Waking up to find it is 10:30 in the afternoon and feeling like it is 2:00 in the morning is a slight let down. Getting up after 3 days of travel to find yourself with no breakfast and in a country that it may very well be beyond your abilities to order breakfast makes for a slower start. In just three short days I have gone from never having set foot on foreign soil to having flown across Europe and half way back. Rome and Istanbul have in their times been the centers of two very different, but powerful, cultures. It was an incredible experience to wake up and hear the call to Morning Prayer in Istanbul and then wake up the next day to find myself just a ten minute tram ride from the Coliseum.
My introduction to the world of international travel was hardly as smooth or as settling as I could have hoped, but it certainly was exciting. In just three days, I saw from the air, the south coast of the UK, Paris and the Eiffel tower, Istanbul, my first sight of Asia, the Hagia Sophia, Galata tower, the Alps, Zurich, and saw the lights of Rome. The experience of seeing these sights was soon coupled with face to face interactions with Turks and Italians as I tried to communicate across a tall language barrier. Trying Turkish food and coffee for the first times soon became just a few of many firsts during this trip.
Having successfully gotten up in Rome my roommates and I set out to find our nearest grocery store which brought us our first interactions with Italian life. Initially, my instincts were to search for the foods and brand names I recognized. Italy is supposedly one of the most globalized countries in the world, and having heard all about the prevalence of multinational corporations, I assumed it would be a simple matter of finding out what various brand names where in Italian. However, I soon discovered a wide range of local goods and found that many multinational companies operate under different local names and market different products. Each company has to adapt to the market it sells to. Seemingly, the notion of globalization as creating a monoculture appears for less accurate than I had thought.
Getting to class turned out not to be the 10 minute stroll we had been promised, but soon became a 20 minute uphill walk through the heat of the afternoon. However, it was well worth it to get the chance to take in my first impressions of the city. I am not quite sure what to make of it. While everything looks different, some parts of Rome remind me of home; I recognize the occasional palm tree and many of the flowers and other plants as staples of Southern California’s scenery. The weather is also very close to what it is like at home. After class we set off to explore the city and had some of our first informal meetings with native Italians. English has proven to be common enough to get by, but rare enough to make sure that we always have to have a few Italian phrases ready for whatever we need.
Later that day we all met up around 7:30 for a wonderful dinner at the C’era una Volta, Piazzale Dunant. The food was great and everyone seemed to enjoy the chance to sit down and eat a full meal for the first time in a couple days. We had only just finished settling into our spacious apartments.
Having visited Istanbul and Rome in such a short period of time I am still trying to sort out what to make of the experience. New cultures and new sights surround me and confront me as I explore the places of my favorite books. Two ancient cites and two very different atmospheres. I have dreamed of exploring these places for as long as I remember and now the opportunity is at my feet. I know that both cities will blow my expectations out of the water; I just hope I can keep up with all there is to see and do, all the while enjoying the chance to learn about both different peoples and IR. I have already met some incredibly nice people and seen things that I had never thought I would ever see.