Austen Britt
2013-14 Outbound to Turkey

Hometown: Bryceville, Florida
School: West Nassau High School
Sponsor: District 6970, Florida
Host: The Rotary Club of Kadikoy

Austen's Bio

Hello! Merhaba! I am Austen Britt and this year I am going to Turkey! I am 17 years old and currently live in Bryceville, Florida and attend school at West Nassau High in Callahan. I live at home with my mother and father and our 2 dogs - Chewie (a German Shephard) and Bear (a Schipperke). I have an older sister who is married and now has 3 beautiful kids. I am a very proud uncle. My brother-in-law is a Youth Pastor near Tampa and is one of the greatest people you'll ever meet. Growing up I lived all around Jacksonville until finally settling down in the Arlington area. I went to a public school for elementary then made a transition to a private, Christian school for Junior High. I went to University Christian High School for my freshman and half my sophomore year. There I played football and truly began my relationship with Christ. My father decided to move us out to the country and that's how we ended up in Bryceville. It took some getting used to, but now I love it here. I finished my sophomore year at West Nassau and have been there since. Now I'm in my senior year. I joined ROTC at school and have made many close friends that are more like family to me now. I heard about Rotary from a friend of mine who I rode the school bus with. He got accepted and spent a year in Germany. I was so jealous of him! One day he came back with people from Rotary and gave us a presentation. From then on, I knew this is what I wanted to do! A few months later, I've been accepted and now I'm getting ready to go to Turkey! I'm so excited for Turkey! It's such a beautiful country with a beautiful culture and a long, rich history. I know in my heart that this will be the most amazing adventure and experience in my life. I hope to learn so much from it. Thank you so much Rotary International! En iyi dileklerimle! (Best Wishes!)

Austen's Journals

My journey here to Turkey was an adventure all in itself. I was very stressed, but happy and excited all at the same. As I stopped at each airport I felt a wave of relief, followed by more worries. I was able to relax during a two-hour layover in Atlanta, but I wasn’t so lucky in New York. I only had minutes to spare between getting off the plane at JFK and boarding my one-way flight to Istanbul.

The flight to Istanbul is one I’ll never forget. For my first time flying over seas it sure left an impression on me. I’ve never experienced turbulence so rough before. I was able to calm down by distracting myself with the in-flight movies (‘Silver Linings Playbook’, and ‘The Great Gatsby’) and sleeping. I also caught myself staring at the computer screen of one passenger’s laptop that happened to be watching Breaking Bad. But little did I know about the wave of stress that was to hit me after landing in Istanbul.

I was so excited! I was finally going to have access to Wi-Fi so I can contact my family and counselors of my arrival, and maybe get some breakfast too. I ate very little while traveling. Oh how foolish I was to assume it would be that easy.

After having my passport and visa checked I went to pick up my luggage. I was so happy to see my suitcase had safely arrived. However some of my luggage was missing. Before boarding the flight from Atlanta to New York I was told I couldn’t carry on my small suitcase, even though I had no problem carrying it with me from Jacksonville.

I didn’t worry myself, though I had good reason too. I took care of it later, at the time I needed to find my family. Getting through customs was surprisingly easy. An officer looked at my passport, asked for my reason being there, I answered Rotary Exchange, and he sent me on through. No one checked my bags or anything. Some people assumed I was in the military. A security guard asked if I was in the Navy. I thought it was funny.

I was officially in Turkey! Now to get some Wi-Fi and…oh wait! That’s right! And look at me without any passwords, 3G, cell service, or a clue.

Using what little Turkish I knew, I asked for directions to the nearest customer service booth. Once there I spoke to an employee in English about the Wi-Fi and she informed me there was one area in the airport that offered free Wi-Fi, but I would have to go upstairs and across to the other side of the airport. Now I wasn’t about to do that because I was where I needed to be and plus I knew I’d get lost.

I went looking for my host family or someone from the Rotary. I saw so many people in a crowd waiting with welcome signs. Some were written in English, Turkish, Arabic, and even in Korean. But none were for me. I looked at the time and realized my flight was two hours early! I knew my family wouldn’t be there for a while so I did the only thing I could think of. I found the nearest Starbuck’s.

Lucky for me there was one near by. It was getting hot wearing my Rotary blazer and walking around everywhere with my backpack and luggage. At Starbuck’s I ordered a bottle of water and sat vigorously scrolling my phone trying to find Wi-Fi. I asked the barista lady about the Wi-Fi and she said it wasn’t free. The room felt warmer.

