Jane Viviano
2011-12 Outbound to Turkey

Hometown: Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida
School: Nease High School
Sponsor: Ponte Vedra Beach Sunset Rotary Club, District 6970, Florida
Host: Rotary Club of Istanbul-Bogaziçi, District 2420, Turkey

Jane's Bio

Merhaba! My name is Jane, I'm 16 years old and I'm going to Turkey! I'm currently a sophomore at Nease High School. I will be in Turkey for my junior year. At Nease, I am in the International Baccalaureate program. When someone asks me what IB is, I say that it is a challenging program for students who enjoy working hard. This is definitely true for me, I enjoy working hard. I view being a foreign exchange student as a challenge that I will enjoy very much and that I will remember for the rest of my life.

My favorite subject in school is history. I am very excited to learn more about the history of Turkey. I may be an anthropologist someday! I am also interested in architecture. Daphne Cameron suggested Turkey as one of my countries because of the architecture. So, my special thanks to you, Ms. Daphne.

I am involved in a lot of activities in and out of school. I love soccer and have been playing since I was 8 years old. I play for the JV team at Nease and for the soccer clubs in the fall and spring. I started playing the violin when I was 6 years old. I play for the Jacksonville Symphony Youth Orchestra. I like to try new things. I started hip-hop dance this year after I failed miserably at ballet when I was 6. I also started JV lacrosse this year. Sometime I would like to try playing hockey. I spend my free time creating artwork and writing.

I have heard that…

1. Turkish is a hard language to learn

2. the people in Turkey are very warm and friendly

3. Turkey is a beautiful country

4. Turkey has amazing architecture

I wonder...

5. how many Turks in my area speak English

6. how school in Turkey is different school here

7. what kind of traditions my host family has

8. what perceptions Turks have of Americans

I hope that this exchange will help me become a better person, help me decide what I want to do with my future, and bring experiences that I will remember forever.

Every day, I try to imagine myself in Turkey. But I know that there is no possible way for me to expect what's coming. I won't know until I step off that plane in a country within two continents. It is an indescribable feeling just thinking about it. Rotary: thank you so much for giving me this opportunity and thanks to my family and friends for supporting me on this incredible journey that I am about to take.

Jane's Journals

September 11th, 2011: 

Two weeks into my exchange

The week leading up to my departure was interesting. I hung around my house and basically did nothing except arrange my departure date. Sunday was the set date for me to leave, but either Hurricane Irene didn’t want me to go, or she wanted me to leave sooner. I left a day earlier, on Saturday, Chelsea Holmes with me all the way. It was nice that we were able to arrange to travel together.

I thought I wasn’t nervous when I got to the airport in Jacksonville, but apparently I was because I got sick in the garage parking lot. All I could do was laugh at myself. Saying goodbye to my parents was weird. It didn’t seem like I was leaving them, so since I couldn't think of anything to talk about, I decided I better just fess up. I told my mom I never walked the dog that week like I was suppose to and I told my brother I stole his back-up iPod and that it was packed away in my checked luggage. I ended up going through security twice because my Rotary club came to say farewell after I was at the gate with Chelsea. I got some exercise running around the airport, but I was so happy that my Rotary Club came to say goodbye. Thanks guys!

Our flights went well. I don’t have any scary stories to tell. We flew from Jacksonville to Atlanta to Amsterdam and everything was easy and quick. The airport in Amsterdam was crazy, and things just got crazier from there. Chelsea and I went though security again and then realized we couldn’t go back out to go to the bathroom. The 3-hour flight from Amsterdam to Istanbul was agonizing. I was incredibly nervous. Seeing Turkey for the first time was definitely one of the most thrilling and exciting moments of my life.

I made a big deal of setting my first foot in Turkey when I took a leap off the jetway. My first landing on another continent, in another time zone, in another country (Canada doesn’t count :-) ). Chelsea thought I was crazy.

My host brother picked me up from the airport and our private driver took us home. My first observation: people drive like crazy, but somehow I always find it thrilling, especially when my host dad drives the Mercedes.

