Silvia Posse Vander Laat
2010-11 Outbound to Turkey

Hometown: St. Augustine, Florida
School: Bartram Trail High School
Sponsor: St. Johns Rotary Club, District 6970, Florida
Host: Dokuz Eylül Rotary Club, District 2440, Turkey

Silvia's Bio

Merhaba! My name is Silvia Posse and I live in Jacksonville, Florida. I am currently a senior at Bartram Trail High School. I am incredibly excited to start this new chapter of my life in Turkey. My life has been quite an adventure. I was born in Bogota, Colombia and when I was three years old we moved to Barcelona, Spain. In 2006 we moved to Florida, a whole different world that has strongly influenced my life.

Being bilingual and bicultural has been one of the best things I have ever experienced. Now I have the opportunity to go abroad for a year to Turkey, a country where the European and Middle Eastern cultures meet. I am very grateful to be able to have this once in a lifetime opportunity and I look forward for all the new experiences that will change my life forever. I have always admired all the exchange students I have met; I love how they passionately live every day and enjoy every minute with a smile on their face. They become wonderful people, and they teach everyone how to appreciate the things we have. But the thing that I love the most is how they come to love their host country and its people as if they had been living there forever. Now I can proudly say that I am one of them, and I am extremely excited about all the opportunities and adventures this year is going to bring.

I have two sisters, Carolina and Ana. My older sister, Carolina, is currently in law school at Navarra University in Pamplona, Spain. My younger sister, Ana, is currently a freshman at Nease High School. I enjoy spending time with my friends, family, and anything the day brings. Within my family, I am considered the “independent one”. I love to travel; in each country I have visited I have learned something new and even accepted some of their values as my own without realizing it. From my travels, I have begun to look at the world with different eyes.

When Jody called to tell me that I was going to be an exchange student in Turkey, it was the best present I could ever have. Thank you Rotary for providing me with this amazing opportunity to broaden my views of the world, learn a fourth language, and experience a year like no other. This is an amazing opportunity that wouldn’t be possible without the work of Rotarians. Thank you for all the hard work you have put into this program. I know that I am going to have the time of my life next year. It will be a year of growing, learning, and finding myself. I can’t wait to start my Turkish adventure! Teşekkür ederim, sonra görüşürüz.

Silvia.

“Be the change you want to see in the world” – Mahatma Gandhi

Silvia's Journals

September 2

Merhaba! I have been in Turkey for almost a week now, and I wonder why I had never been here before. I love this country. I have been here a short time but I could talk about a million different things. My host mom said Rotary did a great job picking Turkey for me, she says that I belong here and I feel that way too, I absolutely love Turks and their lifestyle.

I left Jacksonville on August 28th at 2 p.m. It was a little hard to say goodbye to my friends but at the same time I was very excited, I was finally starting what I had been waiting for a long time. I sat in my plane to Newark and realized that this was it; I was going to Turkey for a year and didn't really know what to expect. It's crazy how so many emotions can go through your mind in such a short period of time but I knew that it was the best decision and that I was going to have a great year full of experiences.

The plane ride to Newark went by really fast. I read the note my friends had written me on my last night in Florida, it made me very happy because I realized how supporting they are of my exchange, and how they were as excited as I was.  I know I will miss them but all of them will be there no matter where any of us are, and I am so happy I get to share this amazing experience with them, I hope maybe one day some of them will want to experience a year abroad. Because truly there is nothing like this, I have learned so much in one week I can't imagine how much my mind will grow in a whole year.

Arriving at Newark I met Krystov. He is an exchange student from Albany, New York, going to Izmir as well. It was really good to travel with him because we could be entertained in our long flight to Munich. In Newark he had about four hours to change planes, we spend two of them in security (it was the longest security line I had ever been to in an airport). After finally passing security and a few other things we were at the gate to Munich. Luckily it was an overnight flight so I thought it was going to go by much faster, but I turned to be that I was too excited to sleep. I ended up watching three movies and staring at the window of the plane for a long time. Krystov, of course, slept like a baby. We finally arrived to Munich at about five a.m. Florida's time. I was so tired but I knew I was closer to finally arriving to my home in Izmir.

We managed to board to our plane to Izmir, finally I only had to wait two more hours, but with my anxiety it felt longer than the flight to Munich. I sat next to an old Turkish woman. She was very sweet and spoke no English. With my little Turkish I managed to explain I was a Rotary Youth Exchange Student to Izmir for a year, she was very happy and gave me a big hug and said " iyi şanslar" Good luck . Finally the pilot announced we were going to land, I was flying over Turkey!!!!!!!! Maybe some people would think I'm exaggerating but it was an amazing feeling I finally was in the place I had been looking for since December, and from the air it looked like the most incredible view I had ever seen.

We landed and we went through immigration with no problem. After getting our luggage we walked to the door where we met our host families and Ayhan Semiz- YE committee member. Ezgi and her mom were there as well. They greeted us with big smiles and big hugs. My host dad ,Turgay, said I am your father welcome daughter. I love my host family they have treated me as their daughter since the moment I landed. After doing some paper work and meeting everyone we headed home to my beautiful house in a town called Urla in the suburbs of Izmir.  The way home was beautiful, as tired as I was I couldn't close my eyes for even one second. From that moment I knew it was going to be one of the best years of my life.

I arrived to my house and it is gorgeous. My host mom told me they have their winter house upstairs and their summer house downstairs, I thought it was very funny. Turks like to say they have summer houses. The funny thing is that we are always upstairs in our "winter house" except in the mornings we go to our "summer house" to have breakfast and swim in the Aegean Sea.

I have my own room, my host brother Tuna, comes from Turgay and Nazan combined, (my host parents) is currently in an exchange in New York, he left before I came so I'm using his room. However, my host mom told me she wants to move Naz ( my host sister) and I to the top of the house. She said she didn't do it before because she didn't know if we would get along, but now she is sure we are. So we might be moving upstairs sometime soon, I love the whole house it has an incredible view of the Aegean Sea, some Turkish Islands and Izmir. Not to mention my backyard is right on the sea, so I can go swimming anytime. I am very lucky to have come to such a beautiful town and family.

Ezgi and Mukurrem ( Ezgi's mom) came to my house at my arrival. I love Ezgi's mom she speaks no English but she is like a mom to me, she is very sweet and she is always making sure I'm doing well. My host family greeted me with a very delicious and beautiful cake, and of course Turkish tea. There hasn't been any meal that tea is missing Turks drink tea with everything, it is delicious, and they give it to you everywhere.

That night we went to the center of Urla, where I had my first Turkish meal. It was a restaurant located at the sea very close to the port. Turkish cuisine is indescribable, there is a lot of food, and they always have appetizers which consist of fresh vegetables and variety of seafood.  Then they have a main course, they eat Yogurt with everything (I haven't quite gotten used to that) and the seasonings are very tasty, very different of anything I have ever tasted before. It is very similar to Greek food, and everything is delicious. After they have the main course they have dessert they always have fresh fruit from the market and Turkish sweets. Everything I have eaten or drink has been delicious, I love it.

After we were done at the restaurant we went home, Ezgi and her mom left to Izmir, I went to bed, I was very tired from my long trip. The next morning as a surprise I woke up very late because of jetlag, I was very disappointed because I felt like half of my day was gone and I had so much to see.