I went back to the crowd of people looking to see if my host family was amongst them. I didn’t recognize anyone so I went back to the service desk to see if they could help in any way. While on my way a man who was only a few years older than me approached me. He spoke English. He was a Rotex and he recognized me by my blazer.

He called my counselor who gave him my host mom’s phone number. He was on the phone for less than a minute when he said “they’re over there!” I looked to my far right by the exit door and immediately recognized my host mom and brother. They smiled and greeted me. I was finally going to leave the airport!

Driving through Istanbul was interesting. Traffic here is very different from what I’m use to in Jacksonville. Apparently seat belts and speed limits are optional. My warning to any American interested in visiting Turkey; don’t drive! Just take a taxi, bus, or dolmush.

We met with my Rotary counselor Mert, and then they took me out to eat. My stomach was still trying to settle from all the excitement so I didn’t eat much. However the food was delicious. We had spicy Adana Kebabs, tomatoes with cucumbers and rice. I tried a popular Turkish drink called Ayran, it’s a salty liquid yogurt drink that Turks love. Mert warned me I would be craving Ayran before the end of the year.

My family took me home so I could get settled in. We live in a huge apartment with an amazing view of the sea. We sat on the balcony eating fruit and talking, really getting to know each other. My host family is so great to me! And I’m very excited about what’s in store for the rest of the year!

October 31, 2013

Getting accustomed to my new home life has been great so far! We eat most of our meals out on the balcony, unless it gets too cold. I have an amazing view of the Marmara Sea, the Princes’ Islands and the city’s coastline. It almost feels like I’m on vacation.

Breakfast is very different from what I’m use to back home. Turkish breakfast usually consists of tomatoes and cucumbers, olives, nuts, cheese and toast. Sometimes my host mother will cook eggs or an omelet to go with breakfast. Since pork is rare to find in these parts I have to substitute my usual sausage and bacon with sucuk. Sucuk (sujuk) is a spicy red sausage made from goat. Regular dairy products in America usually made from cow milk, but here in Turkey dairy products are actually made from goat milk. Most cheese (penar) and ice cream (dondurma) are made from goat milk.

Lunch is usually a smaller meal, more like a snack really. I usually have a sandwich with some fruit for lunch. Dinner is a big meal, and isn’t much different from American dinners. I’ve had Turkish pizza, BBQ chicken, shredded beef with rice, kebabs and kofte (which is like a Turkish mini burger).

The first two weeks with my family was very relaxing. I usually got to sleep in wake up and have breakfast and chill out with my host brother. My host parents would go to work, they own their own business. My host brother would sometimes take me to the tennis club my family is members of and we would relax by the pool for a few hours. Every night my brother and I would either be on the Internet or playing video games. Sometimes we would sit on the balcony with a movie projector and watch a movie.

As mentioned in my previous journal my luggage went missing back in New York. Both my mother and my host mother were on the case calling the airlines and making sure it was on its way. It’s funny that my luggage actually traveled around more than I did. Somehow it found its way to Amsterdam.

Eventually I got my luggage back. My host brother and I had to go all the way to the airport to retrieve it. We took a ferry down Marmara and I was able to see almost the entire coast of Istanbul. The day I got my luggage back was actually the day my family and I were going on holiday to an old city by the Aegean Sea called Ayvalik.

Ayvalik was once a Greek city but was later occupied by the Turks. You can actually see remnants of the old Greek culture that once thrived there. Most Greeks from Ayvalik actually moved and settles on the Island of Lesbos, which is still part of modern day Greece. You could see the island from the beach. We were going to visit the island one day but it turned out to be too expensive, there were other things to do though.

Everyday I woke up to breakfast ready to be served then the family got together and we went to the beach for several hours, we would head back to my family’s villa around noon or so and have lunch prepared for us by the grandmother. After lunch we would all take naps until evening and then we would spend the evening in downtown Ayvalik. We would usually have this delicious toast sandwich for dinner, made with sucuk, salami and cheese between two toasted buns. For desert some nights we would have lokma, which is this ball of fried dough spiced with cinnamon. The surface is crunchy but the insides would melt as you bit into it!