We had about a 20 minute drive home from the airport and I couldn’t keep my eyes away from the car window, as I expected. Everything about Istanbul amazed me, and it continues to all the time. My host brother showed me the house. My bedroom is on the fifth floor and from the balcony on the top floor, you can see our neighborhood and the city.

I wasn’t even in Istanbul for 24 hours before I was back on a plane, at 7am the next morning, for Bodrum, a wonderful little summer vacation town. There, I met my host parents and they are truly the most wonderful people. The first thing my host dad told me in his broken English was that I was not a guest; I was part of their family. Just like that. And not once this whole time have they treated me like anything else.

My host mother speaks a few words of English. It pains me to not be able to tell her how thankful I am for the patience she has, day after day, for my extremely slow learning and understanding. I want to tell my host dad how much I love being a part of his family. I want to talk about Rotary with him and tell him how much I love watching basketball too.

I tell my host brother how much he is like my brother in Florida. They are alike in so many ways. He takes me places and always tries to explain things. He answers my many questions and he covers for me when we get in trouble.

I want so badly for my host family to know that I wish I was born into their family, I wish I had grown up as the third child, the daughter, one they love as much as their sons. I know I can have someone who speaks English and Turkish fluently tell them all this for me, but I know that it has to come from me alone, at a time when I can I speak the language with ease.

I spent the next 8 days in Bodrum, swimming in the Mediterranean Sea (I don’t think it’s possible to drown, it’s incredibly easy to float), sitting by the pool (the water level is level with ground, interestingly to me), eating out every night except one (something I’m definitely not use to), and walking around the town (the streets are crowded even at midnight).

I told my parents I would skype them that weekend, but I ended up staying in Bodrum for three more days with my host parents while my host brother went back to Istanbul to study for an English exam. I was curious as to how I would get along without him (he was my lifeline), but it’s amazing how much you can communicate with people even if you don’t speak the same language. It was a concept Rotary taught us that I never quite understood, and now, I do. I also never realized how much you can communicate just by smiling.

Everyone that I come in contact with, whether they be family friends, waiters at restaurants, or people on the street, don’t know that I’m American. Even if I just smile all the time at them, they don’t realize it until they hear me speak English or someone tells them that I’m not Turkish. I happily take this to my advantage, as sooner or later, I will have no problem telling them myself that I am indeed Turkish.

We left Bodrum on the morning of the 6th and I was anxious to see how my life would be like in Istanbul. In the mornings, I come downstairs, eat breakfast with my family, and then I usually just hang around until the afternoon. I don’t mind it. Sometimes I just sit for hours, but somehow I’m not bored. Then, usually we do something, my brother takes me somewhere, we visit the city, we visit friends, etc. I never know what goes on until someone tells me. I’m always out of my comfort zone, everywhere I go. But like so many people told me before I left, that’s what you have to do to be an exchange student.

I hear the calls to prayer all the time. I’m interested as to when my first experience with the religion will take place. School starts in a week.

Everything I’ve eaten is yummy (except I wasn’t a big fan of Ayran, salty milk-ish yogurt). I feel bad when I can’t finish my meal. Everyone eats more than me here. I always have to tell them "doydum!" (I’m full!). My host family feels the need to buy my food that I usually eat (like pork…), but they need to know that I will eat whatever they have to offer and that I love to try new things. So far I've eaten octopus, spaguetti with yogurt, eggplant, lots of balık (fish), and many other Turkish specialties. Magnum ice cream bars are really common here (a luxury for me in the states). I absolutely LOVE turkish tea. I have this funny relationship with watermelon, and it’s been a joke in my family for a while. All because I ordered it at a restaurant one night and that the first word I learned in Turkish was…karpuz :-) way back in December.

I thought it would be really hard having everyone speak a language all the time that I don’t understand, but it’s not. I just sit patiently, listen and try to catch a few words. And sometimes, I just want to burst out laughing so badly at things that aren’t even funny. What’s hard is that when people laugh, I usually don’t understand, and it makes me want to cry.

