September 4th Journal
I have so much to tell you that I will start from the very very beginning.
As you count down the days you leave to Turkey you get more and more exited. You can’t imagine that you are really going. As the days draw closer you begin to think, “This is not a good idea” ... “I don’t know if I am ready” ... “Maybe I shouldn’t go” ... “I could pretend that I am really sick and not go”. Well maybe not to that extreme. hehehe
Turkey…..I was excited! Everyday I waited anxiously to know were I would be going. As I began to know who I would be staying with and where in Turkey I would be living, people would ask me “How do you feel about going to Turkey?” “Are you excited?” I would say, “I am excited and nervous” …and afraid, worried, I don’t know if I want to really go, those I would keep to myself.
I was really nervous. I would be leaving the day after we would move to our new home. The whole week before I left we spent packing. We moved our stuff on Saturday to our new home on the opposite side from our old home. The next day, at 11:00 am on Sunday the 23rd of August, I left. It was a tiring week and as I said goodbye to my family I knew that it was really happening. I am really going to Turkey.
Istanbul ... I arrived on the 24th at 1:00pm or so. I am in Istanbul I could not believe it. I had made three friends on the flights here and all of them were really nice. :D. One of them was an exchange student, O.P., I think. I also met Sumru who is living in Istanbul and she gave me helpful information about what to do and what to expect. I had met only one Rotarian on my trip, Liz, we were together until Amsterdam and were off to our next flights. We had a good short time together.
When you think that you are prepared for what you will be facing you really are far from prepared. I could not understand anybody when I had arrived. Even with the little Turkish I know and they spoke so fast. All I could understand was Hayer and Evert….yes and no hehehe
I passed through passport check and went outside. An image came to mind, my new family standing outside waiting for me with BIG smiles on their faces and I would have a BIG smile on my face and I would embrace them and …!!! Well… I did meet someone there but it was not my host family. My family did not know that I was coming that day. It was my own fault - I had not checked to see if they knew when I would arrive.
I was welcomed by a Rotarian, Mr. Mustafa and two other Rotexes, Mr. Bulut and Mr. Genç. They were really nice and helped me get home. It was a long ride but I got to see a good bit of Turkey. The traffic is pretty bad here and I think you need to be a professional driver to drive in Istanbul.
Later that day, after introducing ourselves, we all had dinner, and I went to go to bed and I checked my suitcases and realized … that I had picked up the wrong suitcase. I could not believe it! I had gotten very nervous when I was told my family was not there, that when we went to pick up the my suitcases I got the one that looked like mine and I did not check to see if my name was on it. Ohhhh and I was really embarrassed. I felt horrible. The airport was a good ways away…..and also the suitcase belonged to someone who was staying only for a day in Istanbul. The next day I had exchanged the suitcase for mine…..so it is all good. BUT I had learned a lesson hehehe.
I got to know a good bit of Istanbul’s two sides on my way to my new home. ‘Cami’ which means Mosques, They were everywhere! I did not think there was so many. Tall apartment buildings would surround you, on top of hills and beside the ocean. It was beautiful!
My host family is very nice. Even though it is only my host sister, Berfin and host mother, Sevim and their father, Memet is away working; they have many good friends and a lot of relatives. We are always doing something together. Here during the summer it looks like they would hang out with their friends and go to their houses, mostly in the same apartment complex, till late at night. It is a lot of fun…but because of some of the effects of jetlag I was getting very tired earlier. My first week felt very very long … I felt like I have already been here for a whole year! I was introduced to many of their other friends, I ate many different types of food, I got to go on a ferryboat with Berfin, I got to see a very nice part of Istanbul on the European side (I can’t remember the name), but it was very nice! I had a traditional meal with Berfin’s father's Grandparents, Cousins, Uncles and Aunts.
They had set the bowls of food out on the carpet and people would sit on the floor or on the couch and eat. Their grandparents were Muslim and they were celebrating the Ramadan, which came in August. They would wait for the Hoca to read and then they would eat. The Hoca would read/sing from the top of the mosque towers, there is a whole chorus of them singing together. They would broadcast it on the TV and radio. I don’t know what they’re saying, but it sounds very pleasant.
I was not feeling well that day, me and Berfin took a bus and then the ferryboat, met up with a friend and then went on a bus again to the grandparents’ home. They tended to me right away. They gave me a mix of yogurt and tea leaves, they said that it did not taste good but it would help. It wasn’t that bad…It was pretty good. I liked it, and it made my stomach feel a lot better. :D
I had gone to visit my new school and got my new uniform. It is really nice; it is a plaid green skirt and a white collar shirt, black socks and black shoes, and a blue sweater. It looks very professional …it makes me feel smart. On Monday 7th I will be starting school, and I am very nervous!
