I've been here for almost two months now. I still spend most of my time on campus, with occasional forays either down the hill to the grocery store/shopping centre or even less frequent trips in to town. Campus itself is really pretty; between the three university campuses in the area and the nearby state-owned farm/dairy/zoo, our little 5km radius probably has more trees than the rest of Ankara put together.
|Blossoms on a tree outside our building. It's been an unseasonably warm winter, and I think we're just rushing right in to spring.|
Bilkent is situated on the top of one of the hills that surrounds Ankara, and our apartment is at the very top of that hill, so we get a nice-ish view.
|A zoomed view between two nearby apartment buildings, in which you can see the city, hills, and the furniture factory next door. Note that this is one of the clearest days I've seen since moving here.|
Nice-ish because the thing is, Ankara is...not pretty. Especially coming out of Ottawa, which, despite the frequent moaning and groaning about the lack of life and culture (which is bullshit), is a beautiful city. Tons of green space, sparkling clean, extremely walkable, very friendly, and - for the most part - nicely designed. We lived in an especially nice part before we moved, and my parents live in a lovely, very established suburb, so it was a bit of a shock arriving in Ankara. The city is huge (approximately five million people) and sprawling, with a major pollution problem that gets worse in the winter because many people use wood or coal to heat their homes. The infrastructure is terrible: traffic is appallingly bad and not getting any better and there seems to be an emphasis on grand new projects rather than, I don't know, fixing the sidewalks, which have bloody great pits and missing paving stones all over the place. Pedestrians are definitely not important to city planning, and getting around can be a bit of a pain. I am far too terrified to drive here, so we don't currently have a car.
However, there is an extremely convenient free campus bus service that goes in to town and back every hour, and drops one at a number of stops along the way. From there, many places (for example, the Canadian embassy, where we've been attending social nights every few weeks) are a short, under $10 cab ride away. The bus stops at a bar district that's a few steps from a shopping street and a very pretty neighbourhood. I went out with some friends from my Turkish class a few weeks ago and we had a very pleasant afternoon wandering around. There's another neighbourhood called Bahcelieveler (garden homes) that I'm also looking forward to getting to know.
|A black swan in the swan park in downtown Ankara.|
On the ride in to downtown from campus the bus passes four shopping malls on one 2km stretch of highway. It's ridiculous, but convenient because most things we would need to buy can be found at one of those malls. To be honest, while life here is in some ways just that much more complicated than it was in Canada (the language barrier being one of the biggest complicating factors for me), my daily life is extremely simple. I spend most of my time working on Turkish/blogging/attempting to get my freelance business off the ground. I am also enjoying cooking more elaborate and time-consuming things and cleaning the kitchen and bathroom every two days because I can. Life will change when I start working full-time in September, but for now I am enjoying my time.
Things that took some getting used to:
- The water that comes out of the taps is not drinkable (it likely won't kill you, but it doesn't taste very good). We use it for showering, brushing teeth, washing dishes, and even cleaning fruits and vegetables, but not for drinking/tea-making/cooking. For those activities we use water in giant plastic jugs that you have to re-order by phone. One of the first bits of Turkish I mastered after moving here was "Bir su, lütfen. Lojman X, daire X. Tesekkurler", which means "One water, please. Building X, apartment X. Thanks". The "water guy" is very pleasant and very patient with my halting Turkish, although we occasionally run in to confusion. Sometimes they just show up without me having called them (although it's always right before I pick up the phone to call) with a new jug in exchange for an empty one. I just realized today that they probably do a weekly run for their customers!
|I bought a fashion magazine to help work on my Turkish, and it came with a special beauty edition AND two catalogues.|
- When we were in Istanbul this summer, most people - especially in touristy areas - spoke at least some English. In Ankara, even the people who service the (English-language) university campus rarely speak any English, so learning Turkish is priority #1. Although I grew up moving around, this is the first time in my life that I've lived in a place where I don't speak the language. It's a weird feeling.
- There are stray dogs and cats all over campus. The ones that live on campus proper are friendly, although there is apparently a wild pack in the valley between the main and east campuses who are...not. It's taken some getting used to, because I tend to be skittish around unfamiliar dogs, but they're pretty cute. The guy above is wearing a collar so I doubt he's a stray.
- There are some things that are much harder to find here than in Canada. We expected this, but we'll be stocking up on certain spices, etc. in Canada when we're there in March. Some hard-to-find products: vanilla extract, Mexican and/or Tex-Mex seasonings and products, Indian-style seasonings and spices, soft brown sugar (this I actually haven't found yet), functional cling film, and tofu! I'm also really missing a lot of snack foods. There's a huge variety of potato chips and dried nuts and seeds, but I don't really love either of those things and I'm missing things like pretzels, pop chips, and fancy crackers.
Personal care products are also different and generally more expensive. Some things that I'm used to seeing in stores are much harder to find, while others are far more popular than they are in Canada. I have a post coming up that will talk a bit about that, but here are some things I have either not found at all or have had a hard time finding: facial sunscreen, Simple brand products (I will eventually have to switch to something else), shower caps, unscented products in general - including detergent, Vaseline, large sizes of many things (lotion, nail polish remover, etc. all seem to exclusively come in absurdly tiny bottles). To be fair, the selection in the grocery store is not good and I did find a Watson's (East Asian drugstore chain) with a great selection at a local mall, so it could just be that I have to find the right places to look. I'm looking forward to exploring!
|I leave you with proof that despite cultural differences, students are the same all over the world. Photo taken outside the engineering building.|