I arrived to Bursa, Turkey with one goal: learn to effectively communicate the Turkish language, history, and culture. What I uncovered was my own increasing desire to effectively communicate African American heritage to Turkish citizens. The partnership of mutual culture understanding, between numerous Turkish citizens and myself began shortly after meeting my host family. While we were awaiting a traditional feast celebrating my arrival, my host sister took me to Uludag University’s off-campus housing and café area. Over a cup of chai tea she (host-sister) spoke of the stares I apparently had been receiving since my arrival in the city: “Don’t worry about the stares; they will subside once people get used to seeing you.” I immediately scanned my recollections and my current surroundings; not only did I not see anyone of a dark complexion; I was indeed getting double glances. People were turning in complete circles to make sure they had seen a ‘black woman.’ Uncertain about what to think, I nodded to my "sister" and embarked wholeheartedly on a unique and life-altering experience. Almost a year has passed and I am still astonished by positive personal growth I experienced through my encounters with the Turkish population.
One encounter was with a fellow Critical Language Scholarship participant’s host father, who, like others, had tons of questions about African American culture. Interested in everything from my hair regimen to whether his 6-month old daughter would be afraid of me. We had many conversations about African American culture. I found it ironic that he knew of Beyoncé but the thought of Africans in the diaspora was foreign. Like her rest of her family, the 6-month baby loved me, and in an effort to celebrate cultural understanding and awareness, we, the 6-month old and I, had a photo-shoot.
On a separate occasion a fellow CLS participant and I entered a bus station to find out about bus fares to travel to cities outside of Bursa. After chatting with the attendant, we began to hold general conversation. The attendant showed his knowledge of American politics by referring to our current president by name —President Obama. Shortly thereafter, he asked the probing question, “Where are you from? Then, looking in the direction of the other CLS participant, he asked, "you are white… why are you black?” I was surprised that he knew President Obama but was unable to make the connection that descendants of Africans resided in America. Smiling, we informed him of the various cultures located in the U.S., but he, like many others I met, could not conceive how I could be an American without being white. He and others insisted that I must be from Africa.
This experience stays with me. It is true that people from other lands cannot imagine a country that is a true melting pot. Throughout the summer, I lived as a minor celebrity, being stared at and greeted with questions about America and me. I was surprised when arriving home, that no one glanced my way.