Every time I think something horrible is going to happen like I’ll fall off the back of my host brother’s ATV, or my host mom will get mad at me for jumping in the pool with my clothes on (or riding on that ATV…), or making a horrible mistake in front of a bunch of people, it never happens. And usually, the things I fear the most turn out to be the most fun.

Some things to take note of:

•    Smoking is not discouraged here as much as it is in the USA

•    Pop music = sucky American pop music

•    There are random dogs and cats everywhere

•    When one sees a cat you “Tsss!” at it, while in America most people go “Aww, a kitty.” This makes me laugh every time.

•    In my family it is OK to put your elbows on the table and start eating even if everyone does not have their meal (I’m still getting use to this)

•    The most common car models I see are VW, Fiat, and some model with rhombus shaped symbol

•    People are amazed that I can drive and I have a car in Florida

•    Turkish television is really dramatic

•    Random people try to sell stuff along the highway

•    People wear everything and anything

•    Everyone is very friendly and people appreciate the effort when a foreigner tries to speak Turkish

•    Turkey is a beautiful country, no doubt about that

•    Most impressions that Turks have of Americans are true

•    Turkish flags are EVERYWHERE. Every time I see one I smile, if not on the outside, definitely on the inside.

All the time, I feel myself becoming less and less American and more and more Turkish. I feel as though I was born here and I’m finally being brought home. Istanbul amazes me all the time and I would much rather live here than anywhere else in the United States. Is that a bad thing?

For all you people who think negatively of Turkey, you should be ashamed. This country is seriously misjudged (and Turks know that Americans are judgemental) and at the time when I told people that I was going to Turkey and some of them said “Oh…Turkey, hmm…” I didn’t think much of it. But now, it makes me so angry that some people would think so negatively of a country that they don’t even know the capital city of. I question being an American, because here I am, falling in love with a country that’s not mine and defending it. And I’ve only been here two weeks.

I constantly have to remind myself that this is my exchange. It is my year and I shouldn’t be comparing it to ROTEXs, Rebounds, or current Outbounds exchanges. It’s like the expression about the elephant (Ms Paulaaaa!)…one bite at a time. I might be taking nibbles for the first month. Every exchange is different and personal, so if it takes me longer to do certain things than it does for other people, SO BE IT.

To all you Rotarians (Districts 6970 and 2420): Thank you/Teşekkür ederim for giving me this amazing opportunity. It’s a dream that only a few (when you think about all the teenagers in the world) get to experience. It will change my life and I will always remember this amazing adventure.

Görüşürüz!

Tuesday, January 03, 2012

December 13th, 2011 – Just over 3 months in Turkey

Exactly one year ago today I learned that I would spend a year in Turkey. Here I am, living this life, learning this culture, trying to learn this language that I once thought seemed easy to learn. What a mistake that was. I’ve made more mistakes, experienced more awkwardness, and cried more times in these past three months than I’ve ever made, experienced, and cried in my entire life. But somehow I’m still here, learning little things, exploring the city and culture little by little, taking small steps everyday, one bite at a time...

I can easily say that two weeks ago I hit rock bottom. And just like all of the other times I fell down, I picked myself up, but this time I walked a little taller. A favorite quote of mine has now become the message I live by every day.

“Grant me serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and wisdom to know the difference.”

One important thing I’ve learned on this exchange is that there are things in life that you have no control over. There are some people you will never be able to change. There are some bad things that you cannot stop from happening. And once it’s in the past, there is no point dwelling over it, because you definitely cannot change that either.

I now start a new chapter in my life as an exchange student in Turkey. Soon I’ll say goodbye to the life I’ve been living and hello to a new family, a new life, and hopefully, a new start.

While the past three months have been the hardest months of my life, here are the positive moments and adventures. Don’t get me wrong, my life isn’t just a walk in the park.

Some of the most exciting, interesting, and memorable moments of my life in the past three months:

• The first time I was able to travel alone in the city. IT WAS A BIG STEP FOR ME.