At the evening we went to Agora ( huge shopping mall in Izmir), I love Turkish stores, the style in the west of Turkey is very European, everything is very stylish and prices are very similar to the U.S.. In Agora we met with Ezgi and her mom he had Turkish coffee in one of the cafes, after having coffee it is common to turn your cup upside down and have someone read your fortune, my host mom read my fortune and said I was going to do a lot of travel this year. She laughed and she told me Turkish people go and drink coffee as an excuse to sit down and gossip, she said we don't need to go to physiologists because we talk too much during coffee, and then she said, you like to talk a lot too so you will fit right in during coffee "excuses".

I have had a little bit of culture shock with a few different things, there is Roosters all over my garden that love to sing at 4 a.m. Even though Izmir is a very liberal city, I am in an Islamic country and a few Turks pray five times a day, singing really loud towards Mecca. Since I live in a small town I hear everything, my host sister laughed really hard when I asked her why there were people singing so loud at five in the morning. We are also in month of Ramadan so some restaurants are closed during the day. My host family is not religious so I haven't experienced any of that other than in the streets. I'm slowly getting used to the prayers.

The next few days I have spent them going to Alsancak (the center of Izmir) and swimming in the Aegean Sea. I love Alsancak it's full of life and little cafes and shops to walk and enjoy around. It's a very common place to go spend the evenings. My host dad has a shop in Alsancak so I can go with him anytime.

Yesterday I went out to the movies with my host sister Naz and her friends; we watched Inception, and now talk about being confused. Even though it was in Turkish and I didn't understand much, I loved it. When the movie was over I felt like I was in a dream, in this beautiful country, with lovely people, and with the best host family I could have gotten.

This whole experience has been like a dream, I love every little thing about this country. I have never been in a place where everyone is so welcoming and happy all the time. My host family has been nothing but wonderful to me, they treat me as their daughter and they always want to show me everything and make me try new things. My host dad always talks about his two beautiful daughters and his son in the U.S. and my host mom calls me all the time so I can help her with the computer because she says it is too advanced for her. My sister laughs at the fact that we don't understand each other but we are like sisters, she is always worried I'm having a good time and is trying to teach me to windsurf.

I am very lucky to have come to such a wonderful country; I totally understand why Turks love their country so much. If you think the United States is patriotic wait until you go to Turkey, there are flags literally in every building. My host sisters best friend has the signature of Ataturk tattooed in his arm (you would never see a 15 year old boy with the signature of George Washington in his arm).  I love Turkey, and I could not be happier in any other country.

To future Outbonds please consider putting Turkey in your top five, it is an incredible country and if you hear Turkish people are very hospitable, it is a 100% true, I have not met a person that hasn't been nice to me.  As my host mom's friend told me, there is not many exchange students in Turkey because people don't know much about it, if they did, everyone would want to be here. It is very different but it's amazing, everything is beautiful.

I am still trying to learn the language, I thought I knew some but it's very hard to understand, my host family says I'm doing really good and I'm a fast learner, I hope so, because I want to be able to have a real conversation with everyone soon.

I would like to give special Thanks to the Thomsen's they had me at their house for three months before I left because my parents moved to Mexico. I know it was a lot to take in and deal with my crazy last weeks, I could never thank them enough, I loved staying with them, I love them.

I could be one of the most grateful girls in the world right now. Thank You so much Al, Jody and Daphne for sending me to such a wonderful country. Thank you Rotary Florida for providing me with this incredible experience. Thank you to my sponsor Club Rotary club of St. Johns for being so supportive. Thank you to my host district 2440 for having such a sweet welcome and making sure everything is well. And Thank you to my host club Dokus Eylul Rotary club for making this amazing experience possible for me. Special thanks to my host family the Albayrak's for giving me such a warm welcome and having me at their house as their daughter for a year. And thank you to my parents because without them, any of this wouldn't be possible.

I am living the dream of my life in Turkey, and I look forward to the next months and adventures yet to come. Teşekkür ederim, sonra görüşürüz.

October 11

One month, eight-hundred and forty hours, why does time go by so fast? I cannot believe I have been in Turkey for one month, my days fly, and before I know it the weekend is here again, and my week is over. I feel like my plane landed to this wonderful country two days ago, but at the same time I feel like I have been here for years.  I am enjoying every single day I spend in Turkey, and I just wish time would slow down a little; I don’t ever want to see the day I have to leave this country and its wonderful people.

I could talk about so many things that had happened during this month, unfortunately I would never be able to fit it all in one journal, and if I did it would become a book.  So I will have to summarize on everything, although I wish I could really tell every little detail about this experience, it has been amazing and there is nothing like exchange. But all exchanges are different, you could be at the same country, same time and have a completely different experience, I love and enjoy every single minute of mine. I am in love with Turkey and I would never change this for anything.

Bayram is the Turkic word for a nationally celebrated festival or holiday, applicable to both national (secular) or religious celebrations. Eid ul-Fitr often abbreviated to Eid, is a three-day Muslim holiday that marks the end of Ramadan, the Islamic holy month of fasting. Eid is an Arabic word meaning "festivity", while Fiṭr means "conclusion of the fast"; and so the holiday celebrates the conclusion of the thirty days of dawn-to-sunset fasting during the entire month of Ramadan. In Turkey Eid ul-Fitr is referred to as both Şeker Bayramı ("Bayram of Sweets") and Ramazan Bayramı ("Ramadan Bayram"). It is regarded as especially important to honor elderly citizens by kissing their right hand and placing it on one's forehead while wishing them Bayram greetings. It is also customary for young children to go around their neighborhood, door to door, and wish everyone a happy Bayram, for which they are awarded candy, chocolates, traditional sweets such as baklava and Turkish Delight, or a small amount of money at every door, similar to the Halloween custom in the United States.

For me, Bayram was a whole different experience. My host family took it as a vacation and we went to spend three days in Bodrum. Bodrum is a city located in the south west of Turkey, one of the most beautiful places I have seen. It consists of little neighborhoods hidden in the hills by the sea. All the houses are white with dark blue blinds. Yes, the Santorini of Turkey. It is a very famous touristic place for Europeans, mostly English, Germans and Norwegians. The sea is beautiful and a regular day in Bodrum consists of going to the beach (with many water sports activities) and little cafés that surround them, going to walk downtown with all its little shops and cafes in the evening and for young people going out clubbing at night. My host uncle is the manager of one of the most luxurious and famous hotels in Bodrum. It was absolutely beautiful and it felt like paradise. We stayed at my aunt’s summer house, during the winter she lives in Istanbul.

The first day in Bodrum, Naz (my host sister) and I went out with some friends. Naz worked in Bodrum during the summer at my uncle’s hotel, so she has many friends in Bodrum. It was great to be with all Turkish people in such a touristic place. The funny thing is that in Turkey I never feel like a tourist, I feel like I’m part of this country although I still don’t feel Turkish but according to everyone I meet, I look more Turkish than some Turkish people do. I always fit in and everyone is surprised when they find out I’m not Turkish. I have been asked many times if Naz and I are twins or if my parents are Turkish, it’s really funny.

