I find it very hard to believe that I have been living in Turkey for almost one year now. Time flew by incredibly fast which is a bit surprising, considering how many things happened and how much our lives have changed during the last 12 months. Because we’ll soon be returning to our country (on the 19th of October, a day which I look forward to with a weird mixture of excitement and dread), I figured out that this blog entry is a perfect opportunity to sum up my adventure in Turkey.

What I’ve learnt from my voluntary service in Pi Youth Association:

-After having the experience of assisting in writing a project for a European grant, and later co-writing one independently, I can say I found it so enjoyable that now I’m considering it to be one of my possible career paths. Although incredibly demanding and quite stressful (especially at the end), the overall experience turned out to be a great learning opportunity. Coming up with various ideas for activities, trying to predict problems that may arise, planning every little detail was a wonderful exercise in creativity and, at the same time, a great opportunity to put my problem-solving skills to the test.

-Working in an international environment can be tricky and pose some challenges, but with a healthy dose of goodwill and empathy you can make it work. Even though I consider myself to be a pretty understanding and tolerant person, there were a few moments that brought me close to the edge. However, what I’ve learnt from those situations is that clear communication is a key to success, and so is a firm setting of your own boundaries. In addition to that, I discovered that sometimes you just need to let go and stop so desperately trying to prove your point- no matter how hard it sounds, at the end it will bring you some peace of mind and allow you to move forward.   

-As someone who hadn’t known a lot about the possibilities offered by the Erasmus+ programme, my ESC project and my responsibilities as one of the members of the networking team really allowed me to dive deep into the objectives of the programme. I found it all so interesting (especially the European Solidarity Corps) that even though I’m not sure if I want to work in a NGO in the future, I will definitely try to both benefit from, and promote the amazing opportunities offered by the EU to the youth.

– Funnily enough, my stay in Turkey (along with my previous experience in the Middle East) made me realize that I’m European through and through. Middle Eastern spontaneity is just not for me and not only does organizing and making thorough plans make me feel safe, for some weird reason it also makes me happy!

What I’ve discovered about Turkish culture:

Even though I had never been to Turkey prior to my ESC project, I knew quite a lot about the country, its history and its culture. However, there were (of course!) some things that surprised me.

-Polish people are somewhat known for our workaholic tendencies, but as it turns out, the Turks give us a run for our money. Although they’re laid back in other aspects of their lives, when it comes to the worklife, they give themselves to it completely. Late hours, overtime, working on weekends is a normal thing for them. I have to admit, even though I admire their abnormal dedication to their jobs, I’m still a bit concerned about their overall well-being- clearly such a thing as work-life balance doesn’t exist here!

-Turkish people are truly obsessed with food- there’s simply no other way to put it! And by food, I mean only the Turkish one- looking for a restaurant which serves foreign cuisine in Izmir is like searching for a needle in a haystack. From my observations, at least half of their conversations is centered around food. What’s even more hilarious is that sometimes I feel like they spend more time on discussing what they ate and what they will eat than on the act of eating itself!

-Speaking of cuisine- related topics, I always had thought that it was the British who drink hectolitres of tea, but when I came to Turkey, I realised I was wrong about it. People here drink so much tea, it’s borderline crazy. I’ve never got around to adopting this habit, especially in the summertime when the weather is so hot around here.

-On a similar note, as a vegan, I’ve had some hard time here. Unfortunately, a lot of people don’t understand what is the difference between vegetarianism and veganism, or even worse, they’re absolutely convinced that if someone doesn’t eat meat, they’re always hungry, malnourished and will be pretty much dead after a while of being on such a diet. Well, let me tell you that I haven’t had meat in over 13 years now and somehow I’m still alive:-) Thanks to the fact that the Aegean region is so green, and that different fruits and vegetables are a crucial part of the local cuisine, I didn’t feel like I was missing out on anything. It would have certainly been worse if I had lived in the Eastern part of Turkey, which is famous for eating meat for breakfast, lunch and dinner, and where people seem to think that it is perfectly acceptable to offer me chicken.

-While meeting different locals, it soon became clear to me that not only are they remarkably hospitable people, but they are also wonderful friends- incredibly reliable, very helpful and set on making you feel like at home. As someone introverted and coming from a more reserved culture, I was truly amazed at how quickly I became close with some of the people here. 

-Speaking of meeting new people, I was amazed at the fact how many of them are fans of Poland. There was always someone who either visited Poland as a tourist, or lived there for a while thanks to the Erasmus programme, and only has good things to say about my country and its people. I have travelled a lot and not even once experienced something quite like this. The fact that many people immediately got happy and excited upon learning that I’m Polish was just heartwarming.

What I’ve seen in Turkey:

To be quite honest, there was a moment in the midst of the lockdown when I thought I would not have a chance to go through with all my travel plans. Apart from a quick visit to Ankara, I hadn’t had a chance to discover the country- I was waiting for warm spring weather to do it. However, as the lockdown eased and the overall situation started to improve, I gradually started to hope that maybe not all was lost. Like I’ve mentioned in one of my blog entries before, the travel ban enforced during the pandemic really allowed me to discover Izmir and the things it has to offer, as well as all the breathtaking beauty of the Aegean Region. However, this month Barbara and I finally took some well-deserved holidays and ventured further into Turkey. First, we went to Cappadocia, a number 1 on every traveler’s list. It was truly an amazing experience to finally be able to discover the region I had read and heard so much about. Even though we spent only a few days there, it was a truly unforgettable time, especially that, encouraged by our friend’s suggestions, we took the balloon flight. For our second trip, we decided to travel to the east of Turkey, which was one of my dreams. I was incredibly curious to see places so culturally different from the western part of the country, and yet equally cosmopolitan and rich in history, and to confront it with some of the stereotypes I had heard from the locals. Contrary to some of the urban legends I was told, what I discovered were beautiful cities with warm and hospitable people to which I hope to return one day:-) I’m still not done with my travelling though- soon, if the situation allows, I’ll go to Bursa with my friends. It’s a trip that I’m looking forward to!

Even though the year I spent in Izmir wasn’t always smooth and posed many challenges, I can say without any hesitation that it was one of the most interesting ones so far, and I’m sure that the memories I made here will remain with me for the rest of my life.

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