• When my host dad hit 200km on the highway. Twice. Just because we had to turn back to get my phone that I left at the house. It was awesome

• Spending a day exploring the city with my Turkish friends and learning about Turkish history

• Visiting Sultan Ahmed Cami (Blue Mosque), Hagia Sofia, Topkapı Palace, and the Basilica Cistern with the Inbounds

• Taking the ferry for the first time across the Bosphorus from Asia to Europe. It never gets old

• Spending a weekend with the inbounds in Gebze and then performing a talent show at a Rotary meeting. I played my violin.

• The first day of school. It was one of my biggest worries about going abroad. It turned out to be the best first day of school I’ve ever had thanks to my kind and helpful friends and teachers who’ve made me feel welcome here in Turkey. I’m so lucky to have all of them. To all you guys: çok teşekkür ederim

• My first Fenerbahçe futbol game. I’ll never forget it. Teşekkürler Halit.

• My 17th birthday and Atatürk Commemoration Day. At 9:05am we paid our respects to the most loved and honored founder any country has ever had. For my birthday I received a outfit from my host mother, gifts from my friends, a cake (called pasta here) from my family, and a singing of the Happy Birthday song

• Visiting Atatürk’s resting place (Anıkabir) in Ankara. It was a long, cold, and rainy weekend with 500 other çocuklar (oh those little kids...), but I had a great time nonetheless.

• Kurban Bayram. It’s a religious holiday when you sacrifice an animal and give the meat to the poor. I went with my host dad and brother to watch the sacrificition of a sheep We ate it for the next week and I believe I took a bite of the heart and one of the kidneys. Uhhg. There was no school for three days and we spend the time with family relatives.

• All the fun class events: going to the kitap fuarı (a HUGE annual book fair), Group 4 project with a boat ride on the Golden Horn and experiments in the İstanbul University Biology Dept., and all the weekend CAS activities

• Thanksgiving party with Rotary. We had four turkeys (and no, its not called a turkey here. Its a hindi) and great night of feasting, family, and fun.

Some things to take note of:

• I can’t get over how many malls there are in this city...and they’re always building another one somewhere.

• In Turkey, you greet people with a kiss on both cheeks (men too), even if you’re just meeting them for the first time. Lets just say it was a little awkward at the airport when I greeted with a usual hug. Sorry about that one Mehmet...

• In Turkey, all drinking water comes from a bottle. A water bottle is about 30 cents. Cheap.

• Nutella is REALLY POPULAR. Çok seviyorum...

• You’ll always have an adventure in a bazaar It’s a good place to go it you’re looking for some excitement. You meet all kinds of people there...ALL KINDS...

• Along touristy spots, you can find street vendors selling waffles, freshly-squeezed juices, Turkish bread, mussles, and all kinds of nuts. How can people in Florida drink that stuff in the carton that they call orange juice???

• Milk does not taste the same here. It’s whole milk, but even if it says its not, it still tastes like it. I want my non-whole milk :/

• Soccer = life. Literally, LIFE. There are people here that will kill each other over a futbol match. No joke.

• At school, we stand up when the teacher enters the room and we knock and ask to come in if class has already started. The teacher-student relationships at school are much more friendly and casual than in the US public schools

• It’s cold in Istanbul from October to April, and while I will be huddled around the fireplace or heater this winter, there will be people swimming in the ocean in Bodrum. Not fair.

• I like the Metro. First, it’s fast. And second, you’ll always find some interesting people(s) in there. The funny tourists...a bunch of chanting Galatasaray fans shaking the metro car...a six-person fist fight. That was pretty disturbing.

• My classmates love British accents. Scratch that. EMIR loves British accents. I don’t understand this. Stop asking me to speak in one!

I often ask myself what I’ll get out of this exchange. Will I really learn Turkish? Will I make long-lasting friendships? Will I have a Turkish family to always come back to? What exactly will I learn from this year? The future’s pretty foggy for me right now, but once in a while I can catch a glimpse of what’s beyond those clouds. I notice a small change in the way I think, of how I perceive things, of how I’ve grown as a person and I remind myself that there will be a positive outcome in the end.

Thank you Rotary for giving me this chance of a lifetime. Also thank you to my family and friends for supporting me, but especially to my parents for giving up their daughter for a year so she can explore the world.

