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Courtesy: Gonzaga Athletics

Gonzaga In Turkey: Victoria Fallgren Reflects On Experiences

Courtesy: Gonzaga Athletics
          Release: 08/21/2012
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            NOTE:  Gonzaga women's golfer Victoria Fallgren studied abroad in August as part of the Gonzaga in Turkey program. Although internet service was scarce, she provided some insights along the way. This is her final installment now that she is back in the U.S. and ready to begin her senior year at Gonzaga.

            By Victoria Fallgren - August 21, 2012

            After returning to the United States and having had time to reflect on my time in Turkey, I am still in awe at the incredible experience I had there and the memories I gained.  Internet was sparse, particularly after the first week, and spare time seemed even scarcer, so I regret that I wasn't able to update more often.  But honestly, that was my only regret from my experience.

              Where to begin? People have been asking me "How was Turkey?" and it's been difficult to articulate just how incredible the experience was and just how much it affected me.  Words like "amazing," or "awesome" just seem trite and fall short of what I am trying to convey.  One of my classmates in our final kumbaya-esque sessions described our time in Turkey as "soul-shaking," and I've taken to using that phrase.  Most people just chuckle when I say that, "Oh Victoria the Classics Major and her words..." but that really has been the closest to summing up our journey in a concise manner.  During one of our first meetings, Father Kuder, who was teaching the course on St. Paul, told about the syllable "mu" from the Assyrians, which meant inexplicable speechlessness, either good or bad.  Words like "mumble," "mute," "mutter," and "mystery" came from this syllable.  A month later, our bus sounded like a herd of cows with everyone shouting "MUUUUU" to describe our time together.

            We traveled 6,246 kilometers by bus, and saw some of the most spectacular sights in the world.  We stood in front of the Library of Celsus in Ephesus, had Mass in the Virgin Mary's house and drank from the well in St. Paul's hometown in Tarsus.  By the end of the month, we were absolutely exhausted.  We had visited 65 separate sites, historical and natural, ancient and modern.  Sometimes, the two ends of the spectrum collided.  When we were in Istanbul for the final few days of the program, we were given free time to wander around the Grand Bazaar, and were able to meander up and down the aisles which have housed the Bazaar for hundreds of years, haggling for souvenirs to take home.  There were several ancient sites that we went to that had such copious amounts of material that there were relics just laying around on the ground, toppled columns, broken shards of pottery and pieces of Latin and Greek inscriptions.  It was strange to think that the columns we were sitting on for lectures were nearly ten times as old as our country.

            One of the most special aspects of my time abroad was interacting with the Turkish people.  To say they were welcoming would be an understatement.  Not only were they so excited to welcome us to their country, many of them seemed genuinely interested in us-what had brought us to Turkey, where we were from, how long we were going to be in the country and how we were enjoying ourselves.  Our tour-guide, Aydin, was the prime example of the Turkish people's hospitality.  His excitement for showing us his country was infectious.  Even when we were exhausted, his energy got us excited to see even the smallest and seemingly inconsequential site.

            I could talk for days about how incredible my time in Turkey was, trying to describe all the sites, but I try to resist, lest I bore people.  Additionally, many of the sites we saw were very specific to the Classics course we were taking and probably not of much interest to someone unfamiliar with the ancient world.  Two of my three favorite sites however had more to do about the natural beauty of Turkey than the archeological wonders of the Classical world.  The white terraces of Pamukkale were when I think I fell in love with Turkey.  We had just walked through the Hadrianic gate in the ancient city of Hierapolis, and trekked up to the Basilica of St. Peter at the top of a rather steep hill, and were definitely feeling the heat when we were given about an hour to go explore the "Cotton Castle."  Nearly halfway through the program, we were all exhausted and feeling overwhelmed by the enormity of the schedule.  But when we eased our feet into the cool water and took in the pure white of the calcium deposits on the iconic terraces, it was like all our cares melted away.  I can't speak for my classmates, but in that hour, screwing around taking goofy pictures, I felt rejuvenated.  Looking back on that hour, I can pinpoint that short span of time as one of the most purely carefree moments of my life.

