ISTANBUL – I haven’t done a lot of traveling in my life, apart from family holidays to popular beach resorts and trips around the French countryside, so visiting Istanbul this summer was already going to be an exciting experience.
But I didn’t anticipate just quite how special it would be to be led around one of the world’s most populated cities by the people who call it home.
Youth Journalism International’s Global Conference in Istanbul was a unique traveling experience, with seven Turkish students eager to show us the delights of their city.
When you get to visit somewhere as beautiful as Istanbul, it is a privilege in itself, but seeing that city through the perspective of locals was such an eye-opening experience.
As someone completely new to the culture, and also unaware of the language, the local Turkish students in the group were a real blessing.
I got to enjoy the stunning architecture of the Hagia Sophia and explore the mesmerizing stalls in the Grand Bazaar, not just as a tourist, but also as a friend of Türkiye.
Seeing how the Turkish students explored their own landmarks, and shared stories and histories about the places that mean something to them was, for me, the most special part of the trip.
It allowed me to fully experience Türkiye for what it is, and to see the connections between the people and how they interact with each other.
I learned so much about the rich Turkish culture, but what struck me the most was how eager the Turkish students were for us to enjoy and appreciate their cuisine. From imam bayildi to ali nazik, to kofte, to marash ice cream, making sure that the tourists ate proper Turkish food was a priority for them.
Food is like a universal language. It connects cultures and fosters friendships between people. Exploring Turkish cuisine allowed me to see Turkish culture through Turkish eyes, and learn to understand the differences between the Turkish and UK cultures.
The Turkish students built a bridge between the local culture and the world around us so that myself, and the other foreign visitors, could all enjoy their city.
They helped us ask for directions, read and understand museum placards. They recommended the tastiest dishes on the menu and made me feel welcome and safe. Our Turkish friends were an invaluable part of the experience.
Because of them, we got to fully immerse ourselves in Turkish culture, something that would have been impossible without their help.
I hope to spend more time traveling in the future, and during this YJI conference, I realized the power and importance of connecting with the locals.
Everyone is so excited to share their city with others, and I hope to continue to explore new cities through the eyes of those who know it best.
Holly Hostettler-Davies is a Senior Correspondent with Youth Journalism International from Wales. She wrote this commentary.
Photo contributions from İpek Eser, a Junior Reporter with Youth Journalism International from Istanbul and Mary Majerus-Collins, an Associate Editor with Youth Journalism International from the United States.