The second day we went to my uncle’s hotel. We spent a relaxing day at the beach enjoying of the sun and of course as common in Turkey, food. We would wish iyi bayramlar “good Bayram” to anyone that walked by, and it was a very nice experience, it was like Thanksgiving Day. Everyone was so happy and in holiday spirit. Later we went to have dinner at the center of Bodrum, it was beautiful a very lively place. Many Turks were out celebrating Bayram with their families and of course we did too. Families in turkey are a very important part of your life, you are to respect the elders and do as they wish. And is very important you count on them on important days like Bayram and show them how much they mean to you.

The next day we went to another place of Bodrum, we had breakfast lunch and dinner at the beach surrounded by hills, white houses, islands and little castles, the view was spectacular. That night we went back to Izmir because my host parents had to vote for the referendum on the next day. I loved our trip to Bodrum, other than it’s such a beautiful city; I loved traveling with my host family and them being so excited they could show me all of their wonders and their culture.

The referendum, I could talk all about the many different political speeches I listened to or many political conversations in my dining table, but to say the truth I don’t know much about it. The only thing I know is that the hole city of Izmir was strongly for “hayir” no. And the result was “evett” yes, so everyone here wasn’t very happy. Izmir is governed by a different political party than the national government, so there seems to be a lot of disagreement. I don’t like to ask too much because it upsets many Turks.

About a week after Bodrum, I had my first inbound orientation. I love my district; we had our orientation in the beach in Çeşme. There are fourteen inbounds in my district this year. Most of us come from the U.S then we have two Canadians, one Mexican and one Brazilian. I love all of them like if they were my brothers and sisters. It was so nice to talk about all our first experiences in Turkey and share some of our funny stories and culture shock. After all we are all going through the same thing and it’s a very good support system. We were picked up in the morning by Rotarians and we all headed to Çeşme. In the way we saw one of the most incredible things I have seen here. It was a neighborhood of very big houses, but the whole fence was an aquarium. Many fishes swimming in the same direction and it was sooo long. I loved it.  After we went to the beach where we swam, got to know each other and played volleyball. We had some activities and had a very delicious Turkish meal. We continued with communication games and it was really neat because we realized communication is not all about the language, you can speak the same language and be completely lost. I really liked those games. We talked about our little problems and the upcoming year. It was a great day. Beach, view to Greece, crystal water, white sand, sun and rotary friends. It couldn’t have been a better orientation.

I started school the day after orientation. My thirteen first day, it shouldn’t have been a big deal, but it was. It was my first day in my Turkish School, Deniz Coleji. I felt nervous, excited and didn’t know what to expect. At first it was hard because it was completely different from what I’m used to, but everyone was really nice since the first moment. Deniz Coleji is a very very small private school in the outsides of Izmir. There are 200 kids K-12th and about 16 kids in my whole grade. I am in the language class so sometimes I have class with all 16, and sometimes I have class with about 8 of them. My classmates are all great, the students in the language department are fluent in English and the others are some kind of math geniuses. My classmates have welcomed me in since the first moment, they all care about me and have me as if I had been in their class since 1st grade, they all try to help with my Turkish and they are very nice and caring. I love them. Since the whole school is so small everyone knows about me, I love walking in hallways and having little kids tell me “good morning”, or teachers sign to something and tell me the Turkish word. However apparently I look very Turkish so sometimes I’m hard to spot.  I gave a speech in Turkish to the whole school, I was nervous but apparently I did well, they just wanted me to introduce myself, it was… quiet an experience.

My school principal and counselors have been wonderful. My principal told me to think of him as my “second host dad” and if I had any problem to please rely on him at any moment; it’s so nice of him. The relationship with teachers in Turkey is completely different, they are your friends but at the same time there is a lot of respect towards them. Students and teachers greet each other by kissing in the chicks, and students really see them as friends. I’ve had many teachers ask me to go and stay with them and their families for the weekend, and then they add, we want a Silvia too.  It makes me really happy because it’s the first time my school has hosted a Rotary exchange student, and I hope they will continue to host.

Everyone treats me as a guest student, I don’t really have to do any work, because it would be absolutely difficult for me because students at 12th grade (my class) are preparing for their university exam at the end of the year, and it’s very hard and stressful for them. I spend my classes reading and learning Turkish. I am so glad I don’t have an exam like that; they have so much dedication towards it. My whole class goes to school during the day and then goes to courses at the evenings and weekends to study for the exam; they have very little free time.  I started going to the little kids class K-5th one period a day to teach them Spanish, it has been really fun and helpful. Little kids love to learn and at the same time they have taught me a lot of Turkish, they are very critical and love to point out when I don’t say something right. I am learning a lot from them.

Learning Turkish is hard, but I feel like I’m doing much better. Sometimes it becomes a challenge because almost everyone is fluent in English, something that was surprising to me. In Turkey most people are bilingual, it’s very inspiring. I always try to tell them to speak to me in Turkish but I must admit sometimes it’s easier to speak in English. My host sister has been a great help for me to learn Turkish, they speak in Turkish to me and I’m able to talk in full sentences now. I understand most of what people tell me but I still have difficulties understanding the really fast conversations, I am sure I will get it soon, if I keep working on it. My Rotary district is giving all the inbounds Turkish classes on Saturdays and it has been very helpful.

I often think about what it would be like if I didn’t get Turkey, if I was somewhere else. I realized this country is so special to me not because of the beautiful scenery or the infinite sunsets or marvelous food, but it is because of all the people I have met this month that have given me a part of their life. My host family, Rotary, my school, my classmates, all the other inbounds and Turks, they are the ones that are making me have the best year of my life. I could never thank them enough on how nice and giving they are to me; they have taken me, being a complete stranger to them, and offered me their world, their culture and their country. Turks are the most open and hospitable people, and they for sure are the reason why my time here is so special and valuable, they will always be a part of me. I can’t imagine having to leave, it’s like they are my big family in this side of the world. And I don’t think I could be anywhere else, it’s just perfect.

I could keep writing about all my experiences here, but it’s becoming too long. Please ask me any questions you have, I love to share everything about Turkey. Even though I am having a wonderful time in Izmir, there are days that are hard, there are times that things are frustrating, and sometimes I do miss my comfort zone. But it’s all part of the famous rollercoaster of emotions, and I just see all of the amazing things I have here and how much I have learned about the world and myself in one month, and those feelings quickly go away.

Thank you so much Rotary for giving me this experience. Al, Jody and Daphne you were right, Turkey is the perfect place for me. Thank you to my sponsor club, Rotary club of St. Johns. And my host club, Dokus Eylul Rotary club for providing me one of the best adventures of my life.  Thank you D.6970 and D.2440 for all the hard work you put into the program, this month here has already changed my life and broaden my views of the world. Special Thanks to my two wonderful families, the Albayrak’s and my parents; it would never be the same if it wasn’t for them.

I am in paradise and I look forward to the next months and adventures yet to come. Teşekkür ederim, sonra görüşürüz.

November 21

Everyone says that time flies that it doesn’t wait for anyone. I have been in Turkey for about two months and a half now. I have almost completed 1/3 of my exchange and the only thing I know is that it’s going by way too fast. These months in Turkey have opened my life in a way nothing has done it before, I have expanded my wings and I continue to enjoy every second I spend in this beautiful country. My sister once asked me, “‎Is your cup half full or half empty?" The answer, Ana, definitely is my cup is half full. I still have about seven months in Turkey, and I am going to make the most of every minute.

