Before I came to Turkey I thought I was quite aware of cultural diversity and I always assumed that culture shock would never be a part of my vocabulary. Except of course, when judging others. Fast forward to a few months later I would like to apologize to anyone I previously insulted because my entire stay has been marked with shock, awe, and frustration at how different Turkey is from Kenya.
The first thing that completely shocked me was the amount of smoking that goes on here. Like other Middle Easterners, Turks smoke as a cultural pastime. Here there are kahves, coffee shops, that people throng to drink tea, filtered coffee and smoke cigarettes and sheesha, commonly referred to here as nargila. It does not help that during winter the weather is so cold, that most people smoke so as to warm themselves up. And while back home smoking is seen as a practice reserved for men, here just as many women as men take part in this. I have to admit that even for me, an active feminist, this took me quite some time to get used to.
When it comes to food I did not really have much of a problem getting used to it. This is because I am unadventurous and I live by the mantra, ‘When in doubt, choose rice!’ I also have an unhealthy fast food addiction. However, I observed that bread is present at all meal. In addition to this, I was shocked to realize that there people who drank more tea than Kenyans. Turks absolutely love their tea and drink it at all times. And I mean at all times! In homes, offices and even banks tea is offered for visitors as a form of hospitality. It is even offered for free in many restaurants. Unlike Kenyan tea which is often milky, Turkish tea is black and is taken from small tulip shaped glasses.
In cities other than Istanbul, little to no English is spoken. I found this very strange, to say the least because I had an expectation that a vast number of professionals would be able to speak English. Coupled with my little knowledge of Turkish, this led me to be constantly frustrated. The funniest thing is as a language student I constantly want to practice my Turkish, but when Turks realize that you speak English, they try to practice their English with you. Fast forward to a ton of Turkish lessons later, I have come to embrace the pride that Turks have in their language.
Lastly, even though I was aware that an overwhelming majority of Turkish people are Muslims, I did not know that Western and Christian holidays are not marked. You can imagine my frustration when I realized that I had to attend classes on Boxing Day and did not have a Christmas break as I was previously accustomed to. Even more shocking to me was that even though malls are decked in traditional red, green and gold decorations, this is only to mark the onset of a new year.
I would like to say that in spite of my earlier frustration, I have grown to love the curve balls and new cultural experiences that this country offers. As a result, I have been forced to get out of my bubble and adopt a more inclusive attitude towards a culture that is different from mine. I have realized that after a while I look back and laugh at the things I was frustrated about because eventually, they become normal. Honestly, I think this is the best part about studying abroad!
This article was written by Capital Campus Correspondent Garnet Achieng.