“One’s destination is never a place, but a new way of seeing things.” – Henry Miller
In a month, I had the experience of learning from some of the brightest historical minds in our country; people who devoted their lives to elevating the lives of the dead. It was mesmerizing, difficult and tiring. In the weeks that I was there, I was expected to read hundreds of pages from scholarly articles and books, which at times seemed like an insurmountable task. Many nights I stayed up late after lecture and our excursions to read more and more. The more I read, the more the questions I had. The more questions I had, the more I sought out their answers. It was a challenge being a student again, meeting deadlines, doing the assignments, and asking the right questions at the right time. I forgot how nerve wracking it could be to interrupt an expert and question their assumptions, knowing that I’d have to defend my own. This is the true of work of historians, understanding that bias and perspective is par the course, the trick is knowing that you offer a unique perspective that inevitably is unique, different and adaptive. At times, I had sacrifice what I thought I knew in order to accept a new “truth.” Sometimes, what we thought was always a fact, turns out to be fiction when you seem from a new angle.
In my month long stay, I ate many doner kebab wraps, donned myself in the appropriate head scarf tradition, listened to the call to prayer, wandered from Istanbul to Izmir to Ephesus and Bursa and then lastly to Antalya in the South. I experienced different Turkish traditions, learned a few key phrases and bolstered up the courage to immerse myself in something so new and unfamiliar. I lived out of a suitcase for a month and hauled all my belongings with me in a way that made more acutely aware of what a nomadic can really be like.
In a month’s time, I became accustomed to background chatter that I didn’t understand. I learned how to bargain for a better price, and I became more comfortable and confident about what it was that I wanted to know.
It took me over 20 hours to traverse the globe and come back home to LA. Truthfully, I had mixed feelings about coming home. I missed the excitement and uncertainty of travel, but longed for the familiar feeling of “being home.” I was eager to learn more about Turkish culture, but reminisced about how tasty and satisfying coffee, bacon and eggs can be for breakfast. I was eager for new adventures, but was growing tired of living out of my bag and constantly digging through its contents. Mixed feelings, indeed.
This morning I woke up, and I’m happy to say that I spent the night fully asleep, not waking up once. Clearly, jet lag and exhaustion had the best of me. While I still look forward to future adventures, I’m comforted by my life here in LA and the familiarity of what I know and the excitement that I have for what I don’t know yet. My experience studying with the National Institute for the humanities affirmed something that didn’t strike as important as it does now. In the words of John Steinbeck, “…teaching might be the greatest of the arts since the medium is of the human mind and spirit.”