When you travel – even within the same country, for instance from the North East of America to the Deep South or the West of Turkey to the East – it is only natural to at times be self-consciously overwhelmed by feeling like a foreigner. Traveling to a different country, where the language and culture is different, only compounds this feeling. During my first stay in Turkey, a two month intensive language program in Ankara, I suffered a lot from culture shock. I think it was only to be expected.
Luckily, my stay so far in Malatya has really been free of any problems; however, I have noticed something about living abroad that I would never had thought of otherwise. Namely, the difference between being a foreigner and feeling like a foreigner.
For instance, I am a foreigner here in Turkey. The way I hold myself, dress, speak and react are all different enough from the locals for people to realize that I am not from around here and there is very little I can do about that – at least immediately. Turks, by and large though, absolutely love foreigners and try their best to be as hospitable and helpful as possible. I have had random men who I’ve asked for directions go out of their way to ensure that I arrive safely at my destination. Speaking a little bit of Turkish does help to grease the wheels, but people are generally overjoyed to help.
In this way, being a foreigner in Turkey really has very few problems associated with it; people truly strive and welcoming as possible. I am actively encouraged to think of this new country as my new home. Although I am a foreigner here, I am not made to feel like one – the country is incredibly inclusive, at least in my experience. For example, while on my way to Harput last week another passenger on the mini-bus realized I was a foreigner and insisted on sharing his snacks with me. He then went on to lecture me about how I had to visit Izmir, smiling the whole time.
Feeling like a foreigner, on the other hand, can happen anywhere – even if your own country or hometown. This feeling isn’t linked to you nearly as much as it is linked to your circumstances. For example, I am sure everyone has had that one experience of being at a party or a meeting in which you felt unwelcome and excluded; you did not belong, and you felt like a foreigner. Obviously being in a different country, where the language and culture is different, can easily lead to the feeling of being a foreigner.
For the three months that I have been in Turkey so far, I can think of maybe one or two examples at most of when I truly felt I did not belong. The first was in Istanbul, where at a restaurant I was charged five times the normal amount for a cup of tea – the foreigner price – that I begrudgingly had to pay. The second example was when I was having a conversation with a few Turks. When they asked me a question, and I stumbled to respond, they turned to each other and said “Oh, he doesn’t understand!” and then laughed about it.
Overall, though, these are two minor occurrences that I truly had to rack my head about to think of. I am truly lucky to be in a country where, although I an undoubtedly a foreigner, I am almost never made to feel that way. Turkey has, at least for the year that I am here, truly become my new home; as it is Thanksgiving in America as I post this, I can say that I am truly grateful for that.