While in Florida my month of October would consist of going to school, doing some Halloween activities and having the same school day routine, I had a very eventful month in Turkey. During this month, I went to school, continued to learn Turkish, wondered around the ancient city of Ephesus, walked though Mother Mary’s house. Explored an underground city, got to see the panorama of Cappadocia from the sky in a hot air balloon, hiked through a canon, went to many Rotary sponsored concerts, celebrated the Republic Day, had a thirty hour train ride to Ankara, visited the Turkish parliament and Ataturk’s cemetery, celebrated his death anniversary and got to live an everyday Turkish life.

As Robert Louise Stevenson said, “There are no foreign lands. It is the traveler only who is foreign”.  Turkey is no longer foreign for me, or maybe I am not foreign in Turkey anymore. Turkey is now my home, I walk through the streets hearing Turkish, prayers, chickens, or loud traffic and it doesn’t call my attention anymore. I live here and I am part of this country, yes I still am an exchange student but I don’t feel like a foreigner, I am able to communicate in Turkish and know my way around the city. I know that if I bargain with the streets vendors they will agree that the price they had given me at first was too high. And I know not to make plans in advance, to live life day by day just as Turks do. However, Turkey never ceases to amaze me, my love for this country grows every day, just as I think I have seen it all, a new experience comes up and I’m reminded of how lucky I am to be here.

According to the famous chart of emotions, we have entered the hardest part of our exchange. Things might be harder than how they were on the first month, but I have found this time is also very rewarding. I often surprise myself with just speaking Turkish or understanding everything around me, or even sometimes having little dreams in Turkish. Even though school day routines sometimes get boring, I love going to school. I have become very close with my classmates. I know I will have their friendship forever. My Spanish classes in the lower grades have become more than just going to teach and learn from kids one hour a day. I know them, I know their personalities, I know when they are playing games on my trying to teach me funny things in Turkish such as “maymum oldum” I became a monkey, instead of “memnum oldum” nice to meet you. They often write me notes that say; “Silvia, ‎Seni çok seviyorum…. “ Silvia I love you so much, I will miss you when you don’t come in our class. And those little things are what make Turkey so rewarding, because as I realize this experience is changing my life and opening my doors to great things, I have also become a part of their life, and I know that by sharing our ideas and culture we are both learning a lot from the world.

The big events this month were Rotary organized trips. My district here wants to make sure we get to see as much of Turkey as we can during this year. They have about one to two trips organized every month. If any of you have been in a Rotary trip, you know how much fun they are, the other thirteen inbounds and I are very grateful for this opportunity.  Our first trip this month was our second inbound Orientation in Kuşadası. We went to a hotel there for a weekend. We left Friday night and we had dinner together with the Rotarians in the Youth Exchange committee and then had free time in the town. Saturday we stayed at the hotel having different orientation activities, we had various presentations and games given by different Rotarians. We learned what this year would be about and went over the Rotary rules. On Sunday we visited the ancient town of Ephesus, Mother’s Mary house and went to a tinny Turkish town hidden in the mountains.

Our second trip was to Cappadocia. Cappadocia is located in the central region of Turkey (About 10 hour bus ride from Izmir). Cappadocia is Turkey's most visually striking region, especially the "moonscape" area around the towns of Ürgüp, Göreme, Uçhisar, Avanos …, where erosion has formed caves, clefts, "fairy chimneys" and sensuous folds in the soft volcanic rock. The Bible's New Testament tells of Cappadocia, it is a very historical place because the volcanic rock allows the hills to be carved, Cappadocia is full of historical caves, and churches carved in the rocks. In the past many Christian’s went to Cappadocia to hide from the persecutions. This caves carved into the cliffs also lead to a huge underground city. It hasn’t all been excavated because of lack of budget, but it’s a huge city underground and connects to different towns in the area. Today some people still live in the caves, but Cappadocia has become a touristic place. There are many hotels in the caves and many things to visit and explore.

I could write a twenty page paper on all the things I saw and did in the trip to Cappadocia, but unfortunately I don’t have that space so I will have to be brief on everything. After a ten hour night drive from Izmir we met our tour guide and went to have a typical Turkish breakfast. That day we saw the panorama of the fairy chimneys and visited some of them. We went in someone’s summer house inside the mountains; it’s incredible to see how one can live inside earth. Afterwards we visited some towns and hiked in the volcanic rocks. It was so beautiful. The second day some of us decided to wake up really early at six a.m. to go on a hot air balloon ride. The hot air balloon was my favorite memory of Cappadocia. The view was spectacular, something I can’t describe with words. It was really cold and foggy, but if you ever have the chance to go in a hot air balloon, do it! It was worth every minute in there. My favorite part was that not only we decided to go on that adventure but there is about 50 hot air balloons going up at the same time, I’m not exaggerating. It’s amazing to see them all come up at the same time; it was just us in the air of Turkey surrounded by magical mountains and hot air balloons. And we got to experience a proposal in the air; it was just perfect like in movies.

After hour ride in the air of Cappadocia we went back to the rest of the group and headed to the Underground city. It was incredible how this city is carved underground, it’s huge and it has endless passages, when enemies went to attack, the people of the town went underground and had a mechanism to close the city with a rock that could only be opened from the inside. If you are claustrophobic I wouldn’t recommend going in there, let’s just say I was very happy to be short.  After the magical underground city we visited some more panoramic scenes and went to a pottery factory, I enjoyed the art and talent the people there have to be able to make such neat hand-made pottery pieces.

The next day the other inbounds and I agreed we did not want to waste a minute spent in Cappadocia, so we decided to wake up very early (5:30 am) and go on a hike. The Rotarians were okay with the idea but preferred to stay warm and sleep and said they would meet us for breakfast.  This hike was very special for me because it was one of those –aha- moments. It was after a long walk up the mountain and even though we were exhausted and wished we would have decided to stay warm and sleep like the Rotarians did, we turned around and there we were in the top of a mountain in Kapadokya, Turkey, with the most beautiful and bizarre view. Then we realized we are only in Turkey for a year, this is an opportunity we are never going to have again, with people from all over the world that have become family thanks to Rotary.  And we realized how lucky we are, to have an experience like this and to see how much we have grown in a few months, we wonder how we have gotten here, and looking at the past you would have never thought you would be standing at that place at that exact moment, but you are and you could not be more grateful, and then you know most people will never have a chance like ours, and thanks to Rotary we do, and just how lucky we are. We were standing in the mountains of a magical place feeling on top of the world. And something that we can do is share it, encourage people to take this adventure and not to ever take anything for granted, because you never know what you are missing when you say no to any experience because you would rather stay in your comfort zone.

The next two days in Cappadocia we went to see more sites, we went to the canon and walked through the whole valley (5K), we visited more fairy chimneys and some lakes in the region. Cool fact about Cappadocia: some scenes of Star Wars were shoot there.  It was incredible to see how the culture in one country can change so much. Even though we were in a very touristic place Cappadocia is eastern than Izmir, so we could definitely see the influence of Middle Eastern cultures in the Turkish people living there. Izmir seemed to be much more liberal. The trip to Cappadocia was an experience of a lifetime I strongly recommend everyone to go there once in their life, it’s a really neat place to see. To future exchange students in this district, go to that trip it will be one of the best weeks of your life.

