Alumni Q&A: Tibisay – Istanbul, Turkey

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Name: Tibisay Escobedo

Program Attended: Istanbul, Turkey

Program Term: 2012-2013

1. Why did you choose the program that you did?

I chose Istanbul because I knew next to nothing about it. Unlike with Western Europe, Japan and China, I had never been inundated with pictures, movies and stories about or set in Turkey. It was completely foreign to me. Since I was only going to study abroad for one semester (that was the original plan), I decided I needed to step way outside of my comfort zone to make the most of my time abroad. Coupled with my interest in the Middle East and Islam, Turkey was the only choice for me. Not that I was going to complain about that. Nor will I ever complain about that. Turkey is an easy place to fall in love with and the Turks are a lovely people.

2. If or when you study abroad again, where would you like to go? Why?

I would be tempted to return to Turkey, honestly, but the call of the unknown would probably get me in the end. I think I would choose Thailand because it would be a culture and region of the world I’m not familiar with and because it looks like a beautiful place in pictures I’ve seen. Also, as much as I loved Istanbul, it didn’t have much in the way of wildlife or natural beauty (I don’t think hordes of stray dogs and cats count as wildlife). You could climb up the tallest hill there and when you reached the top and looked around, all you would see were buildings, buildings, buildings. If I was still in college and could study abroad again, I would love to experience Thailand.

3. What are some of your favorite highlights from your time abroad?

I have many, many fond memories of my time in Turkey, but one of my favorites is of a night out in Taksim (a bar/club area) with my friend, Ada. We stayed out till almost dawn listening and dancing to live music and being warmly received by curious locals who were insanely pleased by how much Turkish we knew. The best part was when we were suddenly pulled out of our chairs and into a halay dancing circle! Yes, we looked like fools since we didn’t know the steps to the dance but it was more hilarious than embarrassing and everyone was very gracious about it. That was one of the things I loved the most about Turkey. The people are very curious and welcoming of foreigners and eager to share their culture with others.

4. In your experience, what are the major benefits of studying abroad?

I think it differs slightly with each person since people have slightly different reasons for studying abroad and picking the program they choose. I can talk to someone for hours about the usual character benefits of studying abroad, like (generally) a greater sense of responsibility, more self-reliance, greater self-confidence, etc, etc. Hours, my friend. Hours. But, my gosh, just being able to live immersed in another culture in a different part of the world, with its own distinct history and way of life, making friends with people from different parts of the world, surrounded by new ideas, and having so many new experiences starting on Day 1? That alone is a benefit for most people. It’s the kind of experience that changes you! And just as I have never heard of anyone regretting studying abroad, I have never heard of anyone changing for the worse because of it either.

5. What were some of the special/unique things you were able to do or see?

I definitely think the exposure to Islam and a Muslim culture was a great benefit to me, especially in this political and cultural climate. From hearing the call to prayer echoing from countless minarets to seeing people celebrate religious holidays in their communities and just witnessing how people lived their faith everyday was valuable to me.

What made my experience in Istanbul so priceless were the details, the little things, the simple things, of my everyday life there. Some of the most beautiful memories I have are of the many times I took a ferry across the Bosphorus. In rain and shine and snow, during sunrise and sunset and the hours in between, the sight of the city and the water was gorgeous without fail. It was always a highlight of my day and it reminded me of how lucky I was to be there.

6. What was a funny cultural experience?

A funny cultural experience…. Well, I had one of those pretty much every time I was mistaken for a Turk, an Arab, or a Persian. And that happened a lot. In the pazars, on the bus, in class, at the post office—everywhere. It was sometimes mortifying and sometimes hilarious, but always awkward. But I have fond memories of that happening in taxis and at the pazars. The drivers and vendors I chatted with were some of the nicest people I met and very curious about where I came from and what I thought of their beloved city. It was always a great opportunity to practice my Turkish and Arabic.

7. What did you learn about yourself?

I learned that I was more capable, scrappy and independent than I previously gave myself credit for. But it was something I had to learn by doing. Solo traveling, which I did frequently, really helped me to become more independent and self-confident.

8. How did studying abroad change you?

The best way I could put it is to say that I came back “hungry.” After having spent 10 months abroad, eaten all sorts of new food, seen so many beautiful sights, and met so many interesting people, I came back to California “hungry” for new experiences. I’m more open-minded now. I see opportunities and adventure in places and scenarios that I previously would have walked away from without hesitation.

9. What’s one thing you would have done differently?

Looking back, I think one thing I would have done that would have enriched the experience for me would have been to learn more Turkish quicker. I met and grew close to plenty of English-speaking Turks but there were plenty of people I wanted to chat with but couldn’t because of my minimal Turkish and their non-existent English. I think learning the local language, where ever you go, opens doors for you to experience the culture better and connect with people more. I would definitely suggest that to people getting ready to study abroad.

10. Now that you’re home, how do you see the impact of study abroad on your life?

I see the impact on my life in more ways than I can list here. Studying abroad—seeing more of the world and the people who live in it and how they live—enriched my life experience (which employers have commented on) and made me more aware and knowledgeable of the world outside the boundaries of my country.

11. How many years did it/will it take you to graduate?

I took 5.5 years to graduate. Now, before anyone starts jumping to conclusions, let me first say that Turkey had nothing to do with it and I was not a slacker in college. I was just one of those people who took a while to figure out what major to devote herself to. But when I found it, I took off with it! All the way to Turkey, in fact.

12. What, in your opinion, are the biggest myths students believe about studying abroad?

That it’s way too expensive for them or that it will keep them in school longer. Neither of which is necessarily true, but those are the most common concerns I’ve heard.

13. What advice would you have for students trying to decide whether or not to study abroad?

Look, bottom line: I’ve never heard about anyone regretting their decision to study abroad. Ever. However, I have met plenty of people who regreted not studying abroad when they had the chance. College is 4-6 years of abundant opportunities that are presented for the taking (compared to life after college) and, frankly, studying abroad was one of the best opportunities I took advantage of as a student. If you have any interest whatsoever in studying abroad, be proactive and look into it. Just do it. Just. Do. It.

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