In honor of our March Travel Theme, blog courtesy of Shannon Van Heest

Our plane landed at night, masking the city in ebony, making it like any other city.  We took turns at the ATM, withdrawing our first foreign currency, before loading onto a bus, jet-lagged.  The bus dove through traffic, horn honking, brakes slamming in jerks, lights looking familiar in the darkness, before delivering us to our hotel.  A hotel front that was narrow on a curvy street, which led to our rooms up a tight, winding staircase.  When I reflect on that arrival night, the images invading my senses make it seem like any other night in a new place.  But, it wasn’t.

Shannon TurkeyAs a college senior, I took my first trip ever out of the country with my small, Southern school’s Religion and Philosophy departments and a group of about 26 other students, including one of my roommates and best friends.  We traveled for eight weeks to Turkey, Greece, and Italy, loosely trailing Paul’s journey through Acts in the Bible and studying the art and architecture of the Byzantine Empire.  Our travels began that first night in Istanbul, Turkey because our professors thought it would be the destination most unlike the one we’d left.  They wanted to shake us up a little, prove that we’d left the Furman “bubble” (the nickname for the sheltering environment of our college), and with a jolt, force us into an encounter with The Other.

In counseling terms, encountering The Other refers to experiences that either purposefully challenge or enlighten us about our own cultural background through a sensation of being “different.” Encounters with The Other, oftentimes as The Other, ultimately help us appreciate experiences and customs of other people.  Beginning with my first night and day in Turkey, I encountered The Other everywhere on that trip.

My journal from that time reflects my early naivety.  I recorded first-day details about everything we ate, ending sentences with a plethora of exclamation points. Chicken!  Eggplant!  Mashed potato pie!  Stuffed tomatoes!  Apple Tea!  It surprised me that I had to identify that I was from America, not just a particular state.  Our professors’ instructions to always have a male student with us as females out and about made me shiver.  I was dazzled by the golden mosaics, the underground cisterns, the vibrant blue tile work that has endured centuries.  I remember, even, the routine call to prayer and how the sound felt haunting to me.  How its echo throughout the remote countryside made me remember, over and over again, how far I was from home.  Names shouted across the stalls to us in the Spice Bizarre disgusted me: “Girl, Lady, Charlie’s Angels.”  I never got used to the begging children, the poverty.

I felt sublimely free from the world I left, my perspective forever changed, but I also Trip to Turkey 2returned from that trip more myself than ever, grateful for my circumstances, and sure of what I hoped my life could become.  And as I wrote in that grimy, travel-weary journal, “a smile of welcome for The Other and you’re part of me, forever a part of me.  Wherever I go, a part of me.”

That trip was on a big scale what all travel desires to be on a small scale: a lengthening, widening, and deepening of senses, of our proper place in the world, an opportunity for us to reclaim the child-like wonder that can sometimes seem so fleeting in this age of computer keys and instant communication.  A reminder of our differences, but also of our common humanity.  One from which we can never go back.

One night in the region of Cappadocia, home of the fairy hats (hardened deposits of volcano ash), we were dropped off in a small village and told to explore.  Snow drifted throughout the purplish evening, the cold crunch-crunching under our American shoes. My friends and I climbed a towering fairy hat and met an older man at the top.  He couldn’t understand what we asked: “Can we take your picture?  What is your name?  How long have you lived here?”  But in his soft, age-blurry eyes, I recognized something of my grandfather.  And the beauty of finding the familiar in the midst of The Other that night made this world seem a little bit, more comfortably, smaller.  I realized:  it was through those travels, encountering The Other caused me to encounter a little bit more of myself.


Military life can involve a lot of travel.  What are your favorite traveling memories?  Have you ever been or moved to a place that’s caused you to encounter The Other in this way?  Have you ever been The Other?  I’d love to know!


Shannon is a Navy wife of six years, mama to two daughters three-and-under with a third baby girl on the way, blogger, and has her Master’s degree in Community Counseling. She’s a lover of simple things like farmer’s markets, barefeet, and bluegrass music. When she’s not tickling sweet toes or chasing toddlers, you can find her reading a good book and sipping sweet tea. For more, follow her at:


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