The next big events came with the Turkish Republic Day and Ataturk’s death anniversary.  On the Republic Day every major city in Turkey organizes a parade to celebrate the independence. Rotary was a big part of the parade in Izmir. All the exchange students were there, walking with our blazers as proud Turks, singing Turkish songs of independence and representing Rotary, it was a very special day for us, as for many Turks.

We celebrated Ataturk’s death by going to his cemetery in the capital of Turkey, Ankara. Turks are very patriotic so Ataturk ( the founder of the Republic) is a big part of their life. It’s very important for all Turks to go to visit his cemetery in Ankara, so Rotary has big project in Izmir and invited a hundred foster care kids and the exchange students to a trip to Ankara for the weekend.  Since the foster care kids would not likely be able to ever take this trip on their own it was very special for them, and that made it very special for us. The trip was a very long train ride and a few hours spent there, 30 hours in a train and 7 in Ankara. In Ankara we visited Ataturk’s cemetery, his museum, the new Turkish parliament and the Anatolian museum. For me the most giving part of this trip were the kids we traveled with, this young kids that at some point might have not had much and yet they are so brave, giving and happy and they would share the little they had with us it was very inspiring and special. I am grateful we got to experience that trip with them because I realized how lucky I am to have the life I’ve had, and to take the best of everything and how sometimes we complain about little things in our life, that for some people like this kids would be a luxury in their life. I just loved how they passionately enjoyed every minute of the trip when some of the exchange students were thinking it was too long of a train ride for the time there.  It just showed me to appreciate all the things I have.

These have been the big things I have done during this month in Turkey, my life here never stops, there is always something new to see and experience. I love turkey with all my heart and it will be really hard to leave. My host family is my family, I am so comfortable with them and we completely know each other. My host sister Naz is my sister and my best friend, we dance, we sing, we tell each other our secrets, we go out together, and we fight, it’s like we have been sisters our whole life. The day I leave this family will be the day I leave my home. I love them and they could not be more giving to me. I could never thank them enough.

As I always say not everything are pink roses here, there are still hard days, days that I wish I could just relax and stop paying attention to what’s going around me all the time, days that I feel like I’m not learning, but then I think that I had those days in Florida too, it’s just part of being human. And I’ve come to realize it’s all about the attitude you put towards it, if you think you can’t do it then you won’t, but if I take all the beautiful things this country has offered me that’s when I can have a year like the one I’m having, one of the best years of my life, for sure.

To all the future Outbonds that will be finding out soon, Congratulations, it’s the best decision you could have taken, get ready because it will be one of the most exciting and hard years of your life. Please listen to what Rotary tells you, they have seen many exchange students go by to know what they are talking about. It will be so true. I am so grateful for the all the preparation they gave us last year.

THANK YOU ROTARY for letting me expand my wings to the world, during these months I have learned a lot from the world and myself. I can tell I’ve grown a lot as a person, and that we can overcome anything life puts on us. Thank you to my sponsor club, Rotary Club of St.Johns and my host club Dokuz Eylul Rotary Club. Thank you to what I think are the two best districts of the world, D.6970 and D.2440 for providing me with such an amazing year and so many experiences to live. Thank you to all the Rotarians that work so hard in this program, without your work we would not be standing here. And of course thank you to my two wonderful families.

Teşekkür ederim, sonra görüşürüz.

January 4

September, October, November and December are now gone. I have spent four wonderful months in Turkey. And, as always, my days continue to fly by. Turkey is a beautiful country full of culture, history, passion, smells, religions, a country for the idealist and opportunist, one that shares two continents, and slowly becoming more Turkish than ever I look forward to all the adventures this country is still yet to bring. My month of November was calmer than October. It was a month in which regular day routine allowed me to become a true Izmirli.

Izmir is a beautiful city, not as crazy as Istanbul, yet one of the biggest in Turkey. Considered westernized and even liberal for many Turks, its lifestyle is desired by anyone here. Izmir is located along the Bay of Izmir and surrounded by hills, its structure just makes it a beautiful city. When I first came to Turkey, I was always confused about the different parts Izmir had. I never knew where anything was, and only knew the direction of the sea. My host mom once after seeing my confusion told me soon you will understand this city like its your own. And sure I do, I know my way around the city, I know where the good places to be are and I love walking from Alsancak to Konak. I've become part of this beautiful city, and as my host sister told me you don't have to be born in a city to be from that city I now know a part of me will always be from Izmir.

Time does not seem to ever slow down here. Sometimes I wish we could have 48 hour days, now two months have gone by since I last wrote and I have a lot to catch up on. As everyone in the U.S. started their preparations for the holiday season, Kurban Bayram started in Turkey. Kurban Bayram is the most important Islamic holiday of the year. The festival celebrates the Biblical and Kur'anic account of Abraham's near-sacrifice of his son on Mount Moriah, proving Abraham's complete obedience to God. In the story, God stays Abraham's hand at the last moment and provides a ram for sacrifice instead, praising Abraham for his faithfulness.

Following this tradition, the head of each Turkish household hopes to sacrifice a sheep on the morning of the first day of the holiday period. A lavish meal is made from the meat, friends and family are invited to feast, and the excess meat and the hide are donated to charity. About ¾ of the sheep is normally donated to charity. In modern families it has become the costume to donate money instead, and that's what my host family did. However, there was a lovely sheep that spent the night at the garden and was sacrificed the next day. I must say, its not one of the loveliest experiences of Turkey, but one of the tastiest.

I have recently had many questions of what its like to live in a Muslim country or what the holidays were like. While living in Turkey I've got to experience living in a religion that remained abstract for me for many years. Turkey is a secular country in which 99% of its population is Muslim. I have been very happy to live and learn about what forms a big part of Turkish culture. While you may see woman completely covered, you can see a woman with shorts and a tee-shirt and both with the same beliefs, just have different representations of the Quran. Some people are more religious than others but all Turks that I have met, have the same goal at the end. To be a good, giving, selfless person and to be able to be honest under the eyes of Allah, the Arabic name for God.

Something that I really admire about Turkey is that not once I have been questioned about my Christian beliefs and faith, they all understand that I believe in different things that what they do and even if they don't agree with me, they respect it. And that's something I wish the world could learn from because if we all were capable of doing that, all religious wars would never happen. Turks are one of the loveliest and giving people I have ever met, and I am just glad I can now share with everyone, how great the people of this country are.

About a week after Kurban Bayram, it was Thanksgiving in the U.S. One of the other exchange students and I decided to show this American holiday to our host families. We spent the whole day cooking and we prepared them a big Thanksgiving dinner. It turned out pretty good, although we did not find a Turkey (ironic, I know) and we got many cooking recommendations from my host uncle, who owns a restaurant, our host families loved it. We did it to show them how grateful we are of all the things they have done and continue to do for us.

