Ashley Paz Martinez
2012-13 Outbound to Turkey
Hometown: Clermont, FL
School: East Ridge High School
Sponsor: District 6980, FL
Host: District 2420, Turkey
The Rotary Club of Ataşehir

I was finally at the Orlando Airport, ready for my new greatest adventure to come. Even though at the very beginning I was stressed and frustrated with all the assignments RYE has given me, I regret nothing, in fact I am grateful to them for that! If it wasn't for those assignments I would have been even more clueless than I am now. 

Saying my last goodbyes was hard but for some reason I didn't cry. I was mentally too excited about my trip to the other side of the world! Yet I worried that something might go wrong on my way over there. In the end the trip was perfectly fine especially since I was paying attention for the gates at the airport, because one of them changed. So PAY ATTENTION guys! 

I really enjoyed my trip to İstanbul in particular my first step, from Orlando to Newark. I met a nice lady from one of the Spanish countries in South America. We talked for awhile about where we were going and what were we going to do at our destinations. We got along so well that now we are friends in Facebook! From Newark to Frankfurt everything was chill and I always received help with my carry-on due to its extra weight. While I was waiting for the flight to İstanbul, I met a professor who was also going to stay in İstanbul for a year to teach anesthesiology at a University. Then I met with this man who was from Iran living in the USA. He was a psychologist, loved history and was very good in German. We talked about Turkish history and what his kids were studying. He loved that I was into the digital arts and inspired me even more to go for the field. We talked about why he was coming to Turkey, and he explained that he was coming to meet with his family for 10 days, they lived in Iran so they had to meet up in Turkey. The most shocking thing was that he hasn't seen them in 30-35 years! Luckily he was able to talk to them through Skype and thanked God for technology. 
Finally when I got on the plane to İstanbul listening to people talking in German we flew off. While on my way it was lunch or dinner time on the plane the girl next to me asked what did the meal have and the stewardess said that it was vegetarian. Of course once I heard that I concindered eating something. The girl next to me tried the meal and told me it might not all be vegetarian. I thanked her and asked if she wanted to trade some of the food and somehow it lead to a conversation. She was from Sweden and was living in France because of her work which had to do with travelling. I told her I like the digital arts and then she told me she always liked interior design but wasn't sure she could ever pursue the passion she had for it. She also told me that her younger sister did an exchange as well through Rotary to the US, I think, some years ago. One of her friends was from Turkey and was getting married in İstanbul during her stay so she was also going to take advantage for a mini vacation. We kept on talking through the whole flight and even once we got to İstanbul she helped me with my luggage and I hers. We said our goodbyes but I regret not remembering her name, I hope she is doing well. 

Getting out of the airport, I worried that I wouldn't see my host family immediately... I DID! The relief was so great! I know that one of my host sisters, Seben, was desperate to be in Mexico already but I was glad that I could spend time with her for a week before she left. One of the very first things I noticed is that my host family not only speaks Turkish and English but Italian as well! I loved hearing them switch between Turkish and Italian because it reminded me immediately of my family and me speaking English and Spanish, which we call Spanglish. Once I got in the car with them on our way to my new home we spoke a bit of me being vegetarian and what I can and can't/won't eat. Many people don't realize it but there is a lot of things that are vegetarian and vegan. Many of the the dishes in Turkey are actually vegetarian and I eat great here! My first dinner with the family was actually a mix of Italian and Turkish food which was great! T he next day, still suffering from jet-lag, I had a very pretty typical Turkish breakfast. It had cut up tomatoes, cucumbers, different kind of cheeses, the tea they call 軋y, bread, simit a kind of round hard bread with a hole in the middle (which tastes great by the way!), and some strawberry jam. Some few days later the family and me went to a party on a boat with my host Rotary club, Ataşehir. My host father Cengiz is a Rotarian so he is always telling me what I need to know about the activities which is really helpful. Anyways, the boat party was awesome! Before I went on it though, I had Seben help write and say a short introduction of myself before getting out of the car. Still trying to memorize/ learn the words, I finally met some of the people and they were glad to hear me speak a little Turkish. Later, we got on the boat and were cruising in the Bosphorus while taking pictures outside on the top of the boat which was very windy and cold. Finally we went bel ow deck and sat to eat. I had my first dolma there! Dolma are usually grape leaf wraps with rice in them. It was good! Some Turkish music started playing and everybody started dancing, except for me and Seben. I told her if she goes I go but that didn't work so eventually my host dad made us both come and some other people that were dancing as well. In the end I did dance and so did Seben, I was laughing and wondering "What am I doing?!" because the music was so loud, everyone was just nodding and saying "you're doing great!". I swear everybody knows how to dance here, its pretty awesome. Then I found out that the main reason for the party was because it was the club's President wedding anniversary and some little girl birthday that was family of one of the Rotarians. 

