As winter break approaches, the “Are you going back home for the holidays?” question pervades every conversation. It provokes nostalgic thoughts of home and flip-flop-less showers eclipsed by burnout and coffee past 8:00 p.m. The next question generally is, “So, where is home for you?”, which is the one to always get me, because home for me is 7,953 kilometers (4,942 miles) away. 

To me, home is waking up to the sound of the seagulls flying over the Bosphorus, the smell of my father’s menemen (a Turkish breakfast dish made from scrambled eggs with tomato and green peppers), and a hot cup of freshly brewed Turkish tea poured straight from the teapot. 

The end of December signifies four months away from Istanbul. Four whole months of not being able to walk into my sister’s room whenever I feel bored, of not switching continents on a daily basis, of not having dinner with my family every night, of not eating mouth-wateringly delicious Turkish food … I often don’t have time to think about home during the whirlwind of exams, the end of classes, project presentations, final grade calculations and long papers… I can’t even process going home until I’m doing it on an 11-hour plane ride.

Having one life at home and one at school has been quite challenging. I’m overwhelmed by sadness whenever it’s time to leave either one of the places and the people there. It has made me hate goodbyes, airports, suitcases and anything that makes me feel like I’m moving all over again. But, the moment I step into either one of my rooms, I’m overcome with gratitude and relief. One conversation with someone I haven’t seen in months, or one long tearful reunion hug is enough to help me adjust. I’ve come to accept constantly being on the move and embrace my double life by trying to make the most of my time in both homes. 

When I do have time to think about home and all the people I will reunite with, I can’t help but smile to myself. Thinking of all the things I want to do, except for getting my wisdom teeth removed, brings me joy. I’m excited to help my stressed sister who is going through her senior year of high school, to celebrate my mother’s 50th birthday in early January, to update my grandparents on my life on campus, to go on coffee dates by the Bosphorus with my long-distance boyfriend. I’m struggling to narrow down all the things I’ve missed doing. I’m tempted to list a whole menu consisting of Turkish food, desserts and drinks. This is where I should probably recommend you try Turkish food if you haven’t. There’s something for everyone, tons of meat dishes and kebabs, endless vegetable dishes, variations of desserts, national beverages, including tea, coffee, raki (an alcoholic drink) and ayran (a signature Turkish yogurt drink). I can’t wait for our next girls’ night with mezze and raki, accompanied by Turkish music. 

I miss being home. Not only the people and the food, I miss the city itself. With a population of 18 million, Istanbul is quite a chaotic city. You’ll always run into someone in a hurry, or another yelling out of their window in traffic. There will always be stray dogs following you around as you walk, and a local baker selling simit (I feel like I always need to add a definition; simit is a Turkish bagel-shaped bread typically encrusted with sesame seeds) at pretty much every corner. You’ll hear cars honking, people talking loudly and pigeons chirping as they fly low to eat simit crumbs. With too much going on, there’s never a dull moment in Istanbul. There is always a new restaurant to try, another museum to visit, a historical artifact to see, a club to go to, a street to grab coffee and shop; you basically never run out of activities. Even after 20 years of living in Istanbul, the city never fails to excite me. 

Being back home is nostalgic. Every time I return, I fall in love with Istanbul all over again in the simplest moments. I find myself lost in thought when I take the ferry to cross to the Anatolian side of Istanbul. There is so much to observe. I watch the seagulls dance as they dive to find fish, the waves glisten under the bright sunlight and the cats search for leftover food to take to their kittens. I listen to the combination of sounds: the ferry horns, the splash of the waves against the pier, the man playing the guitar by the park, the giggling children on the swings. And I love people watching. I create scenarios in my mind that explain the panicked woman running to catch the shuttle, the couple silently hugging on the bench by the sea, the fishermen filling up their bucket with water or the old man listening to loud, melancholic music from his phone as he gazes into the horizon, watching yet another deep orange sunset. I love the people of my country. They always hold onto strong emotions. You can tell from the look in their eyes. 

Maybe it’s because of how far back the city’s history goes, or because of the different cultures that have left a mark; maybe it’s the economy or elections that cause the people a burden, or just the incredible aesthetic beauty, but Istanbul bears so many emotions. And I love being overwhelmed by it every time I step outside and breathe the fresh Bosphorus air, inhaling the smell of fish and car exhaust. 

With its views, history and heartfelt people, Istanbul has my heart.