I truly believe I couldn't have found a better host family. They have become my family and I dont see myself living with anyone else. My host-mom is about the nicest person; she always does everything and works hard so that everyone is happy. This months have not been easy for them as my host-grandparents are sick and they had some changes in the way they thought this year was going to be, despite all that, they have done everything possible to make sure I am having the best year of my life. I know they will always be my Turkish family and I will always be their daughter, I will never be able to thank them enough. I am so glad that I have been lucky to find such a nice family, they have just taught me so many things without knowing. It will break my heart when I have to say goodbye, but all these months living with them have just been worth it.

I am proud to say that I can be now, mistaken as a Turk. My looks never revealed my true identity, but now I can talk without them having a clue Im a foreigner. Its really a relief with all the gypsies that if you ever allow them to know that you are a foreigner, are most likely going to follow you around all day until you buy one of their ugly roses. Now I just talk to them in Turkish let them know that I am not interested and they leave me alone to go bother another foreigner around.

It could be said that Christmas in Turkey doesn't exist. My host mom knowing how much I love this holiday, decided to give me a very special gift. She had a meeting in Istanbul and took me along with her. It was the best present they could have ever given me. In Istanbul we stayed with my host moms best friend. They are very sweet and giving, it was very nice to stay with them and in a way very special. My host moms friend works in the American Consulate. It was incredible to see how a part of the American Government works in Turkey, I loved talking to her about the U.S. all the presidents and diplomats she has met, and just talking about the relations between Turkey and the U.S. and to be able to show what RYE is about. I was very happy when she told me that just by doing what I was doing; I was too being a diplomat, just like all the ones she had met.

I stayed five days in Istanbul, in an apartment located in the European side of the Bosporus River, with an amazing view to the Asian side of Istanbul. Istanbul is the city of cities, its full of culture and mixture of opinions and religions, and in my opinion that's what makes it such a beautiful city. The most rewarding thing about this trip was traveling Istanbul as a Turk, not as a tourist. I went to many of the touristic sites, and they are of the most beautiful buildings I have seen in my life, the blue mosque is indescribable and the Topkapi Palace has some of the most beautiful gardens even in a very cold day in Istanbul. The smells of the Spice bazaar could be the outline of Turkish culture, and the grand bazaar is a big labyrinth of shopping paradise. The funny thing is that I was not a tourist; I understood the city, culture and specially the people. I had the same feeling as when I'm visiting another city in Florida. It was special because I realized that as the old Turkish saying says, Nerede Olsan Seninleyiz, Turkey will always be with me wherever I am.

Christmas in Turkey was not an easy season. Its hard to be in a country in which the birth of Jesus has no significance. Schools don't have a winter break until February, and this holiday that is big for many of us, is mostly seen as a regular day in Turkey. I have to admit, that at times I felt homesick, wondering what everyone was doing back in Florida, and what it would be like if Turks would celebrate Christmas. However, Christmas 2010 will always be one that I remember, because so many people here managed and tried to make this day that has no significance to them, very special for us. One of the Rotaract clubs in Izmir organized a Christmas Eve party for all the inbounds in my district. It turned out to be more of a Turkish party but all the effort they did to organize it, was what made it more special. I also had the chance to attend to church in Izmir. It was one of the prettiest mass I've heard. Different parts of it were given in five different languages, Spanish, Italian, French, Turkish and Latin due to the fact that most of Catholics in Izmir are immigrants from those European countries. Christmas day was regular Saturday here and I had Turkish class, and it all went back to a regular weekend in Izmir.

After a week came New Years Eve. I spent the night with my host family in the center of the city, and I watched after loudly counting from ten to one in Turkish watch the year that has given me so much into 2011. Every Rotex I have met has told me that time flies after New Years, and now we are starting the second part of our exchange. One year ago we were just the new outbonds about to go to our first orientation and now all the new ones will have to same opportunities start in Lake Yale.

Now after a year of that moment I feel completely at home in this culture and country that still fascinates me day by day. I have friends an open houses all over the world, and I my mind has opened with the desire to explore everything the world has to offer, because as I have found marvelous beauty in Turkey that I never knew about, Im sure every country and culture has something as beautiful to offer us.

As the New Year approaches we all seem to reflect on our year. I could honestly say that 2010 has been the best year of my life; it has been a very eventful year full or good moments and hard moments as well. These past months in Turkey have provided me with enormous opportunities and knowledge. I have learned about myself, my family, my culture, and Turkey. I have met wonderful people that now form part of my heart, and I have been given so much from a country and its people, with their only objective to get to love me and learn about my country and culture. I recently had someone describe me as the worlds guest. I think that could be a perfect definition for all exchange students. Many people in the world have opened their doors to us to share what they greatly value from their country. And without expecting anything back from me, many Turks have offered to share a part of their life with me and have given me infinite offers to go and stay with them and their families. That is something I will always thank and share about Turks, their infinite willingness to give and open the doors to their life.

In Turkey I am always asked how I am able to do something like this, if I don't miss my family, home, friends and life. I always answer that getting out of my comfort zone has been the best thing that has happened to me, that of course I miss them, but all the things that Turks and Rotary has given me, makes the hard times all worth it. Being an exchange student is not a year of just going to have fun in another country, many of us come to find something very different of what we dreamed of, however we have also found many new wonderful things that the new country has brought to us. This year that seemed so long in the beginning and now is almost halfway, has given us growth and formed us as the person we are today. I'm still the same Silvia that left Jacksonville four months ago, but now I have gained knowledge, growth, strength, love and wonderful experiences that continue to shape who I am today.

Thank You Rotary for giving me this incredible opportunity to live a year in an open book of the world. I could never be more thankful to all the Turks that have given me a piece of their life. Thank to my sponsor club Rotary Club of Saint Johns, my host club Dokuz Eylul Rotary Club, D.6970 and D.2440. And thank you to the Albayraks for opening their family to me. And to my parents for all the support and opportunities they have given me.

As my second part of my exchange starts, I know I will live the fullest and make the most of it, because I know I will never be able to have a year like this one. I remain extremely happy taking in everything Turkiye continues to offer to my life.

Teþekkür ederim, sonra görüþürüz.

March 7

Five months in Turkey, five months to go. I've officially reached the half point of my exchange. And as many of the other exchange students feel, I can't believe the counting of how long I have been here has switched to the countdown of how long I have left.  It has only taken me five months to feel completely at home in the land that seemed so foreign not too long ago. I've come to realize that Turkish culture now forms a part of me.  Being completely accommodated to my new life, I feel like I never stop, I don't want to waste a minute here. New opportunities continue to open to my life; to make my exchange, a year which I know I will never have again.

After New Year's everything in my exchange started going by really fast. It seems like yesterday I was starting the New Year with new objectives and now we are done with February.  Looking back at all these months just shows me how fast my year is flying by, and how before I know I will be in that plane back to Florida that I'm so not looking forward to. During these past two months I got to experience new things in Turkey, I continued learning about this beautiful culture, felt more at home than ever and took a big turn in my exchange.

January in the Turkish school system it's like December in the U.S. Since there is no winter break for Christmas they have a semester break at the end of January, a two week break. My classmates spent the month in final exams, catching up with their missing assignments and studying hard to make sure their report cards come out with a good average. But also any month before vacations leads to not having much to do in class, people not going to school or just basically having a good time.  School now is different, the students in my class are preparing for the big exam that will determine their future and most of them don't even come to school anymore because they stay home to study.  