A few days later I met my other host sister, Selena, who is studying in Bursa (3 hours away of Istanbul by bus) a few days before Seben would leave. They both gave me a tour around Istanbul and taught me about how the transportation works around here. In that one day I learned so much and tried many new things; it was so exciting! I had baklava at Ortakoy in Mado which is known for their great desserts. My host sisters wanted me to try the different kinds of baklava there so I had the perfect plate with each of them, one with pistachios, another with hazelnut and the other was with another kind of nut that I can稚 remember the name of! I do know they sell it on the streets everywhere. Next to the baklava there was a slice of Turkish vanilla ice-cream, which has a very strange gooey texture but I loved it just because of its strangeness. We went to Taksim and had another typical Turkish ice-cream but before I could get it the guy serving was playing with the cone and ic e-cream with me because it was stuck on the spatula. I felt like a total idiot for falling for that but hey it was my first time having that experience and it was pretty funny! One thing that I noticed a lot and still do is that people here in Turkey like to stare a lot not just because you speak English but sometimes a bus passes you by and they stare... not a glance! No, STARES which still bother me but my host sisters tell me to just ignore it. Eventually we went to a nice very cool restaurant which I forgot the name of, sadly. At first I was rather curious about why the way to the restaurant was kind of creepy... going to a narrow street then going in a small hallway and going down some steep stairs... and then POOF we were outside at a nice outdoor restaurant with trees everywhere and vines going up the walls. The food was great and so was the fresh raspberry sorbet I had. 

Next day the whole family and I went to my host father's mom at her vacation house. She lives in a very cute white house that was filled with greenery. She was very welcoming as well (another thing I noticed is that Turks are really friendly besides the stares haha, anyways it nice because it reminds me a bit of Puerto Rico!) and barely knows English or Italian. Luckily, family translated and helped out. Again we had a beautiful Turkish breakfast. She told me that she is the one that makes the homemade strawberry jams as well as cherry and apricot. I loved them ALL! She even had homemade borek which is a cheese pastry that can be with meat and cheese, spinach and cheese, or just cheese. She had made some with spinach specifically for me which I totally appreciated and loved! 

I still wasn't ready at all for my new school so I was maybe a week late, luckily I was able to meet my school counselor, she explained and made everything easier for the family and me. On a Monday we went to my school again to talk with the counselor and get the uniforms, which wasn't inside of the school but next to it and not some random far away place like I知 used to. I was able to meet to several girls which all knew pretty good English and showed me around the school. Those same girls that I met are now some of the friends that I have in my school. At first I was worried that I would cause too much attention by bringing my own food to school but even most of my friends bring their own food. So now I eat and talk with them every lunch time.

Yes, school is very different, my school is called Eyoğlu, it has elementary to high school. The bus service in my opinion is much better than in my schools in USA and PR. The bus picks you up right in front of your house not at a stop sign, it is probably half the size of the big yellow buses we have in the USA and the chairs are as comfortable as the tour buses! Plus they have curtains so when you're on your way home and the sun wants to hit you on the face you're ready for it. When you get to school on a Monday and a Friday you have to go the basketball court or the auditorium, stand up straight and sing their National Anthem. I still don't know the lyrics so I just humm it sometimes. Each class is 40-45 minutes and there is a 10-15 minute break in-between each class (which is GREAT) making my first few days of school feel really fast. Then each of my classes are IB (International Baccalaureate) courses, that tend to be harder. I feel it a bit more i nteresting though, I take TOK (Theory of knowledge) and English thats not just focused in literature and grammar but about how advertisements work and how you can make them. Of course my favorite is IB Art which I'm not really obligated to do anything but I do anyways. Most of my classes are Turkish of course so I stay in the class (I don't plan on staying in the library all day) even though I don't understand 90% of what the teachers are saying I'm still listening. I will be honest though I did sleep in many of the classes in the first few weeks! Now I mainly draw or write some new words and talk with my classmates. Again thank you Rotary for this oppurtunity!