Wow! What can I say about my time in Turkey thus far? This trip has at the same time been inspiring and enthralling; it has found me deep in thought at times, and at others it has seen me bounding from ancient ruin to ancient ruin like an elementary school child on a playground. I never could have imagined such a diverse array of sights and emotions coming from this trip, but I am confident in saying I am very glad that Turkey was able to offer such contrast.
One of the most important aspects of the trip that merits reflection is the interfaith component, which was indeed the established purpose of the trip. As an atheist, I was not sure I even belonged on this trip; however, I strongly believe that my atheism gives me an even greater responsibility to understand the belief systems of others. Not only will that facilitate understanding and respect between my peers and me, but it will also affirm the beliefs to which I personally adhere. On the second to last day of the trip now, I can say that my knowledge of other faiths increased exponentially each day. From learning about Islam from Professor Khan and visiting the Hagia Sophia to attending a mass in the house of the Virgin Mary, this trip has successfully engaged me on several religious and spiritual fronts. Coming back to Colgate, I will be able to apply the knowledge I have gained in religious discussions with my friends and professors, and I will have the opportunity to relay my experiences to those who were not given the opportunity to attend the trip.
A second facet of our Turkey adventure that I thoroughly enjoyed was our interaction with the local residents and the non-Colgate members of our trip such as our tour guides. Although he left after the first day, I feel it is necessary to give a shout out to our bus driver on the first day (whose name I have unfortunately forgotten) who we have affectionately concluded was a secret agent in the upper echelons of the Turkish government. Something about the way he stood stoically in front of the bus door, arms folded, aviator sunglasses shielding his eyes, and maintaining a relaxed but poised shoulder-wide stance screamed ‘Turkish secret agent!’ I also want to thank Isaiah and Ken for being extremely conversational with all of us throughout the trip, and for their extensive knowledge base of Turkish history and customs. And I would be remiss not to acknowledge Yunus and Tan (pronounced Tahn), two shop-owners at the Grand Bazaar with whom I made very good friends while bargaining down the price of a silk scarf and Arabic calligraphy scroll. Though Tan has not yet accepted my friend request on Facebook, I am confident that I will be able to crash at his place if I make a return trip to Istanbul.
Perhaps the most exciting aspect of the trip, however, has been the combination of the history we have learned from the tour guides and the autonomy we have been given to actively explore that history. I am an ardent supporter of understanding the history of a place before wandering off to explore it, so I appreciate that the tour guides we employed throughout the trip were so knowledgeable about the sites we visited and expertly answered all of our questions. However, I am also an avid fan of actively exploring a site in order to better grasp the magnitude of a site’s importance. During the summers when I was in elementary school, I remember visiting my grandparents in northern France and driving to a different beach every day. If the beach was fringed by rock formations, my father, an avid climber, would always invite my siblings and me to explore the rocks and view the beach from a higher ridge. Though we were still young, he had few qualms about letting us explore on our own, and he infused in us the ability to recognize the extent of our strengths and identify when a ridge or boulder was not worth tackling. During this Turkey trip, I was thrilled to be given the autonomy to actively explore a site just like I did in northern France 10 years ago.
The best times for me were ascending the steps of a castle on the edge of the Bosphorus Strait and scaling the ancient ruins of the Orpheum at Akropolis and Ephesus; I was enthralled to have my classmates by my side when we climbed up and looked out over the apex point of Akropolis—the panoramic view made it feel as though we had ascended Turkey’s highest peak; and viewing the city of Istanbul from Galata tower, looking out across Sulcuk from atop boulders on a grassy knoll, and exploring the Temple of Artemis in Sardis while posing as a column on the exterior wall of the ruins provided me with views and images of Turkey that will last a lifetime. I can only hope to be afforded the same opportunities for exploration on other Colgate trips I attend in the future. The combination of the interfaith components, ancient history, and active exploration with friends by my side makes this experience one of, if not the best, adventure abroad I have yet experienced.