26 January, 2010


backdate: 25 January

Meeting seventy international students is no easy task. Somewhat settled in the dorm room, i walk across campus to the opening breakfast. There are four Swedes, two from Ireland, three to represent Poland, five or more delightful Frenchmen, students from Austria, Korea, Hong Kong, Japan - and of course my fellow Americans. I can't keep track of all of them.

So it's meet and greet, walk the campus, forget everything we've heard. True to form (and much to the entertainment of my peers), i nod off and get whiplash in the afternoon session, including a powerpoint where the dormitories manager found the same information repeated on four separate slides (and seemed genuinely surprised each time). Ah, powerpoint. By the time the afternoon social rolls around, seventy exhausted students are standing in an atrium eating carrot and cucmber slices, borek, tiny meatballs, and other finger foods. Poly-liguistic exchanges flare across the room, finding their way back to English or dying off as cliques form and dissolve.

It feels unfair in a way. Already one of the Italians has singled me out as a clear and precise speaker, and asks my help when another's English is hard for him to understand. I don't begrudge the help at all, in fact i enjoy the task. Yet i feel like a slacker, sitting comfortably in my native language while others grasp at it. For the most part, we are all strangers to Turkçe - except for Akın. Akın resides in France, but holds Turkish citizenship as well. For him, this journey is an opportunity to experience his heritage for a long period, coming as a Turk, and not a tourist, for the first time. In addition to his two native tongues, the guy with twinkling eyes is fluent in Italian and English. Which makes me feel more like a privileged, lazy American than ever, and, as i introduce the Frenchmen to each other and the conversation slides instantly out of my grasp - a little isolated by that privilege.

After this social marathon, everyone is tired, so what do we do? Climb on a bus downtown to Tunus street, and after foraging for döner and eating it on the frigid sidewalk, climb the stairs to Corvus Pub. In this fifth floor nest, there is a woodstove where we warm our hands, and this is where the real connecting happens. Whether people put down pint after pint, or abstain entirely (like a few Muslims and several of the Americans), the cameras come out. Akın and i observe that taking each other's pictures across the pub table is yet another rite of coalescence, as the travelers who were until this morning strangers become friends and colleagues overnight. And, as a certain facebook group claims, "alcohol improves my foreign language skills."

We won't go into detail about the price of those improved language skills, save that i learned not to drink competitively with the Polish students.