            Cappadocia was another aspect of Turkey that was very special to me.  Beyond the aesthetic beauty of the region, there was something very peaceful and settling about the ambiance in the valleys.  Walking through the eroded crevices, it was hard not to feel like life was much simpler.  It was so quiet in the valleys, save for us shouting Gonzaga basketball chants.  Even when we were running through the valleys, exploring caves and streams and laughing at the phallic looking rocks, there was still a pervading sense of awe that such a place could exist.  I was lucky enough to go on a hot air balloon ride of Cappadocia, and floating over the rock faces, watching the sun rise more, I was struck with the curious dichotomy of feeling both at the top of the world, while at the same time feeling my own insignificance, in comparison to the enormity of what we were absorbing.

            The single place that I found the most endearing to me in Turkey, however, was in Sultanahmet, in the Old City of Istanbul, in the square between the famed Hagia Sophia and the Blue Mosque.  It was there that I really got my first taste of Turkey, after Sydney arrived, harried and exhausted from our flight, stumbling out of our hotel room determined to see Constantinople.  From our hotel room, we could hear the call to prayers going off at all hours of the day, and we were a 30 second walk from the square in between the two buildings.  We had many meals where we would get a kebab wrap to-go and go and sit on the park bench, absorbing the ambiance of the square.  The Sultanahmet square became a very special place for Sydney and I, embodying both our student-experience in Turkey as well as the modern Turkey of the locals, and being the place that really drove it home for me that I was in Turkey, and I had finally made it abroad.

            Beyond the incredible sites and foods and locals that we encountered in Turkey, the aspect of the program that really made it extraordinary for me was the people I was experiencing it with.  We started as a group of seventeen students, but we ended as an incredibly close-knit family.  It was very fortuitous that such a large group meshed so well, and while the goodbyes were sad at the end of the program, I am very grateful for the sixteen new brothers and sisters I have gained.

            All in all, my experience in Turkey was beyond anything I could adequately convey in a few hundred words.  I could not have asked for a month full of more fun, love, learning and awakening.   However, taking a month off golf was definitely another new experience for me, and having returned and gotten back into the literal swing of things, I am so excited to get back into the game, and get back to campus and start our season.  Like I texted Coach Rickel a couple of days ago, "Now that I've gotten this whole travel-abroad-and-see-the-world bug out of my system, let's win some tournaments this year."

                By Victoria Fallgren - July 10, 2012

            This morning we left Istanbul to start our journey around Turkey.  While Istanbul is an amazing city bustling with activity, I was glad to get out of the congested city and drive through some scenic Turkish countryside.

            These last few days we have spent trying to get into the swing of things with our program and having our first few days of classes. The history class with Dr. Goldman focuses on how Empires work, particularly in Ancient Anatolia, while Father Kuder's religion class follows the journey of Paul from the Bible, and his impact on the spread of Christianity.

            On our first day of classes  we had class in the morning, and were given a free afternoon in the Taksim area of Istanbul, which is one of the busiest parts of the city, and then took a ferry across the Bosphorus River to the Asian side of the city. I kept pointing out to all my friends that I was in "my homeland," even though it looked and felt exactly like the European side of the city. One cool thing we did see on the Asian side was the Virgil Institute, where scholars specifically study the works of the Roman poet Virgil. For my friends and I, all Latin nerds, it was definitely a highlight to the trip. 

            One of our classmates Colin, is a chemistry major, and did know the stories that we consider the cornerstone of our major, so we found a war-monument overlooking the river and regaled him with stories of the Iliad and the Odyssey and the Aeneid. Having four classics majors trying to tell one story at the same time was absolutely hilarious because we kept trying to talk over each other and contribute aspects to the narrative that we thought were particularly important and weren't getting their due. I think we probably overwhelmed Colin a little bit, but we assured him he was well on his way to understanding psyche of the Classics major.