February 24, 2012

There once was a girl who lived in a bubble. She wanted to see more of the world, unlike most of the people around her. With some help and encouragement, she became foreign a exchange student.

Driving back to the town of Bodrum this past January, this is how I felt, as the beautiful mountains passed by the bus windows.

It hits you at random moments. Oh My God. I’m in Turkey.

I’m living a dream. How in the world did I get here?

I must be the luckiest girl in the world.

I moved to my second host family just before Christmas. The changes: a four story house to the fifth floor of an apartment building, a gated community one hour north of the main city to apartment community one hour east of the main city, living near the Bospherous to living on the coast of the Sea of Marmara.

My second life appeals more to me than the first. From my window I can see the five Princes Islands in the Sea of Marmara. Life is much more upbeat and lively (especially with a 6-year-old host brother) than it was before. I now have two host brothers, ages 15 and 6. In the mornings, my host mother (who is also my biology teacher at school), my host brothers, and I have a one hour service bus ride to my school where it took me five minutes to get to from my last place. Can’t say I’m loving that change. In the evenings I help my host mother with dinner. Then we drink çay, watch TV, or I spend time with my host brothers. I have really bonded with my second family, something that, in the end, didn’t happen with my first family. My host mother calls me her daughter and me and my host brothers treat each other as if we’re siblings. They have become my second family, there’s really no need for the word “host”.

On New Year’s Eve I visited my host relatives and learned some of the Turkish cultural dances. At midnight I was in the perfect place- crossing the Bospherous Bridge from Europe to Asia. We stopped the car on the bridge and watched fireworks go off in the Bospherous. Now I can say for my 17th new year I was in two continents at once.

A funny thing I’ve noticed about the Turkish language: everyone is blunt in a straight-to-the-point kind of way which would be considered rude it you were speaking English. Examples: A lot of commands like, “I don’t want that”, “Give that to me”, “Come here”, the click of the tongue and raising of the eyebrows and head meaning no, calling our teachers “Hocam” which is technically the name for the priest in a mosque. But then again Turkish has many respectful everyday sayings lie Afiyet Olsun (enjoy your meal), Elinize sağlık (Good health to your hands), and Kolay Gelsin (may your work come easy). It’s a cultural difference that takes a little getting use to.

At school, we decorated our classroom with Christmas lights, garland, and snowflake patterns. There’s no Christmas in Turkey because it’s an Muslim country, but you’ll still find Christmas-y decorations. For our Christmas celebration with Rotary, we were taken out to a touristy restaurant in the famous Taksim area of İstanbul. There we saw belly dancing along with other performances including a man who could sing a song from any of the nations in the restaurant (over 20 different nationalities). I was impressed.

In my first journal I made a comment about feeling proud to be an American. I’ve done a lot of thinking about this, being an exchange student in a place where national pride is always displayed, inside and out. In the beginning, I felt as though I was failing as an ambassador to my county: I wasn’t defending it or even supporting it. My classmates and I questioned whether there really was a true American. Someone in my class made a comment during a discussion about how American ruled the world. An American might be proud of that, but to me it was like a slap in the face. But being an exchange student has taught me to respect others’ countries, even if I don’t agree with the way their culture works, or how they have acted in history, or how their government operates. I will always have respect for Turkey, its people, founder, and religion, but there is now no doubt that I will always be proud to be an American. Nothing and no one will ever change that.

On January 14th my host dad picked me up from a teacher’s house that I stayed the night at. It was 3 degrees C and raining outside as we drove home. He informed me that a few minutes later the temperature would drop two degrees and it would be snowing. I couldn’t see how it was possible, but we went under a bridge and when we came out the world was white. It was like a dream. Snowy Istanbul is better than any snowy place I’ve seen in the US. It’s a winter wonderland.

Learning a language is hard in so many ways. When you’re in a country where English is the second language by most people, it’s really hard to distance yourself from it. At times I’m jealous of the exchange students in countries where English is rarely spoken. Speaking in Turkish has been a struggle for me since the beginning, but every day I’m speaking more and improving. That’s all that matters.