So much has happened in just one and a half weeks. I am excited and can’t wait to experience what will come up next!
Yes it is true, like people say, your emotions become like a rollercoaster. One minute you are filled with joy and the next with sorrow. Let those emotions come, because once the rollercoaster is done you always get off with a smile. I wish everyone a good year and the best of luck!
November 24th Journal
Istanbul never ceases to amaze me. Every day there is something new that I learn, new places to see that I have not seen yet, and so many different people. It is a bit overwhelming to know that you’re in a country of 79 million people and living in a city of 7 million people. For me it has been hard living in such a huge city, I am used to being in a smaller town. Florida itself is big for me, but Istanbul changes your perspectives on what big cities are really like. Though Istanbul is not all metropolitan; as you drive along the city’s busy highways you may see on one side tall apartment complexes all cluttered together encircled by roads, shops and business industries and mosques wedged snuggly between all the hodgepodges. Then on the other you may see small grass hills enveloped with beautiful green trees slightly blowing in the cool autumn breeze and it’s like it was all in a world of its own. It’s quite an opposite depiction of a big city.
The leaves have begun to change their color from green to a beautiful orange and dark red. The weather has gotten colder and it has become very rainy. It has also become very foggy, I can look out my window and many times the fog would be so thick that you couldn’t see the building next to you. I have begun to bundle up every time I go out.
There is a holiday coming up in a few days called the Kurban Bayrami. During this holiday, they set up places in empty lots were they sell animals such as sheep, goats and cows. There is a spot set up just outside our apartment complex. I haven’t been in there yet, but I hope to go see it soon. People walk through this small like animal bazaars and buy their animal. Later when it’s Bayrami they say that they sacrifice the animal and give the meat to the family that bought it. This is known as the Feast of Fasting. I can’t what so see what my family will do on this holiday.
My Host Family:
They are wonderful, kind and they have been very patient with me. I love them and I’m grateful to have them as my host family. My host sister is great, though she is a very social person and I’m quite the opposite. She likes to text to her friends a lot (I am sad to say that it has kind of rubbed off on me) and she is very studious. Most of her friends have become my friends too. I have slowly become more sociable, though I still feel a bit uneasy being around groups of people. My relationship with my family is pretty good. But sometimes I feel like I am pushed to have to do things I sometimes don’t want to do. I have become exhausted, tired, and never feeling like I can completely relax. But I can say that I am not bored; instead there is always something going on and things to do.
My school… It’s nice, big and the students are pretty friendly. The schools here in Turkey are very focused on their students and they push them, maybe a little too much, to get good grades for the University. To get in to the University is very competitive so the students study, study and study. But for me; I study but it’s doesn’t seem to be enough. I was put into an IB program for the eleventh grade and it was tough. The classes were all in English, but it felt like it was all in Turkish because I couldn’t understand any of the work they would do. I was lost. I also was very far behind and it would probably take me a whole year to catch up or even more and I really need the credit. So, I went back to the ninth grade. Yes the ninth grade. I started on the 16th of this month and it has gone alright so far. I have missed two whole months or so of what they have done already, so I’m going to have to catch up pretty fast. Well, in all, school has been stressful but I’m having fun.
The Exchange Students:
In total we are about 23 exchange students from Germany, Mexico, Taiwan, Japan, the United States, and the majority are from Brazil, but all here in this huge city of Istanbul. As odd as our group may be, we are like a big family, we look out for each other, and we protect, care and help each other through the tough times. We have been having a great time these past few months. It is nice to have the diversity in culture in our group of exchange students, because we learn a little bit of their countries as well as the host country we're in. There are two exchange students from Mexico. It has been so nice to have someone to speak Spanish to who is going through the same experience as I’m going through. It has been great.
Well on Sunday 22nd of this month we had our Thanksgiving dinner. All our host families were invited and each had to prepare a meal or a dessert from our countries. Since there was four or five Americans here, they would be making a traditional American meal. So I decided to make something from Bolivia, called FLAN CASERA! I could say that it brought back old childhood memories. It was delicious and it seemed that people liked it too. All the food that exchange students brought went very fast. Our families got to experience a multi-cultural Thanksgiving dinner, with a turkey, in Turkey. I think they enjoyed it.
