Challenges I have faced while overseas and how I’ve overcome them.

James Conkie
Exchange to Fatih University, Turkey
Semester 2, 2015

Although when I look back at my experience of living in Istanbul over these past few months the challenges that I faced seem very few and unmemorable. I think this is due to the nature of hind sight and memory which seems to (for me at least) exaggerate the good experiences and forget the small challenges that you meet and overcome. For instance the experience of a delicious meal over time becomes by far the best meal you have ever had, or visiting a museum becomes an amazing memory of history, beautiful art and stunning architectural aesthetics while the tediousness of waiting in lines for hours is forgotten. In the same instance memories of challenges become forgotten because once you have overcome a particular challenge you take it for granted and the memory of it somehow loses its value.

While I was looking through one of my note books the other night I discovered a collection of diary entries that I had made during the first month of living in Istanbul which stated my thoughts and concerns of my experience of living and studying in another country. Seeing this served to highlight the challenges (however small) that I had overcome.

The challenge of learning to navigate a huge, crazy, labyrinth of a city was something that I struggled with. Initially I wouldn’t catch any form of public transport without doing a lot of research to where I was heading and how to get there. This was very necessary because to get to my university from my apartment I have to catch a train and two buses which equates to 2 and a half hours of travel time. On top of this a lot of the smaller bus lines don’t have marked stops and in no way tell you where they are heading. In the first week I got lost multiple times but within a month I had acquired enough basic Turkish to ask for directions and enough confidence to travel all around Istanbul half asleep and hung over.

Through past experiences of traveling I had learnt the importance of having little to no expectations of a trip because it can sometimes act in souring your experience if the reality doesn’t meet the expectation. Knowing this I still couldn’t help but day dream in the leading weeks till I went away and accidently created small expectations. Although Istanbul in no way reflects the Istanbul of my daydreams I have come to realise that it is much better and more beautiful. This may be a small challenge however I think it is an important one for future travellers to be weary of.

Another thing that I was very worried about at the start of my journey was that I would miss my friends from Melbourne so much and that this would somehow take away from the value of the new friendships I was creating. I took precautionary measures to avoid this by un-following all of them on Facebook and keeping contact to a minimum. I realise now that this was unnecessary and a little bit naïve. Making new friends and really getting to know people from all over the world has been one of the most effective buffers to homesickness and has helped to cure this initial fear of missing my friends from Melbourne.

I think all in all the small day to day challenges that you overcome, although not very memorable serve to promote your enjoyment of your experience and confidence in yourself.