We stayed there for over a week then sadly we had to return home. School was starting soon and I really needed to work on my Turkish. I’m feeling confident though; I know I can do this! The future looks bright and I can’t wait for the rest of the year to unfold!

December 2, 2013

 On the Sunday, the day before the start of the school year the Rotary Club of Istanbul got together for a picnic/charity event. All the inbounds and Rotex were required to come of course. I was so excited to see other exchange students! It was refreshing to know that I wasn’t alone here in Turkey.

There are exchange students here from all over the globe! Together we’re representing the United States, Mexico, Canada, Venezuela, Brazil, France, Germany, and Taiwan. I love everyone; there is a strong bond between all of us. We’re like one big multicultural family! And of course we all took time to exchange pins, business cards, phone numbers and Facebook accounts.

The Rotex here in Istanbul are great! Most are either 18 or in their early 20’s. I’m able to relate to my counselors very easily because of this. Which helps my situation better if I ever need help. And to be honest in the past several weeks my counselors have been very helpful. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve gotten lost trying to go somewhere! It happens though, and Istanbul (home to 17 million people) is obviously a big place!

We’ve done a lot together as group so far with the Rotex and Inbounds. Other than the picnic we’ve also gone on a safari up in the mountains in an area outside of Istanbul called Sapanca. There was actually a nasty storm that blew in across the sea from Russia a few days before, so by the time we were up in the mountains the whole place was covered in snow! Now to a home grown Florida kid that was exciting! Other than that we usually get together for everyone’s birthday and celebrate.

I guess I’ll talk about my school a little. I go to a private high school; most exchange students are assigned to private schools. This year however we have our first students assigned to public schools. I guess the Rotary is experimenting to see how it goes. So maybe the next student from Florida to Turkey might go to a public high school! We’ll see. Now as stated before, I attend a private school. Marmara Private High School, also known here in Turkey as Marmara Koleji.

My school, as well as most schools here in Turkey, is a mixed campus from grade school all the way up to university. So I see middle school, high school, and college students all day. We’re separated of course throughout the campus. Unfortunately my high school wing is right next to the younger grades so I do get to see little monsters running around every day. Meh, it’s not so bad.

The service bus system here is quite impressive though! There is no designated stop you have to walk to. The school bus stops right in front of my apartment. The service bus driver is required to have information about me of course and that includes my host parents’ number. So whenever I’m running late for the bus or taking too long to get ready, he’ll call and wake up my host parents and that’s really embarrassing. That’s only happened one time of course. Oh also whenever I’ve had to miss school because of being sick or I had to do something with the Rotary I’ve needed to either bring the service driver a note a day before or I’ve had my host mother call him to let him know. So this a pre warning in case any future students thinks about skipping school. The service driver will have your parents’ number and they will call. And no I’ve never skipped school; I’m a good student!

December 3, 2013

I’ll go ahead and apologize if there is any confusion. The last journal I posted, including this one, were actually meant for several weeks ago. I’ve just been very busy this past month (November) that I completely let it slip my mind to update. I promise to continue updating more frequently now. Once again I do apologize.

Anyhow, so my lifestyle has been completely changed since I’ve come to Turkey. Everywhere I turn there’s something else I need to do, or I have the option of doing. Why back in October I was invited by my classmates to join them to a Model United Nations conference on the European side of Istanbul. It was very fun and exciting, and I had no idea what I was doing (that happens a lot by the way). Luckily for me the rules of the MUN are that all conferences are to be held in English, so that was an exciting surprise. I didn’t know that was the rule; neither did I know that I had to be in a suit and tie, plus dress pants and shoes. I just wore my Rotary blazer with jeans and my boots. Its safe to say I got fussed at, but once I explained myself everyone understood. So I wasn’t kicked out! And that’s good! One girl actually recognized my Rotary blazer (side note: Rotary blazer will save your life! It’s always helpful!), her brother was an exchan ge student a few years ago and she was interested in doing an exchange as well. So I got to talk to her plus a few other students while I was there, so hopefully I was able to recruit a few more future exchangers.

I mentioned how me and the other inbounds went up to the mountains and played in the snow. That was cool! We were with the Jeep safari group that drove up the side of the mountains and took us on the back roads, and if you would look out of the window all you would see is everything plus down, because there weren’t any safety rails on the sides of these narrow roads we drove on. But all the drivers knew what they were doing; they’ve done this many times. Or at least that’s what they told us. They were pretty much the equivalent of Turkish rednecks. Plus when we got to the campsite they built us a campfire and made hot sandwiches with sucuk (soojook), spicy Turkish sausage. And we had hot tea, so yeah we had a great time that day.