During the semester break in the second half on January, the Istanbul inbounds went on a tour of Western Anatolia. In nine days we went to Pamukkale, Antalya, Kaş, Fethiye, Bodrum, Kuşadası, İzmir, and Çanakale. I saw the ancient city of Ephesus, the Trojan horse in Troy, hot springs in Pamukkale, the Church of St. Nicholas, and the Dead Sea, just to name a few. I went to a hamam, prayed in the House of the Virgin Mary, and watched some crazy inbounds go swimming in the Mediterranean Sea in 2 degrees C.

Last weekend, I visited my host father’s parents in their apartment in İstanbul. I love how simply and easy it is to live in the Turkish lifestyle. I would rather live in a two-bedroom apartment, eat meals around a small floor table, and have family visit all the time that the way I live in Florida. Families are so close in Turkey, I’m so glad that I’ve had the chance to experience it. After, my family and I went to Eyüp to visit the Eyüp Sultan Mosque and tomb of the Phrophet Muhammad’s close friend. I prayed in the mosque during the Maghrib (senset prayer of the five daily prayers) for the first time. It was quite and experience. Four women helped me with the prayer and as soon as they found out I was recently coverted and an American, they were ecstatic. They gave me blessings, a purple tespih (prayer beads), lots of kisses, and took a picture with me before letting me and my host mother leave. I’ll never forget that experience.

I’m looking forward to the next month here. We will host two German teachers next week and then my friend, an exchange student from Alaska, will stay with us the next week. My dad and brother are coming at the end of March and we will be staying at a hotel next to the Blue Mosque (my favorite place in Istanbul). I’m enjoying and cherishing every moment here now, I have just under 150 days left. Thank you Rotary for making me one of the luckiest teenagers in the world, this is one of the happiest time of my life.

Until next time, görüşürüz!    

June 7, 2012

At the end of March my dad and brother came to visit me for one week. We stayed at a quaint hotel behind the Blue Mosque and for six days I took them around the city to see all the things Istanbul has to offer. They met my host family and we had a typical Turkish dinner together. It was interesting, living the life of a tourist in Istanbul for a week, but I enjoyed watching the expressions on bazaar owners’ face’s when they discovered I was an American who could speak Turkish. I can’t say that I’m fluent, but I’m just glad I’ve made my family proud of what I’ve learned so far.

In the six days that they were there, I got to see many new places I had never been to. We took a tour in the Bosphorous that goes under the two bridges that connect Europe and Asia. We went to the top of a tower where you can view the whole city. We went to another tower by boat that sits in the Bospherous. One of the coolest places we got to see Dolmabahçe Palace, the living quarters of the last seven Sultans, the death place of the founder of Turkey, and the current area for important diplomatic meetings. The fact that Erdoğan, the Prime Minister of Turkey and Hilary Clinton had been there just 2 days earlier discussing Syria made the excursion even cooler :) The interior of the palace was one of the most extravagently decorated places I have ever seen. Crystal chandeliers (the biggest one weighed 5 tons!), real elephant tusks and bear hid rugs from Czar Nicholas II, it was amazing.

In early April, all the exchange students began scheduled days volunteering at a Rotary academy school for disabled children. We baked, helped in music and art classes, and assisted with redecoration inside during the two weeks there. I also got to meet other exchange students from South Korea, Italy, and the US. It has been one of the few opportunities I’ve had to volunteer here in Istanbul and I enjoyed it a lot.

In mid-April, I had the opportunity to go with my host family to a Turkish village. It was great to be able to breath some fresh air and see rolling hills for once. The village had farms, gravel roads, cows, dogs, one mosque, and beautiful wild flowers and tulips. And of course people, no more than 200. Everything on the property that my host grandparents lived on was self-built except the hot water tank on the roof and the furniture in the house. They had fruit and nut trees in their fields, a bee farm, and strawberry and pumpkin patches. All over the village were pipes running fresh water. In the nearby forest I went into a fresh stream up to my ankles in freezing cold water. They thought I was nuts, but it something you have to do knowing you might not get the chance to do it again. We roasted meat over the fire, a Turkish thing, and carved skewers out of nut tree branches. We went to a lake later, where we decided to run a race along the flat gravel riverbank. There I fin ally got the concept into my brain that boys will ALWAYS be faster than girls. I know I won’t be trying to beat a boy in a race anytime soon because all it earned me was a skinned knee.

