hayley put a lot more time into preparing than most. She debated whether she would wear a headscarf, started learning Turkish on her own, and even got a pen pal. Hayley is now in her fourth week in Ankara and though she’s had her ups and downs, her research and preparation have definitely paid off. Her posts are now filled with her stories in which Hayley has a way of making you feel like you’re traveling with her. For the next four months, she has officially given up Lake Michigan and figure skating (she’s an official for USFS) for the Mediterranean and exploring the history and culture of Turkey. I was able to catch up with Hayley this week to learn more about Turkish Musings and her first few weeks in Ankara.
Your very first post was actually not written by you. How did Turkish Musings get started?
Oh, I forgot about that one! Yes, my friend started my blog for me and she wrote the first post as a type of “friendship love letter.” I keep it because it reminds me of the primary audience I write this blog for: my friends and family back home. After I found out that I was accepted to study abroad at Middle East Technical University, I told everyone that I was going to create a blog to keep in touch with them. But for me, the study abroad process started several months before I arrived in Ankara; I began researching about Turkish and Muslim history and culture and bounced my thoughts, ideas, fears, and goals off my friends. They suggested that I start a blog as soon as possible to share my ideas but I was wary because, really, who wants to read a study abroad blog when the person isn’t even abroad yet? Finally Elizabeth, who I think was sick of my silly excuses, started Turkish Musings and wrote the first post. It jump-started by blogging; I edited some drafts I had been working on, posted a couple posts, received positive feedback from friends and strangers….and here I am right now!
Now that you’ve been in Turkey for a few weeks, what have you found the most surprising?
This is going to sound silly, but everyone back home told me to look out for Turkish boys because they love blonde girls. But actually, no guy seems to be interested in me–which is awesome because it was never my goal to “find love” or anything like that while I’m here. From what I’ve observed, 1) Most of the people on campus are already in a relationship, and Turkish men are loyal to their women; and 2) If a Turkish guy is looking for a foreign girl, he is first-and-foremost looking for a Russian or Ukrainian. Don’t know why, but that’s what I’ve noticed so far here. I would say guys seem more interested in me in the more touristy parts of Turkey (such as Alanya), but at least I’m safe in the capital!
A second surprising thing is that despite being in a Muslim country, I have yet to see anyone pray during the day. I have noticed several mosques in the city and I hear the call to prayer on campus (in fact the sundown one is going on as I type this), but Turkey is truly secular in that the work day continues and you can’t deter from it!
At this point, how would you spend a free day in Ankara?
First-and-foremost I would visit a mosque because I have yet to get to one. The largest mosque in Ankara is the Kocatepe Mosque and I’ve heard that it’s worth seeing. I would grab some lunch at a little restaurant (none in particular, there are so many and they’re all good!) and accompany the food with çay (Turkish tea). From there I would go to the Museum of Anatolian Civilizations for a few hours–by myself–and take my time going through the exhibits. Even though I went there with the orientation group, we only had 45 minutes and that is not near enough time for a place like that! Shopping would be next; I’d probably start to buy little gifts as Christmas presents for my friends back home (because it’s never too early to shop for Christmas). Finally, I would venture to Kızılay, Ankara’s downtown, with friends and finish off the evening in a cafe with İskander (a meat, bread, and tomato sauce dish that is to die for), live music, good company, and nargile (Turkish water pipe). 🙂
How are you feeling being away from ice skating?
Being away from skating is somewhat like a double-edged sword. On the one hand it pains me to be gone from my skating family (i.e., other USFS officials) because they have been a formidable part of my life since I was fourteen. Yet I know that in leaving them, if only for a few months, I will come back with my own travel stories and evolving perspective on life which will make me a better-rounded official of U.S. Figure Skating. And actually, a few of my peers will be on a Mediterranean cruise this fall and will be in Izmir in early November for a day. I’m currently researching the possibility of me meeting them there–hopefully I can make it work!
What did you do that helped you best prepare for your semester in Ankara?
One of the things I did extensively over the summer was listen to Turkish music and watch Turkish movies. I played music constantly during my commutes in the car–probably much to the chagrin of my friends and family. Basically, I found find several songs and artists that sounded cool, found the lyrics to them (and if possible, the English translation) and listened to them….over and over and over. This helped me learn how to pronounce the letters of the Turkish alphabet, learn the inflections and emphasis of longer words, and it helped familiarize my brain with Turkish in general. Even though I didn’t know the meaning of the words, by the end of the summer I could sing along with many of the songs. And now that I’m attempting to learn Turkish here, I can concentrate more on vocabulary and phrases than on my pronunciation.
Hayley, thanks for the great interview!