            The next day was so incredibly busy, memories of it are starting to bleed into the other days.  After our morning class sessions, we went to Istanbul Archaeological Museum, where Professor Goldman lectured on their exhibit of ancient sarcophagi (above-ground stone coffin). One in the particular, the Alexander sarcophagi, was one of the most exquisite pieces I've ever seen. The elaborateness, the high relief, and the attention to detail were just stunning. In addition to the sarcophagi, there was an exhibit that traced the settlers of Istanbul through the ages, which we did a group activity in, and it was particularly interesting to see how readily the people Byzantion, which became Constantinople, which became Istanbul accepted aspects of foreigners' cultures into their own. We saw busts of Roman emperors, Greek gods,  Egyptian influences sarchpagi and even more influences from other cultures.  Finally, there was an exhibit on Troy. To Classics majors, Troy is Mecca. Our greatest literature stems from the events that happened there during the Trojan War. The city of Rome traced its roots back to those who had escaped a burning Troy, and rebuilt in Italy. There were artifacts from all seven levels of Troy, from pottery to weapons. Looking at that exhibit just made us all the more excited to see actual Troy later on.

            Yesterday we left Istanbul, taking off in our giant tour bus, driving southwest towards Gallipoli, where we were lectured the Ottoman Empire's role in World War I. Being a classics major that was the first time I've learned about any modern history in a long time. We visited the memorial site to the Anzac soldiers, which I think cast a pretty somber mood over the group. Some of the memorial stones had the ages of the soldiers, and it was hard to imagine someone at our age, sometimes younger, being in some strange land, far from home, fighting to survive. 

            We were given the afternoon to do as we pleased, and we spent it enjoying our hotel's pool and the beach.  After dinner we reviewed for our quiz today (Wednesday), and then settled in for a Troy movie night.  It's only appropriate that we watch Troy, before we go to Troy, even if the movie is a terrible adaptation of one of the greatest works of literature.

            Much to all of our excitement, the next day we were off to see the ruins of Troy, which Professor Goldman told us isn't actually that exciting, and is actually just a pile of rocks, but as I was telling my roommate Sydney, "It's our pile of rocks." And it was absolutely amazing. The site itself might not have been anything spectacular, but walking around the site of the Trojan War was really special. I kept imagining Hector running around the city walls three times, fleeing from Achilles. There is a life-sized replica of the Trojan horse near the site, and we all clamored in to take pictures. For a classics major, it was heaven.

            Over the next few days, we visited Alexandria-Troas, Assos, Pergamum, the Aesclipeion, various ancient churches, and the ancient temples at Sardes. The days are long and exhausting, and so well worth it. The friends I am making are the coolest mix of people, and we are all having the time of our lives. Our access to internet is limited, and since our cell phones are cut off, we are having a much more organic experience with each other. Tonight we are in this amazing resort by the sea, and tomorrow we go to Ephesus. Life is pretty good.

            By Victoria Fallgren - Fourth of July

            Happy Fourth of July!  It feels sort of strange to be celebrating Independence Day abroad, where no one really cares, but even as a group we have to sort of remind each other about what day it is.

            Today is my fourth day in Istanbul, and it has been unforgettable to say the least.  My friend Sydney arrived in LAX on June 29, and the next afternoon we took off on our thirteen hour direct flight to Istanbul.  We got incredibly lucky getting through customs and baggage claim in less than forty minutes and made it to our hotel at about 7 p.m.  We were completely thrown off with the time change, asking each other in the line for a visa, "Um, what time is it?"

            Our hotel was one of both the high-points of the trip so far, as well as being one of the low points.  When Sydney and I entered the room, we saw a rather large erotic portrait painted over the wall of the bed, and an old hag painted creepily staring into the room in the corner.  Both paintings have been a constant source of amusement from taking funny pictures to just commiserating over how different what the hotel website presented was compared to the closet we ended up with. In addition to that, the bathroom truly lived up to its name of water-closet, as it was about half the size of a normal bathroom, and in typical middle-eastern style, featured a shower in the same room, no curtain, and even better yet, with a blow-dryer permanently plugged into the wall, exposed to the water. Sydney still feels embarrassed over how her reservations turned out.

