As I boarded the plane on my flight back home from Ankara, thousands of thoughts flooded my mind. My first year in university seemed to have passed by in a flash, yet I was left with an abundance of memories and a bittersweet feeling as I looked back at each of them. To say there were some tough times is an understatement. Simply put, it was exasperating.
Studying abroad for higher education had been a dream of mine since childhood and seeing my cousins and close friends do this had only strengthened my desire further. They would all come back with endless stories of the new environment, different cultures, new places, and the refreshing learning experience. When choosing Bilkent University to pursue architecture, I kept all their advice in mind. I went forth with a positive approach, thinking about how much I would be able to grow as a person and enjoy living independently. The one thing my privileged upbringing never allowed me to consider was this being a major step into the real world.
Of course, I knew that there would be some hurdles along the way. However, I immediately dismissed that thought. Instead, I convinced myself to power through.
To get there, I overlooked things such as small dorm rooms, shared bathrooms and tiny kitchen spaces. I also didn’t mind the long walks to and from each class. I assured myself that sharing a dorm with several other students would help build friendships and walking around campus would help me stay healthy. "Positive thoughts only!”, I’d keep saying to myself. It was when classes started that I was in for a disappointment.
To my dismay, most of the locals spoke only Turkish and made little effort to communicate with international students in English. In my department, there was a tiny percentage of international students. I noted after we were divided into sections for different courses, I often found myself allotted with a batch of Turkish students only. Although the instructors always made it a point to give lectures in English, the students felt more comfortable discussing them among themselves in Turkish. I soon realized that making friends would be harder than I imagined.
Despite the language barrier, I told myself that this would serve as an opportunity for me to focus more on studies and work in class. With that attitude, my semester was off to a good start. However, understanding the new system was another major adjustment. Soon enough the daily quizzes, assignments, presentations, and homework began to feel like a massive burden.
For the first time, I found myself pulling all-nighters to complete and submit work on time. I felt trapped in an endless cycle of lagging behind and continually trying to catch up with the workload. The coursework coupled with my chores made it even harder to manage to live alone. Thinking about tasks such as doing laundry, washing dishes, buying groceries or cooking used to sound easy before. However, having to do all that alongside studying and sleeping well, became next to impossible.
Perhaps that is what brings me to the biggest difficulty I faced that year — an internal struggle. I knew that stress and pressure was a reality that every person had to face. As much as I tried to fight it myself, there were days where I felt utterly exhausted and inadequate because nothing seemed to be going right.
It was around that time that I was walking to my dorm when a friend of mine asked if I wanted to grab a bite. She sensed something was wrong, and asked me about it, until tears welled up from my eyes and I finally let it out, trying as hard as I could to word my feelings coherently. She sat with me for the longest time, consoling me and telling me never to give up, to believe in myself, and to never doubt my self-worth.
Her words gave me immense relief, as she made me realize that I did have people who cared about me as much as my family, even a thousand miles away from home. A smile formed across my face, as I sat thinking about that difficult time in the plane.
Looking back, I'd say that my first year taught me a lot about myself and my life. I understood the importance of perseverance and self-care. I learned that everyone would have to face tough times, sooner or later. The tough times may eventually come to an end, but the fighting spirit remains forever. It is not the studies that seem less hard now, but the strength to overcome any obstacle that makes everything much sweeter.
My struggles have taught me that eventually, everything will be okay.
Irina Qureshi is a writer who cares about reader experience. Her work invites readers into perspectives gleaned from her studies, her relationships, and her travels, urging you into your own adventure. You can contact her either on Facebook or LinkedIn.
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