The next morning, we all woke up at 4am to drive to the city of Edirne and hour away. Why were we driving to another city at 4 o’clock in the morning? In the Muslim’s 5 daily prayers, the first is around 5am. In Turkey, if you don’t have the opportunity to pray the morning prayer in the Blue Mosque, one of the next best is Selimiye Mosque in Edirne. It’s one of the best places to see if you visit the town of Edirne on Turkey’s European side border with Greece and Bulgaria. The population is around 140,000, tiny in comparison to Istanbul’s 14 million, but a great place to see none the less. Edirne has many horses, some even just roam around the side of the roads. Edirne is also famous for the sport of oil-wrestling, something I have yet to experience here in Turkey. My host family and I ate börek for breakfast before walking around the town and then driving to my host dad’s sister’s apartment. April 23rd was a Monday and als o a holiday in Turkey: National Sovreignty and Children’s Day. My little host brother had fun with his new water gun and we watched a Children’s Day march including over 50 primary schools at the local stadium. Afterwords, we relaxed in a Turkish tea garden and I finally found adult-sized swings (there are only baby swings at parks) and the greenest grass I’ve seen in a long time.

At the end of April, my other exchange student friend from Alaska who lives in a Edirne came to stay with us in Istanbul for the weekend. We met up with Anna from Estonia and her mother and showed them some places like the Blue Mosque and the Archeology Museum.

In mid-May I travelled to Amsterdam to meet my mom who was flying in from the States. We spent five days in Amsterdam, biking and exploring around. I fufilled my first real aspiration in life, to visit Anne Frank’s House. Although I couldn’t speak any Dutch, I was able to speak Turkish with the owner of a Turkish market down the road from out place. He informed me that there are about 70,000 Turks in the Netherlands and after some research I learned that about 5% of Amsterdam’s population is Turkish.

After Amsterdam we came to Istanbul for three days visiting the Blue Mosque, Spice and Grand Bazaars, my host family, and Hagia Sofia. From there we took a 12 hours bus ride to the town of Göreme in Cappadocia in southern Turkey. Cappadocia is hard to decribe but basically it consists of ancient cities built on a plateau. Deposits that erupted from ancient volcanoes approximately 9 to 3 million years ago have eroded into hundreds of spectacular pillars that litter the landscape. The area is desert-like and full of history that dates back to the Bronze Age. It’s the most amazing place I’ve ever been to.

At the end of May all of our Istanbul Inbounds travelled by bus to Antalya for our district conference. Rotary arranged for us to stay three nights at a five-star beach club. We introduced ourselves one-by-one in a short speech in Turkish on the second day. We all have different levels of Turkish, but everyone did a great job. We were only needed for a few hours that weekend and after we had two full days at the resort. It was so relaxing, the food was great, and the pool slides were fun, but it was little sad knowing this would be the last time we were all together.

Fortunately, almost all of us inbounds were able to have dinner together at a Rotarian’s house last weekend and watch an end of the year video that one of our Canadians put together. We said our goodbyes and took the memories home with a copy of the video. I got a taxi home and had a nice conversation with the driver that night. It was great to hear him keep telling me that my Turkish was “çok güzel” very nice.

I’ve come to the conclusion that when being a foreign exchange student, it’s a major problem, to associate yourself all the time with people that speak your language. Although it’s more comfortable and seems easier to learn through a person that knows both languages, you’ll never learn the language. I’ve cursed myself this year for putting myself in this situation for too long. I feel as though I’ve got myself stuck in a hole, and I just keep digging downwards instead of pulling myself out.

But instead of looking at it with bottle half-empty, I’ll look at it half-full. Turkey has claimed a part of my heart that will never go away. This culture, these wonderful people, and this beautiful land will always be inside, even when I’m not physically here, waiting for the next time I’ll be able to add something more to that part of my heart.

I’ll be able to add Turkish in there somehow, someday...