            Our first night in Turkey, Sydney and I decided to take it easy, so we just walked around the Sultanhamet Square, which contains both the illustrious Hagia Sophia and the Blue Mosque. It's hard to fathom how much history has taken place on the same ground upon which we were standing.  We had trouble finally deciding upon a restaurant, as every venue seemed to have someone outside trying to get your attention. When we finally picked a restaurant on a busy street made up primarily of restaurants with open patio seating, we had just finished ordering and were people watching from our perch when we saw one of our classmates, Brian, walk by. We had been anticipating meeting up with him, but it was still such a pleasant surprise to run into someone you know well halfway across the globe. He joined us for dinner, and when we finally finished eating around 11 o'clock, we looked up to see about a good portion of the city, which included our hotel, was under a power outage. Brian walked us back, and we had a good time showing him our creepy room and catching up until the early hours of the next day, as our internal clocks were still all out of whack. When Brian left, the concierge told us that the generator was going to be shut down for the night in 10 minutes, and that we should get ready for bed; about 10 seconds later, the lights went off, leaving Sydney and I to get ready for bed in the dark with only my phone's flashlight to help us, cursing our bad luck.

            The next day, we met up with Brian early and got lost in the Grand Bazaar together. Brian had already been in Istanbul for a couple of days before, and had gotten his bearings around the place, and was indignant at the thought of getting lost. Ten minutes later, after walking with Sydney and I, taking random turns on a whim, he was definitely lost. One of my favorite lines from the trip so far came when we were trying to find our way back to something familiar, when one particularly aggressive store vendor who was trying to force his silk scarves on to us, entreated Brian in his broken English, "Please sir, you should want to buy these scarves for your secretaries!"  We still are cracking up about that ridiculous encounter. After getting lunch at Best Kabobs, which probably would have been more aptly named Adequate Kabobs, we took the metro across the river to the Galata Tower, which I would equate to the Turkish equivalent to the Space Needle. It sat at the top of the large hill, proving a spectacular three-hundred degree view of Istanbul that was both very intimate and breathtaking at the same time.

            After meeting up with another friend of ours, Anthony, we all had a quiet dinner and retired early, with the intent of waking up early to go to an island about an hour ferry ride away, but when I woke up the next morning, I felt like living death. Whenever I travel from one climate to another, I get sick more often than not, and while I knew it wasn't a big deal, the last thing I wanted was to be confined to my stuffy, TV-less hotel room when I could have been wandering the streets of Constantinople. After a day of rest however, I felt significantly better, and was probably better off for having taken the time to slow down. Sydney and Antony visited the Hagia Sophia while I was busy being an invalid, which I am extremely jealous of, but I'm trying to take solace in the fact that our group will be visiting there at the end of the program.

            Tuesday night, Sydney and I could not sleep.  We laid there in bed talking, and giggling over the odd sounds we were hearing in our bizarre hotel.  At 4:30 in the morning, the first call to prayer went off from all the mosques surrounding us. After listening to the chants for about 10 minutes, Sydney and I decided we might as well just start our day. We got cleaned up, and went for a walk around Sultanhamet Square at 6 o'clock, right after the sun rose. Standing in the middle of the square with so much history and beauty is a truly amazing experience. Especially when there was essentially no one else in the square.

            When we reconvened with Anthony and Brian, we all shared a cab to go to the hostel we would be staying with our study abroad group for the next couple of days. The taxi driver got lost twice, and had to pull over and ask other taxi drivers for help. When we finally got to the hostel, we saw that it was in fact an old hospital that had been converted into a hostel, and was still bearing some signs of its old façade, complete with hospital beds and generic scenery paintings in the waiting rooms.

            The Gonzaga-in-Turkey group wasn't scheduled to meet until 4 p.m., so we took the metro to the coast and took the hour-long ferry to the Princes' Islands, which used to play hosts to the Kings sons, hence gaining their name. We had been anticipating a beach, but that attraction fell severely short, with numerous people laid out on towels on the walking path that hugged the coastline. The island was similar to Catalina Island, in California-very tourist oriented, no cars and very laid back.  With the beach idea a bust, we caught a quick lunch at a kabob stand, and shopped around, each of us buying a floral crown-the boys more as a joke- essentially branding us as the quintessential tourists, getting laughs out of everyone, from people on the ferry to the metro home, to our own classmates, who particularly liked Brian and Anthony's daisies.

            When the group was finally all together, we went out for our first official dinner as a group to a local fish restaurant where we were stuffed silly with food, and serenaded with Turkish street performers. It was the perfect way to kick off the program, and we are all really excited to get going. Classes start Thursday, and I will vacillate between bemoaning the fact that I'm actually going to have to study (I mean, how unfair is that?) and actually being excited over what we are going to study, I can already tell this next month is going to be absolutely amazing.

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