Isolation, Distance and Language

I’ve run into a snag with my Albania stories. Maybe I’ll get back to them in a while, but for now I’ll branch off on another topic. Not that I don’t have good stories (for example being accused of being a Russian spy by an old man because I wanted to take a picture of his sheep… riding the Koman ferry with 3 motorcycles and a goat on board…), maybe my round two trip was a bit disappointing and I’m not sure how to think about it yet.

(pictures from around a month ago, Istanbul in the snow! I even had a day off so I walked around)

Anyway. Another topic. I remember after I was with my family in Budapest in 2000 I had a difficult time adjusting back to life at school and home in Grand Rapids. It was a very isolating experience and I recall the next year in my first year of high school English I wrote a paper about different kinds of isolation. I’m sure I attribute my 15 year old self more eloquence than he had, but I recall comparing the experiences of isolation abroad versus isolation at home. When you’re living abroad in a country where you don’t speak the language, you’re basically living in your own world. You don’t know people, don’t know the language, don’t know the city like you do your hometown and really don’t know what’s going on in the world around you. Whereas at home you might know all of those things but still feel a profound loneliness and isolation. You may feel that same loneliness when you’re abroad, but in the familiar setting of home it’s much more unsettling.
I’m sure I’ve mixed my current thinking with my thinking of 11 years ago (whoa, it’s been 11 years), but I’ve been thinking about this stuff for  a while, especially as I live abroad. I was always drawn to living overseas; even now I can’t say there’s anywhere in the states that I would like to live. I think it boils down to some sense of isolation and language.
I like silence and solitude. Quiet places to sit and read, think, ponder. Go for walks by the sea, thinking and muttering to myself. This solo time enables my head to work in ways that it can’t when there’s constant distraction. Think along different lines, get lost in the alleyways of thought that are inaccessible when I’m surrounded by noise.
One of the reasons I think that I’m drawn to living abroad is this ability to escape into one’s inner self more easily. Part of this is the language barrier. I’m learning Turkish but it isn’t very good at the moment, and if I don’t want to pay attention to something, I can just tune out. It’s one strange thing about going home for me, sitting in the Chicago airport, hearing everyone speaking English. All of a sudden tuning out isn’t very possible anymore; everything around me is so much more in focus.
But it’s not just language, there’s something about distance in there too. I hear the news from home, I know what’s going on, but I can choose how much to think about it. By the time I get home next it will have been about two years, in which time a lot has/will have changed. Death, separation, change, loss… A lot has happened. But I don’t think about it so much, mostly because of the distance. The geographical distance enables me to distance myself from everything emotionally as well, be it for good or ill.
I don’t know. Maybe this fondness I have for isolation and solitude isn’t good, but I feel happiest when I’m able to tune in to myself, where there aren’t so many distractions coming from any different areas. I don’t know what my 15 year old self would think of me now, living in Istanbul, still thinking about isolation and that paper I wrote 11 years ago.
I’m off on another trip. This one’s just a short one, I only have a week off of class. I’ll be busing around a handful of different cities in southeastern Turkey. I tell people about it and most look at me strange when I say that I’m traveling solo. But solo travel is the best, I tell them. I’ll tune in to myself, read books and experience things as I see fit, with no obligations to anyone but myself. Maybe my next blog posts will be about this upcoming journey.

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