I am a Turkish student within the contact zone of the Northeastern University community. This unique term “contact zone” that Pratt characterized as “social spaces where cultures meet, clash, and grapple with each other, often in contexts of highly asymmetrical relations of power, such as colonialism, slavery, or their aftermaths as they are lived out in many parts of the world today.” Not only the university community but also the city; Boston portrays this social space. I observed this reality when I first came to Boston as a student. It was quite a shock for me to see all the cultures out of my own cultural shell. I call it ‘shell’ because within the community that you share the same culture and the language you end up sharing same values. So, this similarity necessarily limits your perspective of life. However, the contact zone is established as a result of cultural diversity and the concept of it is sighted in part to contrast with ideas of community that start much of the thinking about culture, language and communication.
I believe my transition to Boston from Istanbul as an international student was easier than many others. I was coming to Boston over three years for summers to improve my language skills. My first visit here was 2010 when I was 16. Although I was young to think big; I made my life-changing decision during those few months. I decided I was going to study here. It was the time that I broke my shell and opened my eyes to the world. There is, no doubt, some connection between cultures that most of us are unable to see on the surface. It is once we get to know other cultures; we get rid of our winkers.
Pratt says, “…of hearing their culture discussed and objected in ways that horrified them; all the students saw their roots traced back to legacies of both glory and shame…” I believe that this is a very significant thing to have. If you are always with people of the same ethnicity, you become used to hearing all of the good things about it. So, when you consider a country like Turkey and our history; it is not surprising that the culture we have is such a withdrawn. There is a famous saying ‘The only friend of Turks are Turks.’ We don’t have any friend or ally other than us. We are Muslim but nothing like Middle East and we have a part of European where I am from, Istanbul where still calls as Constantinople after 500 years.
It is though being a Turk. You realize this more when you look from outside of the borders. When someone asks you your nationality, they expect answers such as Asian or European, but the only answer we have is Turk. It is returning from three continents and now being treated as guest in Anatolia. We are coming from an Empire called Ottomans, which used to be the only power on Earth. But now we are paying depts of it like a son of naughty father. In world’s history we are seen as Fasists; we are responsible of really old problems in Kosova, Bosnia, Greek, Mecedonia; we are being blamed for genocides we did not; we are being despised in Europe, being not welcomed. Being Turk is destroying west and east roman empires and now trying to join Europe Union, which is actually a new Roman Empire. Despite what whole world thinks we are; being Turk is killing and killed in wars, but before that giving water to your enemy; it is no matter what happens keeping your faith in God that we call ‘Allah’.
On the other hand, we believe the idea of “Peace at home, peace on the world.” said by M.K. Ataturk, the first president of Turkey. What I see here in Boston is the ‘peace’ on the world. I see how every individual represents their country in this contact zone. Right before I came to the States, I went to Germany to compete in European Championship. It was my first time experiencing the ‘contact zone’. I fascinated with the idea of representing my country. Living in a global country like the USA makes me feel like almost the same. While surrounded with people all over the world, they relate your behaviors with their goods or bads to your country.
For instance back in Turkey, I did not use to like Greek people because of all the conflicts we have. I was always arguing against them. However over years I had a chance to meet Greek people here and by the time, I realized how similar we are. Not only I got rid of my negative thoughts about them, but also I began to sympathize them. Now one of my best friends here is Greek and when we discuss about our country’s conflicts we just laugh about it.
On the other hand, language and communication was an issue for me at first. Not like Spanish or Dutch, Turkish has nothing like English. It has a totally different structure and a vocabulary. First thing I realize with the international students and me, even though we speak English we do not speak it the same way. It is hard to dismiss your native language. It does not matter which language you are speaking, your brain thinks in the way you learnt first.
Consequently, I enjoy living in this contact zone environment. Even though it is hard to carry a Turkish identity most of the time, I am here to honor my country and prove myself as an independent person. The biggest struggle I have here is missing my country, family and friends. Otherwise I believe the best decision I have ever made about my life was choosing the United States to study.