I think one of the hardest things for many exchange students is to be able to understand their countries educational system. In Turkey is very hard for students in high school to have any type of social life.  At the end of twelfth grade they have the University exams. They only have one chance in this exam, and they play everything on what or where they will be able to study for University. Universities in Turkey only look at the exam grade because your high school average adds points to your exam.  Good Universities ask for very high scores and students study very hard during the years to make sure they can get in into a good University.  During the last two years of high school, students go to an outside school known as "Dersane" it is courses outside of school that take place after school every day and both Saturday and Sunday.  My classmates as any other teenager in Izmir spend their time in Dersane.  It's hard sometimes to be able to see them outside of school but we always work it out, just all the people in the United Sates that always complain about school and work. The U.S. has a good system and at least you have some free time to go out, in here the system makes it almost impossible for Turks.

January was a very fun month, I had the opportunity to go spend one week in Denizli at Ezgi's house and join my Rotary trip to Pamukkale on the weekend. Due to the University exam I haven't been able to see Ezgi ( she was an inbound to Jacksonville two years ago, and one of my best friends) as much as I would like to. I had a wonderful week with her. I met her family and  saw everything she had told me about Turkey before, it was great to share with her here because in a way she the only person here that knows my two worlds. She took me all around her city and made sure I had a very fun week. I could not be more grateful to her and her mom. On Friday the other exchange students came to Denizli, we had a rotary trip sponsored by three clubs in Denizli.

The trip consisted to go to the Ancient city on Pamukkale and to have a brunch with the Rotarians on Sunday. Pamukkale, meaning "cotton castle" in Turkish, is a natural site in Denizli  in south-western Turkey. The city contains hot springs and travertines, terraces of carbonate minerals left by the flowing water.  It's one of the most beautiful natural sites in Turkey. The whole mountain looks like snow but it's covered in hot spring water.  We walked through the ancient city of Hierapolis  that was built on top of the white "castle" which is in total about 2,700 meters (8,860 ft) long, 600 m (1,970 ft) wide and 160 m (525 ft) high.  During this trip we got to experience one of my favorite memories of Turkey, we swam in ancient Roman Ruins outside on hot water springs on the month of January.  Pamukkale is spectacular and a must see, but my favorite part of this trip wasn't the beauty of this natural site but all the Rotarians that allowed us to have a great time and made this possible for us.

Part of this trip was that since three clubs in Denizli were sponsoring the whole trip we would stay at Rotarian's house for the weekend. I stayed with Fernanda the Mexican Inbound at the Denizli Rotary Club President's home. Unfortunately his wife was on a trip that weekend and we were just with him.  He was a general surgeon on one of the local hospitals, and was a very giving man. It was a great experience to be able to live in someone else house for the weekend, their house was beautiful and we enjoyed getting to know him. I will eternally be grateful to all the clubs that made this trip possible for us; it was a weekend I will never forget in Turkey.

When I came back from my trip, I took a big change on the way my exchange year was going to be. Technically in Turkey if everything is going good you only have one host family. When I came back from Denizli I talked with my host family and decided it would be best for me if I changed host families. Nothing went wrong with my first host family, the opposite I had the best months of my life with them, but by the trip my eyes were opened and I saw that it would be an incredible experience to have another family in Turkey, learn more culture from different ways of living and to be able to have the wonderful experience I had with my first host family for a second time. My first host family thought the same thing and saw that it might be better for them because Tuna, my host brother, has to study very hard and I was a big distraction. However, they asked me to come back for my final months of my exchange.

Before I knew it semester break was here and I had a two week break in school. I spent those two weeks in Izmir, because I was changing host families and I had various things to do here. On the second weekend of break it was my birthday. I had a wonderful birthday that I will always remember as a very special year. I spend the day with my friends and on the next day I had a barbeque at my house in Urla with my host family and all my exchange friends. Semester break was very nice, the weather was perfect and we had very beautiful days of the beginning of spring. We got to know Izmir to the extent that we just spent our days by taking a random bus and getting off somewhere we hadn't been before, walked around learned and took the same bus back. It was a very good adventure and everyday that I'm here I feel like my Turkish is getting better and better.

I changed host families on the first Monday after break. My new host family consists of Hakan my host dad, Heves my host mom and Eylul my sixteen year old host sister.  It was hard to say bye to my old host family, they had become my family for the last five months and they were a big part of me and as anything new, we are always scared of change when we feel so comfortable in one place.  My new host family has been nothing but wonderful to me, I felt like their daughters since the first week living with them. I have been living with them for four weeks now, and I would not change this time for anything.  I live in a very new and beautiful house in the mountains of Urla. My host parents are very caring and giving and I will always see them as my Turkish parents. My host sister, Eylul, has one of the sweetest souls; she is always worried about me and makes sure I don't need anything. She is a very giving and caring girl and she would do anything for anyone at any moment. She is not as busy so I have had the chance to spend a lot of time with her, and I could not count all the good memories we have together.  

Changing host families has been one of the best things that have happened during my exchange, now instead of having one family that I will always cherish and love, I have two. And I have been able to experience many different things that have made my mind grow and have showed me how lucky I am to live the life I've lived and all the incredible opportunities that have been given to my life.

When I started writing this journal I had five months left, now I have four. That just shows me how fast my life and year is flying by, I'm making sure I take every minute and enjoy it as much as I can, because truly I will never have a year like this one again. I've become a Turk at heart; it has only taken Turkey six months to make me feel as this is my country.  I am no longer the curious exchange student that wanted to know everything about Turkey, I will never stop learning about this beautiful culture, but now I'm the one that is sharing it and is able to tell everyone about it. I get to share everything Turkey has offered to me and now I am able to tell all the answers to the new curious foreigner. I love turkey and it will always have a very special part on my heart.

Now I'm in my final months of exchange a time that I'm sure it will start to go even faster, I can defend myself in Turkish and I continue to grow everyday as a person. My love for this country never stops growing and every day I realize how things that were so strange for me six months ago have become a normal part of my day.  In about two weeks I will start to travel around turkey on the weekends, a time I'm looking forward to because as I have seen Turkey has so many things to offer I would never be able to see all of them, but we are making sure we get to experience as many of them as we can during this year.

I will soon start Turkish Folk dance lessons, for those who know me well, it is true and as much as I hate to dance, I think it will be fun and I'm actually looking forward to it. We have the Rotary District Conference in March and all the inbounds will perform a Turkish dance. (Now you can probably understand it wasn't personally voluntary). Exchange has taught me to take any opportunity and make the most of it, because you never know when you will be able to have a chance to do anything like that ever again.

As I always say not everything is perfect here, there is things that I don't like and days that are very hard and I just wish I could be home. However, we are only here for a year and Turkey has offered many great things to my life, all the good times make the hard ones worth it. My friend told me she thinks I sugar coat things a little, but I don't think I do, we only see our life how we want to see it, and this has definitely been the best year of my life. My eyes have opened towards every direction of the world and I have experienced things I have never had before.

The best part of my exchange is not about a list of monuments, museums, and landscapes. The best is about people, and it is people that I'm going to remember the most. People that are strange, unique, foreign, similar, friendly, nice, hospitable, loving, kind, rude, outrageous, and normal. These will be the experiences that stay with me forever, that no postcard can ever reproduce.

