Standing at the Crossroads

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Garth Libhart with a child from the Shangri-La Children’s Home in Katmandu

During the 2010 spring semester and summer break, Garth Libhart, a senior English major from Marietta, Pa., traveled to Turkey and Nepal. The following article is an account of his journey and the cross-cultural experiences he had along the way.

The minarets of Istanbul, jutting above the houses, businesses and ancient streets of the city, were the first things I noticed when I arrived in Turkey last year. Rich sights and sounds flooded my senses as my taxi crossed an enormous bridge over the Bosporus Strait, the body of water that splits Istanbul in half and divides Europe from Asia: seagulls flitting above the rippling water; the resonant sounds of Middle Eastern music playing on the radio; hordes of traffic passing by; the meandering, Byzantine streets ahead.

Later in the year, I found myself in Nepal, surrounded by a comparable overload of the senses. During the taxi ride from the Kathmandu Airport to our hotel, my eyes were fixated on the bustling, monsoon drenched streets outside my window. Motorcycles, driven by young riders in long black ponchos, weaved in and out of traffic. Three-wheeled cars called tuk-tuks were everywhere. People drive on the opposite side of the road, like drivers in the United Kingdom, except these roads have no street markings and drivers don’t use turn signals. They simply honk their horns whenever they intend to turn.

AS THE CAPITAL of a developing country, Kathmandu contains an interesting blend of the rural and urban. People, automobiles, buildings, farm animals and dirt roads are thrown together in the same space. More than once during that first taxi ride, we passed by cows sleeping in the middle of the chaotic streets, safe from harm due to their revered status in Hinduism. Istanbul, as the “bridge between East and West,” gave me the experience of living at a crossroads, and my visit to Nepal would allow me to go even further.

I HAVE WANTED TO TRAVEL my whole life to see new parts of the world, meet interesting people, taste new foods and speak different languages. I believed, almost dogmatically, in the importance of being forced to function in a culture apart from my own. And yet a year and a half ago, I had never been outside of the United States. That all changed in 2010 when I decided to study for a semester in Istanbul and then, a few months later, to travel to Nepal with associate Professor of English Rachana Sachdev and three other students for a research trip funded by a grant from the ASIANetwork Freeman Foundation.

My fascination with Turkey, specifically Istanbul, began in the summer of 2009 when I read Elizabeth Kostova’s debut novel, The Historian, in which one of the characters finds himself on an unexpected visit to this enchanting city. Intrigued by the book’s descriptions, I started reading everything about Istanbul I could find— travel guides, history books and the memoir of Turkish writer Orhan Pamuk. I also began talking to people who had visited the city, and I was encouraged by the good things I heard. Soon enough, I had developed an almost magnetic attraction to the place. My mind was set: I would live and study in Istanbul. A few months later I was at Istanbul’s Koç University, studying Turkish literature and culture.

 

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