HOURS after departing from Istanbul Sabiha Gökçen International Airport, 22-year-old Meryem Sevim was amazed at what she saw upon landing at the Muscat International Airport.
This young Turk was swayed by the friendly helping nature of the people of Oman and its peaceful land.
A final year student at Istanbul’s Marmara University, Faculty of Theology, she along with her friends were privileged to travel to Oman as part of the Mevlana Exchange Programme from Ankara University.
She and few of her friends are nostalgic about her stay at the Sultan Qaboos University (SQU) campus for four long months.
“The fact that our teachers hosted us, took us to their village in the interiors and arranged excursions combined with many other activities bears manifestations of their true hospitality and sincerity,” she recollects.
Seyma Alkan, another student who came along with Meryem, said: “I never imagined a country can have such a profound impact on my life. I had a lot of experiences, but the most important aspect for me was that I found the meaning of friendship and therefore consider Oman to be very dear and special.”
For Ayse Unal, another student at Marmara University, the Sultanate expanded her horizons and made her realise that there should be no limits to dreams.
“Thanks to the heartwarming hospitality of Omanis, the Sultanate helps create a different bond for the visitors from abroad. Oman, for me, will always stay different, special and beautiful,” said Ayse Unal, a Turkish student.
Esma Acar, a graduate student from Istanbul University, says Oman presents itself in different values and cultures where its citizens live in peace and compares each one to a painter or a musician peaking in the field of arts.
Excitement filled their second day of the trip to SQU.
Meryem recollects how the campus was coloured with huge greenery and vast spaces. She mentions how they began to feel cold as soon as they entered the classroom as they wore cardigans when it was 40 degrees Celsius outside.
Omani cuisine was a cultural shock which awaited them. Not used to spices and sauces, they were to taste this and reminded her of Indian cuisines. She noticed how a large number of Indian employees in the kitchen sat eating on the floor with the use of plastic plates and spoons, yellow coloured rice and exotic fruits.
During their time in Oman, they were also privileged to visit tourist spots like Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque, Rustaq, Suhar, Bidiya, Seeb, Athaiba, Yitti, Marina Bandar Al Rowdha, Wadi Shab and Wadi Bani Khalid.
“We made many new Omani friends. With the international student group arranged by the school, we had many friends from both the Sultanate and different countries learning new cultures,” she said.
Meryem appreciates the friendly nature of Omanis.
“They invited us to their home, sat together and chatted. Oman is a beautiful place and one where you can go and relax. It is a peaceful country intertwined with nature.”
Deserts and beaches attracted Meryem deeply. Her favourite spots were Wadi Shab in Tiwi and Al Athaiba beach which are more beautiful and peaceful.
The sight of dishdashas at the airport arrival lounge was another cultural shock for the students.
As they headed towards the City Centre, they realised that their national dress was considered as normal as a T-shirt and trousers. They also visited Muttrah Souq and window-shopped while others brought souvenirs.
Meryem recalls an incident when they were at the SQU dormitory at 4 am and were left hungry.
“An attendant understood our needs and brought us breakfast. We felt the warmth and sincerity of the people instantly.”
“The natural wonders we notice after reaching a calm road, the magnificent views of the valleys and the landscapes impressed me. The historic castles and outstanding palm trees dot the country offering a picture postcard”
She appreciates the role of the Royal Oman Police (ROP) who ensures smooth traffic with no commotion on the roads. “Another beauty is that they always give priority to pedestrians in traffic,” she said.
By the time the Turks were ready to depart for Istanbul, their hearts were heavy.
“It was as if the streets of Muscat were cheering the coming spring and winter months.”
“The friendliness of the people was really fantastic. Let this land remain peaceful and I would love to be back again,” Meryem concluded.
A blogger, she aspires to be a teacher with interests in psychology, music, painting, travelling and literature.