2009 International Experience
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"Minding Our Step" by Juan A. Herrera (sophomore, Honors Program)
This summer, along with a dozen other Honors students, I was given the opportunity to observe and experience first hand the Turkish culture. Having previously studied about this fascinating country's history, ethnic groups, and primary religious tradition, I found this incredible experience even better. However, although learning about Turkey in a classroom here at La sierra University was very interesting and definitely worthwhile, traveling to Turkey and observing its culture first-hand was by far much more fascinating.
This experience, apart from being a wonderful opportunity to get to know a beautiful country and its culture, became also a great occasion for me to get to know myself. Being exposed to a different culture, to a different religion, and to a different way of life was more than just new knowledge; it was a unique opportunity to look at myself. Louis de Bčrnieres explained this concept in his book Birds without Wings by writing that, without some variety in our lives, "we forget how to look at others and see ourselves." In other words, learning from another culture and witnessing a different lifestyle gave me the opportunity to get to know myself, to meditate about where I am and where I'm going.
Going about life without stopping to reflect on where one is headed can lead to a terrible stagnation. Continuing along the same path without reflecting about each step could easily twist what was once a perfectly straight trail into a never-ending circle. This is easily visible, for instance, in the life of those who wander from one day to the next without goals or ambitions, without knowing where they are and where they're headed. It's not about changing roads or ways, it's about meditating and observing one's steps in order to determine if we are going in the direction we deem best.
Fortunately, the fantastic experience my group and I had in Turkey observing its wonderful culture, way of life, and primary religious tradition, Islam, was a great opportunity to get to know a little bit more about ourselves. Never mind comparisons, stereotypes, or judgments, just witnessing what would seem like a completely different world is enough to astonish and to open anyone's eyes wide enough to appreciate variety. This diversity of ethnicities, religions, lifestyles, and overall context, helped me become aware of the steps I'm taking in my own life. More than only helping me learn about Turkey and about Turkish culture, as I previously mentioned, Turkey granted me the opportunity to view myself through them.
Observing Turkish lifestyle helped me learn a little bit more about my own way of life by reflecting on the details that characterize theirs. the kindness and hospitality of Turkish men and women, for instance, gave me a different perspective with which to view how kind and gentle I am with my own guests. Friendly affectionate greetings also made me think about how I welcome my own family and friends. These simple and everyday events helped me reflect about myself and meditate about where I am. Achieving this inward look at myself gave me the opportunity to think about the future, and to consider where I'm headed.
Reflecting on my present and thinking about the future were certainly two of my most important accomplishments this summer in Turkey. Granted, it's not necessary to travel the world to accomplish a profound view of oneself; however, I must admit that the diversity that I witnessed in Turkey was more than enough to do the job several times over. This wonderful and outstanding experience in Turkey helped me learn about myself, to think and meditate about my own personal and religious life, and to reflect on how I can become a better person. In other words, the variety I witnessed, as Bčrnieres wrote, reminded me how to observe others and how to see myself.
"Exploring Our World" by Rebecca Barcelo (junior, Honors Program)
"Ugh! What in the world is that noise?? Close the window! It sounds like someone's dying out there!"
Funny how the same "Call to Prayer" that we had so "open-mindedly" discussed and appreciated the afternoon before, suddenly seemed, at four in the morning, to produce a less than appreciative response.
As a traveler abroad, there are always adaptations that must be made if you are going to truly learn about, and even attempt to fit into, said culture. However, I believe that I can speak for my fellow Honors classmates in expressing that Turkey was truly unlike anything we'd ever experienced before.
Along with the Call to Prayer, the tea that the Turks so avidly enjoy quickly became a part of our daily routine. We would have breakfast with some tea, visit a local artisan's shop (where he would offer us tea), and then head over to our favorite garden café to discuss the day's plans...over Turkish coffee, or some tea. Then we would spend the day meandering through the Hagia Sofia or the Blue Mosque, or exploring the Topkapi Palace and (now empty) Harem, learning about an ancient culture fraught with rivalry between Muslims and Christians. Throughout our tours, we were able to see how our religions did have differences; however, what was most impressive was how many similarities there were between the two--a subject that we were privileged to discuss with an Imam who kindly gave us of his time by answering our many curious questions about Islam.
We learned about the different special roles that were expected among me and women of the culture. We learned about bartering, Turkish cuisine, and hospitality. But most of all we learned that differences, handled with diplomacy, are something we can truly come to appreciate.