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Language Barriers: A Leap of Faith


The River

All that I have is a river

The river is always my home…

I reminisced the words of Johnny Flynn as I walked around the shores of Izmir. The waves thrashed upon the pathway. Trinkets of water caressed my cheeks, but nothing touched me as much as Johnny Flynn’s voice singing ‘water’. It resonated with the pain I felt as I walked by the shore. It made me realise that I only had a few months left in Izmir. Izmir, a city that felt more of a home than Pakistan ever did. A city that made me feel safe, thicker skinned, and most importantly, happy.

Coming from a country where locked doors were the only home I had, Turkey felt like a long dream instead of a semester exchange programme. I never realised how much independence changes a person. No longer did I need a man to tag along to do my groceries, pay my bills, or accompany me when I took a taxi home. Chivalry died and left a sweet taste of freedom in Izmir. The sweetness echoed through the coastal shores, hence, I was couldn’t help myself from smiling at the sea.


Leap of Faith

It started from taking a leap of faith. I applied for a funded semester exchange programme at Turkey without honestly realising what I signed up for. I entirely put my faith into a foreign journey that would serve as an escape from the closed doors of Pakistan.

As I walked out of the Izmir airport, nothing felt familiar. I searched for a voice that spoke English to me but everyone looked at me helplessly. It was a strange feeling; being stared at for being the odd one out. Back home, being stared was a part of life. Those judgemental and perverse stares lurked around me and fed upon my fear. But these stares were searching to find me an answer that I could comprehend. Sign language did not help either. This exhausted them and they decided to walk away.

I instantly doubted my leap of faith. Was it wise to come to a country where no one spoke the language that I could comprehend? How would I ask for help if I got lost? Most importantly, how will I find the driver sent by the University to pick me up? Panic entrapped my body and I shook with fear. I just realised that I had never even taken a taxi without someone accompanying me and now, I was suddenly all alone in a country far away from familiarity. As I felt the anxiety build up, I heard a frail old voice call my name. I turned around and sought the driver. A sigh of relief released some of my anxiety as I sat in the car. When the driver started talking to me in Turkish, I just shook my head. After several tries of making me understand what he was saying, he surrendered. His frustration was the only communication I understood and I instantly chuckled. He laughed and spoke in a much happier tone. Maybe it wasn’t so bad that I could not understand Turkish at all. I realised that I found happiness in the unknown.


As months passed by, the communication barrier grew stronger. However, my trust in this leap of faith grew stronger with it. I faced several instances where I couldn’t even order food or do my daily chores. I realised that there was no way to survive a country except to immerse yourself in it. I learnt a few essentials of Turkish to get me by. Turkey’s culture made me feel like I belonged there. The people, the tea, the trees, the dogs; everything made me feel loved. But only one thing made me love myself; a walk by the river. It was a taste of freedom that I wouldn’t have upon my return. I often walked at night and stayed up late to watch the sunset, thinking if this was the start of a dream or its end.

Water by Johnny Flynn

Now the land that I knew is a dream
And the line on the distance grows faint
So wide is my river
The horizon a sliver
The artist has run out of paint……


Zoya Dawar (author) from Pakistan on April 02, 2020:

Thank you!

Zoya Dawar (author) from Pakistan on April 02, 2020:

thank you so much!

Liz Westwood from UK on March 29, 2020:

Thanks for sharing your experiences. It's a moving story.

Ivana Divac from Serbia on March 29, 2020:

Such a lovely story. Very well-written, filled with emotion, and beautiful in every way. Thank you for sharing!

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