Photo by Arpan Bandari — Fellow Study Abroad-er
You don’t need to be an expert on the Middle East to know that there are some serious things happening in that area of the world. Between the civil war in Syria, ISIS furthering their crusade across the Middle East, and the war between Israel and Palestine, the Middle East has more than enough on its plate right now.
I studied abroad in Istanbul, Turkey, which is bordered by Syria, Iraq, Iran, Georgia, Armenia, and Azerbaijan. This puts Turkey in a unique position as it is close enough to the Middle East to experience the ripple effects from these tumultuous events, but also far away enough that you are not in direct danger. A few weeks after landing in Istanbul, I could already sense the tension and how much these events have affected Turkey – directly and indirectly. For complex reasons that I will not go into as they are too long for this blog post, Turkey does not like Israel. I slowly started to notice this within a few weeks as I tried to Google Translate the “Katil Israil” graffiti I saw everywhere, which means “Israeli’s are murderers”. Another time, I was taking a shuttle bus back from the airport where we stopped right in the middle of an Israel-Palestine protest. A few weeks later, my roommate was walking back from the grocery store when two men stopped their car and yelled “Heil Hitler” at her and laughed, presumably because she looked Jewish to them. Perhaps my best example of Turkish-Israeli tension occurred during a walk home from school, about half a mile away from our apartment. My roommates and I had always noticed men in bulletproof vests standing outside on this side street, and one day they weren’t there, so we went to investigate. Turns out it was a synagogue, and it already had a few bullet holes in the front window.
One experience that moved me deeply was meeting a Syrian man on a train. He actually helped get me on the right train after I realized I was heading in the completely wrong direction. We got talking and he told me he was Syrian, and moved to Istanbul with next to nothing after he was “tired of being hit by stray bullets”. He was an extremely interesting character, and it was refreshing to see that people in that area, who in the past few years have faced more intense hardship than we will ever know watching through our T.V screens, still end up finding a way to have an optimistic outlook and keep on keeping on. Being surrounded and sometimes confronted with these things made me a lot more aware of awful happenings in the Middle East, and how the effects ripple to more than that one country. In the U.S, you can read about these events, and watch them on T.V, but as soon as you turn off the T.V or put down the paper, you can remove yourself from the situation. In Turkey it was an everyday confrontation – and that was just in Turkey, not even in the countries these events are happening. I have since come back with a renewed sense of understanding, empathy, and knowledge that studying abroad provided me – something that I could have never learned in a classroom.
Kim Donohue is a junior at the University of Kentucky majoring in International Studies and Political Science.