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How Food Brought Emily Olsen Back To The Feeling Of Home

Emily Olsen dressed in traditional Turkish folk dance costume for a preschool performance with parents and brother for Turkey’s National Children’s Day. (Photo courtesy Emily Olsen)
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Emily Olsen was one year old when her family uprooted and moved from the United States to Izmir, Turkey. They lived there until Olsen was eight years old, and eventually moved back to Nebraska, USA, to be closer to family.

In retrospect, I knew I was always treated differently.

Turkey was where Olsen began to form her identity; she attended a public Turkish school, which was an unusual choice for U.S. expatriates. In school, she and her brothers were treated with extra affection due to their U.S. status.

“Everything felt so normal to me because it was all I ever knew,” Olsen said.

But when she returned to the United States in 2006, Olsen was confronted with her identity in a new way.

Photo courtesy Emily Olsen
(Photo courtesy Emily Olsen)

Suddenly, I wasn’t the American anymore . . . I was the kid from Turkey.

Emily Olsen

Olsen rejected her transition from one country to another, saying it was “incredibly chaotic,” and that she always felt different. But she took that feeling of difference and made it into her identity: “I wanted to be unique as possible.”

At the University of Nebraska, Lincoln, Olsen studied Global Studies with a concentration in Africa and the Middle East and a minor in the Arabic language.

“I’m studying Africa and the Middle East because of Turkey . . . but in a lot of ways it has made me stand up for, speak up for that part of the world,” she said. In early 2019, she had the chance to finally return to Turkey. 

Returning to Turkey

Olsen and Zeynep reunited at Anıtkabir (Mustafa Kemal Atatürk’s mausoleum) in Ankara (Photo courtesy Emily Olsen)
Olsen and Zeynep reunited at Anıtkabir (Mustafa Kemal Atatürk’s mausoleum) in Ankara (Photo courtesy Emily Olsen)

Olsen was able to bounce around the country and see old friends, starting with her childhood best friend, Zeynep. Zeynep snuck her into her dorm room at her university in Ankara, where Olsen was able to sit around with other students her age and fall into the flow of university life.

One of Olsen’s best moments of her time with Zeynep was when one of the friends they were with told her, “You are a Turk . . . you don’t speak Turkish . . . but you are a Turk.” 

You are a Turk . . . you don’t speak Turkish . . . but you are a Turk.

Emily Olsen

It was here she had the chance to visit family friends and try her favorite food, pide, again. Pide is described as the Turkish equivalent of pizza, a delicacy she searched for at every opportunity. And while she tried many delicious versions of the treat, none of them tasted like the pide she remembered.

That’s until the owner of the pide shop near her old house invited her over and made the dish. As she took the first bite, it was exactly as she remembered the dish tasting.

“I had returned to a feeling . . . it felt like home.”

Emily Olsen
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3 comments

  1. I really loved this article. It was very engaging and the story telling allowed me to really feel like I was along this journey of discovery with Emily. In my commentaries, I hope to walk my reader through the story as Mitchell did. I really enjoyed the story about the pide food, especially since food as a huge relation to the feeling of being home. I took away the understanding that even if you struggle to understand your identity, your story can open up many opportunities for change. I too went to the University of Nebraska-Lincoln my freshman year and I can only imagine how much of a culture shock that must have been when she moved. Thank you for sharing.

  2. I really enjoyed this article’s message of how food, especially that of our cultures and those tied to good memories, can have such a lasting impact on us. It could be easy to write about how Emily may have felt lost and struggling to feel connected to the culture she grew up in until finding that neighbor who made her pide, but to show her active struggle to find it and root herself in that familiarity really impacted the reading. Comfort in the small things such as this have a huge impact on people when they’re adjusting to new areas of life both personally or geographically.

  3. I really loved this article! What an incredible story. Very moving. It was so touching to see how her Turkish friends treated her as if she were one of them, even though she didn’t speak the language. And I think this story just goes on to demonstrate the power of food, and how it is not only nourishment but it can symbolize so much more.

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