Moments With my Mom:
On the November 10th, my mom arrived here in Istanbul. I couldn’t wait to see her! She had come because of her job, not only to Turkey, but it was her last stop. I know that the rules say that parents are not allowed to come till later on in the program. Though she couldn’t really come and not be with me. This was her only chance to be able to come, so we made the best of it. But while she was here I was able to take her on a few mini tours of the places I know. Some of my friends from Rotary and me got to show her the main areas of Istanbul such as Taksim, Kadikoy, Eminunu, and Besiktas. There is so many but she got to see a few of them. I got to take her to the Grand Bazaar, being both of our first time there, we had a great time. It’s true about what they say about the Bazaar, you need excellent bargaining skills, because they are very persuasive. She also got to experience eating the way Turkish people eat, a lot of food! It’s something your body eventually gets used to, but for the short time she was here, I think it was too much food. Her stay hasn’t made me have a strong desire to want to go back home. She came only for 6 days, but those 6 days had really helped me through a lot and I really appreciated her being here.
January 6 Journal
I could say that this past month I have become very homesick and I have sunk into a solemn mood. My host family has noticed as well as my teachers at school and they’re a little worried. But things are starting to look up as the New Year approaches.
This month I have been going out a lot with friends and family and many times with other Rotarians. We would get together and walk around in Kadikoy or go looking for a new place to explore. My host mom is starting to become more flexible with me letting me stay out a little later than 6 or 7pm. Before, coming home at that time was difficult. Most of the time, to get to any of the places that we get together and meet; it would take about a half an hour to an hour to get to by bus from my home. Then you would stay for 3 to 4 hours and you then you had to leave an hour early to get home on time. Many times there can be so much traffic that you would get home 1½ hours later. Buses can be rally inconvenient at times. Taxies are too expensive here in Turkey, though there are some “fake” taxies as the call them. You cannot spot them anywhere because they look like normal cars. You can only call them and their numbers are passed along through people and they’re not advertised. Those taxies are cheaper.
But I love my host family and I wouldn’t trade them for anyone else. I get along really well with my host mother, but I think things are a little tense with me and my host sister. I am not sure what could be causing this tension but I hope things get better between us. I had spent my first Christmas with them and it’s my first Christmas completely away from my family that I grew up with. For Christmas Eve I left half way through school and went with Chiara (she is the only other exchange students in my school besides me) but we went to her house to bake some Christmas cookies. We also made a cake that didn’t turn out looking good but it tasted good. We scooped out the cake and stuffed it in a plastic container and covered the top with some icing, covering the crumbled cake. That was our Christmas cake. We had fun and laughed while doing it.
After the baking and decorating I saved some cookies for my host family and Chiara kept the cookies at her host mother’s café. Later that day we left to go to a church, a Catholic Orthodox church, with high ceilings all covered in paintings of angels and saints. There was a place made up for the manger at one end of the church, it was lit up with candles. The service was all in Italian, but during the end of the service they went over to the manger and sung Christmas songs in Spanish, Italian, English, German, Turkish and French. When they sung in Spanish I couldn’t help but smile. We received some gift of a pastry after church. It was given to the church by the mayor of the state. He opened the church service in Turkish and left right after his small speech. But after the service we hung around in the church and talked to people. I got to talk to the priest and he told me he was from Mexico and he had lived in Turkey for 6 years. He was there to work with the Muslims and with the mayor. But once the church lights turned off and we were asked to leave we went home. Chiara stayed at my house for the night because it was 12:00am when we got home. She left early in the morning on the Christmas day.
Christmas Day, I spent it showing one of the other exchange students a sight called the Maidens Tower in Uskudar. It’s a lighthouse-like building in a small island a little ways out into the sea. We walked around and we left to go home. I got home at around 7pm and I got to talk to my family back home!!!! It was not for long because I had to go have dinner with my host family. They had cooked a big dinner for us, I’m not sure if it was for Christmas or not but I pretended it was. That was pretty much my Christmas. But it’s one that I will never forget.
New Years was the time I really missed home. I got to celebrate with my host family and we went over to some friend’s house and waited for the countdown playing bingo during the meantime. Then 5, 4, 3, 2, 1, 0, woohooo!! Happy New Year!!!…. we hugged and kissed each other on the cheeks. At that time I felt so alone, I began to miss my family back home. I wanted to be with them. But a little bit later we cut a cake and celebrated. In some places they had fireworks, I wanted to go but my host mother and father said it would be too dangerous because there would be a lot of people.
I’m taking things slow but I’m so stressed, life as a Turkish student is not fun. But as a Rotary Exchange student it is. Though it’s very busy and there is always a lot to do and learn, we have fun.