Before I go much further, I will warn everyone that my english is getting worse, and it is 12 AM currently, because that is when I have time to write this, so please excuse my bad grammar etc. :)
The one piece of advice I will give to everyone is your exchange will not be like anyone else, you will probably think yours will at least be like the other people’s in your country.. but it could be more similar to someone in a different country considering how much your house location, school, host family, rotary club, and you effect it. I believe it is 50 percent what you are given to work with, and 50 percent how you choose to work with what you are given. Make your exchange what you want it to be. If you want to learn the language, study the language enough so you can only speak that language, don’t let people speak with you in English. If you aren’t happy with what you are doing everyday, find new things to do, you live in an awesome foreign country. If you don’t want to get fat, only eat what your host family gives you to eat, and don’t eat other things voluntarily (this helps save money as well). And altogether when you feel super bummed, depressed, or bored (I can honestly say I have yet to be super bored), look around and remember you are in a freaking foreign country and no matter what you are doing its so awesome!
Since I don’t know have exactly one thing to talk about, because I have been here for a while, I will just tell a few things that come to my mind about being here. Enjoy.
My host family was out of town when I first arrived so I had to sleep at a Rotex’s house my first night. My first night I went out with him and his friends, and then the next morning I was dropped off on a different continent (Istanbul is the coolest city ever), at my host aunt’s work, and shortly after, was on a six hour bus ride to the capital of Turkey, Ankara, with her. She knew no English and I sadly knew very little Turkish, gotta love dictionaries. The thoughts that kept going through my head included, “This is so ******* cool and beautiful, and I am so lucky” and, “Literally no one on this bus can communicate with me and no one knows exactly where I am right now, hopefully my aunt is safe *giggles to self*”. That night we arrived and I met tons only Turkish speaking people, was forced to eat lots of food (everyone else hadn’t ate all day because of ramadan), and had no idea which of the people were actually the family I would live with later hahaha. Later in the night I figured out which family was mine, and we were off from the major city, Ankara, to a village in Kirsehir, I spent the rest of the holiday there with extended family. It was overwhelming and I never knew what was happening, but it was so beautiful and eye opening. I kissed old people’s hands for candy, watched a chicken be slaughtered, and walked around mountains while hearing the call to prayer. I will never forget my first Bayram (Turkish Holiday).
I have been to Anıtkabir twice now, and it is extremely breathtaking. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anıtkabir, if you don’t know what it is, LEARN :). Atatürk is a fantastic guy, and made this country what it is today.
One day I was wondering around my school campus, (because it is a large campus on top of a bunch of mountains, including a preschool, middle school, high school, and university), when I stumbled across a ceramics building. I ended up going in with my close exchange friend, Fernanda, and now I go at least once a week. I have developed a great friendship with the old Turkish man that runs the building. I can come and go as I please. Some days I go alone and I study Turkish and drink tea with him, which is really good for me because we only speak in Turkish. Some days I go and make pottery while meeting University students taking ceramics class. I am so grateful for this discovery and love my pottery teacher so much. I can honestly say he is a huge reminder of why this program is so cool, I don’t know how else I could have had this relationship, and it is so important to me.
We had Turkish classes in a really famous area of Istanbul, where most night-life and tourists are known for going, Taksim. All the exchange students in Istanbul had to go every Saturday and Sunday for six weekends. I can honestly say the entire process made my Turkish worse, but I just think of it as something I paid for to learn my way around the city. My house is kind of far out on the Asian side, and to go to Taksim every weekend, I have multiple options of transportation. I usually include the ferry ride, because it is so beautiful and relaxing. Also, because my house is kind of far and my host parents do not let me come home late, I have ended up staying at at least half of the other exchanger’s houses. This has ended up being a really good thing for me, because I have seen different kinds of Turkish life, exchanges, and can get myself around lots of different areas in Istanbul. I can proudly say I could be dropped off at a random part in the city and I would be able to get myself home, I might be scared and laugh at myself a lot, but I could do it. I frequently use minibuses, otobuses, metrobuses, trens, dolmuses and ferries to get around (okay, an occasionally taxi, if I’m feeling lazy).
By the way, being foreign and using public transportation makes for the funniest stories.
Example number 1: My purse kept hitting this lady in the face one time, while she was sitting down and I was standing up. I tried to move, but it just kept smacking her in the face. Finally, she asked me in Turkish if I could please sit my purse down, but because of my Turkish level, I at first thought she was asking me if I would like to sit down, so I answered no with a huge smile. Then I replayed it in my head, laughed, and set my purse down.
Example number 2: My real mom in America sent me a package, you think it would just come to my house, but noooo that would be easy. It was held in customs a good hour away from my house. My host dad took me in morning traffic to pick it up, but I was left alone at a random place to get home... with my package. My host dad thought I knew how to use the metro bus from there, and I just told him I did, because he was clearly already frustrated that he had spent so much time driving me for a package probably filled with peanut butter and tampons, on his work day. I then got lost in the city of Istanbul for a good three hours.. with my huge box in hands. Public transportation is crowded, and conducted in Turkish. Throughout this day I had to set my box on multiple people’s laps and dropped it a few times when getting off wrong buses I tried to take. Altogether I made it to a familiar place, just to find that I didn’t have my home key wooooo. I then sat at a starbucks with my package, an americano, and Christmas music in the background; feeling pretty accomplished. At a certain point you don’t notice people staring at you anymore.
