The Road (Not) Taken: An Istanbul Autumn
By Alison Rogers '12, Contributing Writer
Like so many idle first-years, seen listlessly wandering about the quad during the days between Freshman Orientation and the start of classes, I am not quite sure what to do with myself. Just over a week ago, I too debated whether it was worth repacking my 49.5-pound suitcase in order to fit the fifth pair of ratty, old jeans. Like many, I have read a course catalog and felt entirely overwhelmed, giving up the search for classes until I speak to my advisor, a professor I have never met and never heard of. On the whole, I am entirely unsure what I have gotten myself into, and have spent the last few hours mired in self-doubt, questioning my choice to enroll altogether. Around this time of year, these sentiments would normally not be so unexpected from the average Amherst first-year. Only, I’m not a first year. I’m a junior.

In fact, I am one of 98 Amherst students pursuing education abroad this year. This fall, I’ll be enrolled as an international student at Bogazici University, a rather large and urban university just off the Bosporus River in Istanbul, Turkey. Though I plastered my anthropological and historical credentials along with desires to pursue interest in government and media in the Middle East all over my petition to the Study Abroad office, my motivations to study in Istanbul were, at most, hazy. Nevertheless, my academic focus, encouragement of professors, the reputation of the university, advice from upperclassmen and the sheer fact that my parents would let me go seemed more than enough reason to give up just one semester in A-town. Then again, there were excellent classes being offered in the fall at Amherst, I hoped to start studying for the graduate school exams without distraction and I was passing up a crucial semester with the Amherst Jazz Ensemble. Before the deadline for my semester tuition, I had to make a choice. Needless to say, I sent in the Turkish Liras.

Of course, now that my bags are packed and my flight tickets printed, I finally have a moment to panic. I really have no idea what to expect. On the one hand, Istanbul was named the European Cultural Capital for 2010, meaning the city should have newly paved roads, impressive cultural exhibitions and English-friendly cab drivers. For me, a white, 20-year-old woman from the safe and privileged suburbs of Fort Lauderdale, Fla., the fact that this may be my only chance to intimately know another way of living and perhaps to learn more about my own cultural reflexes tantalizes my adventurous side.

On the other hand, while I may possess the ability to adequately assess the potential of newly voted constitutional referendums advocated by the rising Turkish political party, the AKP, to bend the historical arc of democratization and western alignment in Turkish history (in under seven typed pages), I suddenly realize that I have no idea how to find the supermarket, or, more importantly, ask upperclassmen how to find the closest Starbucks to my dorm.

With all my friends up at school now spending free time comfortably playing pong in Davis, or perhaps in a familiar last minute panic instigated by a rumor of the Abnormal Psychology professor threatening to cut back the class size, I can’t help but wonder if my real place is back with the people I now consider family and in the place I have come to call home, Amherst College.

In this time of reflection, I have found wisdom in Robert Frost’s timeless poem, “The Road Not Traveled.” Astute readers will have noticed I’ve named the column after this classic. In my reports from abroad, I intend to focus on those particular regional politics and local flavors that might interest the Amherst student. though, I am unsure of what lies ahead.

Meanwhile, as for so many of the entering class, my jitters are slowly turning into a hunger for the first day of classes; my nerves fueling an adrenaline rush bound to help me rise up to the impending challenges. I am prepared because I have already done this once. I know how the unknown and unfamiliar are filled with rich opportunities to test one’s own expectations in life, gain worldly perspectives and discover new levels of personal depth. The flight to Istanbul takes off Sept. 14. As of right now, I plan to be in a window seat. I’ll let you know about the view. I wish the Class of 2014 much luck and confidence. See you in the spring!

Issue 02, Submitted 2010-09-15 01:53:21