On June 27, I was in Chicago for my Turkish Student visa interview. A day later, as I waited for my bus back to Kansas, I was alerted about another tragedy in the world.
Ataturk Airport. Terrorist attack. 45 Killed. More than 200 injured.
As I skimmed Google News that night, those were the words I found in every major headline.
For the first time that evening I was able to block out the awful smell of the overcrowded bus station and the uncomfortable pain that can only result from sitting on a grimy floor for over an hour.
At first I could only guiltily think of the student visa tucked safely in my purse.
A reminder of the friendly consular officers I had met the day before. Of the security guard who seemed to be in a constant good mood. Of the Turkish consular offices decorated in red and white with a portrait of Ataturk in every room. Of the waiting room’s coffee table covered in books titled Knowledge for Happiness.
I thought of the rage and sadness that one must feel to see terrorists harm your homeland and your people.
It’s quite depressing knowing that radicals are willing to kill innocents. And even more depressing to know that there are people my age and younger willing to join ISIS and other similar organizations.
It made me recall an event I attended at my university titled “Dialogue as an Antidote against Extremism.”
The guest speaker spoke about ISIS and mentioned how one way to recruit foreign youths was by promising a sense of belonging, fame, and treating “missions” like one giant video game.
Cause hey, young men and boys love video games.
Except in real life you’re not shooting virtual people. You’re shooting real people. Real people with aspirations and family. And once you go down that path you can’t restart. You can’t bring the dead back. And you can’t get rid of their families’ pain.
The ride back to Kansas was one filled with reflections. Due to the severity of the attacks I knew that ISEP or my school was eventually going to contact me.
It didn’t take long. All ISEP students heading to Turkey had until July 8th to decide whether or not to continue with their programs, postpone them, or look into an alternative host institute in another country.
It was stressed that students should take their time to consider how comfortable they felt about their personal safety.
That entire week I spoke with my parents and several others. I read countless articles on ISIS and safety. I found expats currently residing in Turkey and heard what they had to say. I even read a report that contained one very “reassuring” headline: Turkey’s vengeance will come down like rain from hell.
One week later, I messaged ISEP to notify them that I decided to continue with my original plan to study abroad in Turkey.
During the entire week I noticed one common statement made by everyone I talked to and every article I read. It was something I already knew deep down but had refused to acknowledge for some reason.
You never know.
Terrorists are meant to spread fear. Judging by the map above and all the tensions happening in the US right now, I should rightfully never leave my home.
The area I live at for the majority of the year has quite a few gun and knife problems. Shootings are plastered on every major US newspaper. Donald Trump has encouraged racists to come out from under their foul rocks and show their true colors.
Last fall semester, as I was coming back from studying at the school library some man I never met before approached me and asked if I wanted to get in his car and go to church at that moment. This was past midnight. Heck, on my way back to Kansas from Chicago I was put in a situation were I and my fellow bus passengers feared for our safety due to one other passenger.
I can’t scry into the future. Maybe something will happen. Maybe something won’t. But no one knows. Which is why I chose to continue my plans to study abroad in Turkey.
I know that there is a risk of danger (as with all travel), but I also understand that Turkey isn’t a massive war zone at this moment.
The best I can do right now is be knowledgeable of what’s currently happening in Turkey. Stay vigilant while abroad. Be mindful and respectful of my host country. And learn.
Because it’s ignorance that’s making this world a sad place. But it’s dialogue, knowledge, and compassion that can make it better for future generations.