Thank You Rotary for giving me the chance to live as a Turk. Thank You Al, Daphne, Jody and all the Rotarians that without your hard work this experience wouldn't be possible. Special thanks to all my parents that have provided me with a very lucky and full of opportunities life, and I could never be enough grateful to those who have made this experience possible. D.2440 and D.6970, Dokuz Eylul Rotary Club and St. Johns Rotary Club, and Cicek ( my counselor) for being so caring and always being here for me at any moment.

Four months left, and I feel like I still have a lot to see, I will be sure to take the most of it. Teşekkür ederim, sonra görüşürüz.

April 19

"Those heroes that shed their blood and lost their lives...

You are now lying in the soil of a friendly country.

Therefore, rest in peace.

There is no difference between the Johnnies

And the Mehmets to us where they lie side by side,

Here in this country of ours.

You, the mothers, who sent their sons from far away countries...

Wipe away your tears.

Your sons are now lying in our bosom and are in peace.

After having lost their lives on this land, they have

become our sons as well."

 - Mustafa Kemal Ataturk.

About seventy-seven years ago, on 1934, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk (the founder of the Turkish Republic in 1923) gave a speech to remember the memory of the Anzacs (Australians and New Zealand Army cops) that fought at the battle of Gallipoli in Canakkale, and lost their lives. After reading Ataturk's quote at the Canakkale Memorial, I got to walk through the graveside filled with crosses (in a country where 99% of its people are Muslims). If I would have gone to Canakkale seven months ago, I would have cherished and admired Ataturk's desire and will to give this memorial to who once were his enemies and whom he fought against. However, I wouldn't have understood it the way I did now, I wouldn't have felt it inside of me and I would not see why this place is so important to Turks, Australians and New Zealanders.

            Exchange has allowed me to see Turkey and the world in a way I would have never experienced before.  Things that I didn't realize when I arrived to Izmir seven months ago are now normal and clear in my life. I have realized I see Turkey with different eyes; I am no longer the girl that asked questions about everything like a little child, instead now I'm the one that is able to answer all those same questions. When I read Ataturk's quote I understood it to a farther relation to Turkish culture. I did not only see what one can read but I saw the hospitability of Turkey.  Turkey is a country where ethnicity is not an important fact, anyone is welcomed here, from wherever you come from Turks will always do everything possible in their hands so you can feel at home.

            In these seven months I have become part of the Turkish family. I am no longer Silvia to the little kids in my school; I am now "Silvia Abla" older sister. My classmates greet me good morning by " Gunayden Kardesim" good morning my dear sister, and I salute back to whom now I see as my brothers and sisters. I often find myself being addressed as "kizim" my dear daughter. I have found so much family here; my two wonderful host families, my Rotary family and all the Turks that have made this year so special for me.

            I used to see the days on how long I had been here, now I have changed. I see my days on how many days I have left. Before I sat down to write this journal I read my journal from my second month in Turkey. It seems like nothing had happened and I had just started this adventure, now I have exactly two months left and as much as I have seen my world and I grow in so many different directions I don't see it as enough time. In Turkey there is not a day that I stop learning, there is always new chances and experiences that come to my life. I know I will never live a year like this one, but one thing I know is that I will be able to share it and remember it as one of the most challenging, yet best years of my life. My time here is running away from my sight, my free weekends can now be counted with my hands and I must admit is a thought that scares me. As you may hear from other exchange students I have grown to love and feel part of this country, and I don't want to leave so soon.

            I used to think one year was a long time, now I don't see as enough. But the truth is that it would never be enough.  I have done so many things this year that if there is something I will never regret about my exchange is wasting time. I know I have taken every minute to the fullest and I have not wasted an opportunity this country has given me. For all the moments and things I have missed, I have gained something else. And one year has been enough; it has been enough to make me see a culture that felt so strange and different at the beginning feel like my home.

            Today I was talking to my closest friends in school. One told me she felt like if she had known me her whole life, and it was strange that at the same time this year had gone by so fast. Another one told me that he would miss seeing me every day, that I am one of them and that it will be strange having one of them in the other side of the world. I see it this way as well, I've grown so much in Turkey that these months that went by so fast are a big part of who I am today. As my Rotary Chairman told some of the inbounds and I the other day that she doesn't see any of us settling down in one place, neither do I.  I think many of the exchange students have seen the power of how one country can open the world to us, or the positive outcomes we can give by learning and being an ambassador of our own country, it will be hard for us to stay in one place quiet. We will want to give something greater to the world and maybe in a way, it's a way to give back everything it has given to us.    

            March and now April flew by, in March we went on a Rotary Sponsored trip to Bursa. It was a ski trip and I just wanted to say Thank You to all of those who made it possible it was an incredible weekend. I have been so lucky this year that I have been given the opportunity to travel so much around Turkey, some Turks tell me that I have seen more than what they have, but once again we are only here for a year. Unlike them we don't have our whole life to travel all around that easily, I will always thank everyone that has given me all this chances.

            One of the hardest things will be leaving my host family, they are my family and I would not change them for anything. My sister says she misses me when I go on four day trips, I miss them too. It's my home and sometimes I say I wish I was just home, but at that moment I'm thinking of my home here in Izmir, with my host family. They are one of the things I will miss the most about this year, because as family they have seen me every day, every step I take in Turkey, they know it, and I have learnt many life values from them that one day I will share with my own family. They have the cleanest and most giving soul I have seen, and they have showed me to enjoy life to the fullest. I will always cherish many good memories with them.

            I don't want to sound like I'm sad to be coming back to Florida soon, not at all, in contrary if there is something I have also learnt about Florida this year is how much I love it there as well. I have seen how lucky I am to have the life I've had. What a wonderful life of freedoms and opportunities to always be able to improve ourselves the United States provides us and how any other country it has good and bad things. I know that once I'm home everything will start to take a routine again, and I will be happy. But what I'm sad about is that my exchange year is finishing, I know I will come back to Turkey again, but I know that it won't be the same. Because this for sure has been a year like no other and I will make sure to make the most of these two months that I have left in here.

            So many things are coming up soon, I have a RYLA conference this weekend in Bursa and I will be joining the Anzak day in Cannakale, I will sit at the beach and see as in the war, the Australians saw the boats arrive with the sun rising. I will be traveling to the east part of Turkey to the ancient city of Mardin. I will me going to Marmaris for our Rotary District conference where we will give a speech and present the dance we have been working on. I will go to Istanbul one more time before I leave and if things go good I might be traveling to the Black Sea. We will have friends and family visit, the school will end and it just seems like every day I have more and more things coming up, but one thing I know for sure is that I will enjoy every day that I have left in what now is my country.

            Thank You so much Rotary, there will never be enough words of gratitude to thank you for what the experience you have provided me has given to my life. I have grown, I now see the world with wider eyes, exchange is something one cannot express with words but for me it is a year I will never forget and for sure the hardest and best year of my life so far. Thanks to my host club, Dokuz Eylul Rotary Club. D. 2440  and my sponsor club St.Johns Rotary Club, D.6970. Thank You to everyone who works so hard to make this experience available to us and to all my parents around the world because without your support and encouragement I would not be here.

            Teşekkür ederim, sonra görüşürüz.With love,