Freshman Ethan Mitra spent several months of his life living in an eight-story building where the garbage pick-up came three times a day.
He grew up not playing little league baseball or watching Nickelodeon. Instead, he learned Turkish, lived in a city of 15 million people and rooted for his favorite soccer team, Galatasaray.
Mitra, a mass communication/journalism major, has dual citizenship in the U.S. and Canada, has lived in Germany for two years and grew up in Istanbul, Turkey. His father was born in India but raised in Canada and moved to East Texas for college where he met his wife.
Manny and Maretta Mitra both knew they wanted to live overseas and raise a family in another culture.
“The hardest part was leaving behind our friends and family. It is also hard at times because we don’t have all the conveniences of American life,” Maretta said.
His parents moved to Istanbul 15 years ago where they settled into a new lifestyle and culture. His dad, Manny, currently works with Iranian refuges and his mom, Maretta, teaches math at an International school.
The Turkish culture is unique because it is 99% Muslim, but its government has been strongly secular. This has led the culture to become more Western than other Middle Eastern countries. While Ethan was living in Turkey he saw the culture change firsthand.
“I remember when I first moved to Istanbul, no adults would wear shorts even though it was hot outside. Fifteen years later, it has become much less conservative,” he said.
Istanbul is a very diverse city making it a virtual melting pot of Asian and European influences. Although most of the city has become more westernized there are still some very conservative neighborhoods such as Fatih, Çarsamba, and Ümraniye.
The first four years the family of five lived in Istanbul, they did not have a car and had to adjust to the customs and cultures of
their new home.
“My parents didn’t want to become Turkish. They still wanted to keep their heritage,” Ethan said.
The family blended American and Turkish lifestyles to create their own unique way of life. They celebrate Thanksgiving, Christmas, the Fourth of July as well as Seker Bayram, a sugar holiday that follows the fasting of Ramazan (Ramadan).
For New Year’s, Turks buy trees to decorate in their homes similar to the American Christmas tradition.
Maretta often cooks Texas Southern type meals for the family with a Turkish twist from produce she buys at an open-air market once a week. She also has blended Southern hospitality with the friendly customs of her Turkish neighbors.
“To help meet our neighbors I take over a plate of cookies. They then return the plate with local treats,” she said. “This trading of plates is a common Turkish custom.”
For Ethan and his family, the experience of living overseas for almost 20 years has proved many advantages and few disadvantages.
His father enjoys that his sons are “being exposed to different worldviews and languages as well as having opportunities to travel.”
From his point of view, “living overseas with some success makes life a lot less intimidating.”
However, the separation from family and lack of ESPN make living in another country difficult at times.
The Internet and satellite TV helped connect the brothers with America.
When it came time to choose a university, Ethan knew he wanted to come to school in the States and eventually picked UMHB after doing some online research and visiting the campus.
“I like the small class sizes and the fact that professors are generally willing to meet with their students,” he said.
“I miss the food, my friends and family. I also miss the city of Istanbul. Belton is so different and so much smaller than Istanbul.”
Senior psychology major Jenna Keefe met Ethan while working at Trinity Pines Christian Camp three summers ago. She was excited to work with him and hear about his international experiences.
“My whole life, I’ve wanted to live overseas at some point, but always wondered how growing up in a foreign country would impact a family and the lives of my future kids when they returned to live in the U.S.,” she said.
“Ethan convinced me that a transition from the other side of the globe back to America can be very smooth, and actually better for a kid to have so many diverse experiences at a young age.”
The Mitras realize that it is both a blessing and a privilege to live in Istanbul and experience life in a different culture.
Manny said that, “Being away from America has made us appreciate it a lot more.”