Example number 3:One night I was taking a taxi ride home from a close friend of mine’s house, because it was late and I didn’t know an easy public transportation route from her house yet. I had never explained to a taxi driver how to get to my house before, and I only knew how from one landmark. I got in the taxi, gave him the area and address, and he acted like he knew, and started driving. We talked a good amount, because he quickly found out I was foreign and was interested haha. I explained that I was a foreign exchange student, what I was doing here, and he told me about how he usually works on the European side and which shopping malls and places I should go to party hahaha. As we got closer to my residence, he started asking me questions, in which I would respond “I’m thinkinggggg (in turkish obviously)”, nervously. This ended up being an extremely humorous time. As I struggled to direct him with my terrible Turkish, he started chanting “SPEAK TURKISH CHELSEA”, in the rhythm of England’s Chelsea soccer team’s chant. Later he stopped at a gas station and bought himself cigarettes and some chocolate for me, explaining that he couldn’t handle me without a cigarette. Finally, with 35 liras to pay, I arrived home. The ride was completely worth 35 liras, I had a half hour conversation with an enjoyable guy in Turkish. And there was no English to rely on, because he didn’t know any. :) Everyone going on exchange will find out that having English as a first language sucks, because even the other exchange students from different countries are learning English well, but we are just getting worse at our own language from having to use simple English all the time haha. With this being said, it is definitely still possible to learn the language, in the last month mine has definitely improved, because I remembered learning a new language is a huge part of why I am here and have been trying really hard.
Altogether, I have had difficult times here, but almost every difficult thing came with hilarity and was not impossible to handle. I have learned a lot about the way languages form culture and personalities, and have realized so much about my own country and language from experiencing another. I am so grateful for this opportunity, and am so glad I am in Istanbul. Talk to you all in another three months. :)
April 24, 2012
I apologize for my lack of journals, you can either blame me or a large starbucks coffee that was dumped on my computer making it so I do not have a computer. I am finally got myself to an internet cafe so complete things like the RYE journal. Although I do repeatedly replay the starbucks coffee falling on my computer over in slow motion in my head while cringing, it has brought some things. I am getting more sleep at night time instead of staying up on my computer , and I am watching more turkish television downstairs with my Turkish family.
Anyways, considering I am paying for my time spent on this computer, I will shortly summarize my wonderful last few months spent in Turkey.
December was definitely a landmark in my exchange and just for my life in general. Although the first month is really wonderful because you are seeing everything for the first time and kind of starstruck, December was much better for me. I was completely exhausted constantly, but I had finally figured out how to completely become independent and was holding conversations in Turkish. My close exchange friend and I decided to take a turkish class in a different part of the city after school, so we would take a bus from school everyday and then go home in the evening. This made us really start using our turkish more because the class level we got into was all taught in turkish and most of it was just for talking practice. It was mostly enjoyable though because we really got to know our way around and this certain part of the city, and it is definitely where I come now the most and where I will miss the most. I loved this class so much because it was made up of probably around ten of us all from different countries and different age groups, discussing topics in turkish. I learned so much about different cultures in a language that was so new to me, but I was able to understand and communicate my point, which is such a rewarding feeling. It is so much more rewarding than just traveling to a different country and sight seeing, in my opinion.
I have definitely learned here how much human connection is the reason I like coming to other countries. Of course it is nice seeing beautiful places, but being able to learn a different language and really understand someone's personality through their language is so cool and beautiful, and it is definitely the reason I will continue to travel.
January and Febuary were more related with exchange fun and Rotary life. In January I moved houses multiple times, which was interesting but exhausting and pretty confusing haha, but if I wasn’t already someone that just goes with the flow, I really am now. I was at one house for only a week ,when Rotary found out I was sleeping on a couch while living with a single woman and her son was coming home for a university break and the three of us were going to share a one room apartment. Although that one was a little confusing (why am I the exchange student getting the super weird house situations? etc haha), I did get some good turkish practice from late night chats with the single woman. Honestly, most of my difficulties here have made for the most interesting learning opportunities. The family I am in now is so great and I have a really realy good connection with our bakici, which means looker and is the person that makes the food and watches my little brother when the parents aren’t home etc. She is one of my favorite people, I enjoy my time with her so much and will really miss her when I go home. In the end of January I went on a tour to southern parts of Turkey with Rotary which was very enjoyable. The weather was really cold, but the places were still all so beautiful and the time spent with the people was constantly fun. Turkey is such a beautiful country; honestly, if you are someone who likes traveling for sightseeing and history, its a really good choice for you. Pammukkale was the coolest place I have ever been by far. In Febuary I honestly can’t remember exact details other than I was just going out in the city a lot with friends. We made one street performer friend from Canada that was traveling the world this year, and he was here for Febuary, so a few of my friends and me enjoyed exploring with him and learning about his travels. I definitely learned how possible it is to travel if you want to from him. He is on ly 18 and just goes by street performing and meeting people on the way. If you want to travel, you can.
March and April have been filled with really working on my Turkish and just exploring the city. It might sound funny to say exploring the city since I have been here for so long already, but the first few months I didn’t have complete freedom how I do now, and honestly even if I lived in Istanbul for nine years, there would be places I hadn’t gone. I have been taking lots of photos lately now that the weather is finally nice, and really am just loving life as cheesy as it sounds . I am just thankful to be here. In about two weeks my family comes here which will be super weird feeling, but really awesome at the same time. There are so many places I go or things I do that I think “I wish my sister was here” or “I wish she could see this”, and now she will be able to see some! After my family leaves we have another Rotary trip which I am not sure if I am going on yet or not, then we have a district conference for a week in another city, an d then in June I am planning to travel a little bit around Turkey and maybe in Europe with some friends, and thhhhhhhhhhen I go home :o. Crazy. Although, I will miss it a lot here, I have a lot to distract me in America, and I am ready to come back to Turkey without a program and host families, to live on my own. I’m excited to go to University next year and become more prepared to travel and learn more languages etc .Thank you so much for this opportunity Rotary.