There was a big holiday in October as well (and no I don’t mean Halloween, there’s more on that later), known as Kurban Bayram or the Muslim Feasting Holiday. It’s kind of like a Muslim Thanksgiving. Unfortunately I was not able to spend it with my host family, they went on a trip to Paris for the week. So I stayed with another host family (I like to call them my back-up host family). All week long my host mother made food, and I’m pretty sure I gained a lot of weight just in that one-week cause there is a lot of eating involved. Thankfully Turkish food is the best!

I had a host sister, so a little switch up from a brother. Her name is Aicha, and she’s awesome! We have a lot in common, and we actually continue to hang out sometimes. She was an exchange student to the United States with Rotary. She spent her exchange in Michigan; I kept telling her she missed out by not going to Florida because RYE Florida is the best!

I’m not sucking up too much am I?

Anyway, so we spent a lot of time together that week. Her family took me to some really cool places. We went out to eat; we went to Taksim, which is the epicenter of Istanbul, and on the day of Bayram I got to meet the rest of the family. Which is really cool! There’s a tradition on Bayram where kids/teens/young adults must kiss the hand of their mother/father/oldest person in the room. You basically kiss the top of the hand then place it on your forehead to show your respect to them. Plus! Usually the oldest person will sometimes give you candy or some money, not like 5TL or something, maybe just a little pocket change is all. In the case for me I got nothing. Oh well they fed me so I was happy anyway.

So Bayram finishes and my actual host family came back from Paris and brought me a souvenir, which was really cool! Apparently my host brother was depressed and missed me the whole time, which made me feel great, plus I missed them too!

Now Halloween was right around the corner but for some reason it didn’t feel like it. Want to know why? Cause they do NOT celebrate Halloween in Turkey. Yeah I know, it kind of stinks but that’s how it is. It’s not for any religious reasons; Halloween just isn’t that popular here. On the contrary thanks to modern Westernization, American media, and the Internet most of the hipsters here in Turkey love Halloween! It has an underground popularity.

Back in the states I love Halloween! I go all out for it every year! So it’s only natural that I felt kind of bad because I couldn’t celebrate it this year (price we pay for being exchange students. It’s worth it though!). But thankfully my host family is the best in the world! We had a little Halloween celebration, nothing much, just a big dinner plus cake, candy and a scary movie. My host family doesn’t even like scary movies so that was really cool of them to do that for me. I love my host family here. Some of the other exchange student’s families did the same thing for them. Plus the Rotary club threw us a late Halloween party too. But I’ll save that for tomorrow’s post. Thanks again!

December 4, 2013

 Okay so in this post I’ll pretty much get caught up so my next journal will be more up to date. Once again I apologize and I’ll try not to forget again. Which will be somewhat difficult because Turkey is awesome and I’m always busy. But I’m now doing this not only for my RYE Florida audience but also for the next lucky student who will be in my shoes next year. I’m already excited for you, whoever you are!

Anyway so last I left off I was all sad and bummed about no Halloween, but my family is the coolest ever so we had a little Halloween thingy and it was cool. So the Rotary club here in Istanbul actually threw the rest of us exchangers a Halloween party too! It wasn’t a really big deal; there was music, food, lights, some few decorations and dancing. Oh! And we also got to dress up in costumes, which was kind of hard because not too many people celebrate Halloween here in Turkey. But luckily while me and a group of exchangers were lost in some alley way looking for a restaurant that serves Mexican food for some odd reason, we stumbled upon a smorgasbord of all these cool hipster shops with Halloween masks, music t-shirts, and stuff! It was kind of like Hot Topic, but Turkish. Obviously.

So some kids found dresses and make up, I found an alien mask that was pretty cool, so that’s what I wore to the party. Not really much of a costume but it were better than nothing I guess. However I did find a really cool scarf with flames on it. So now I wear that all the time because it’s freezing here! I’ll get more into that in the next journal. So the Halloween party was cool! We ate food and danced and took lots of pictures. But like they say, “its all fun and games till someone has a seizure and faints due to the strobe lights”, which is what happened to my friend Venice. She’s okay now! Apparently this happens quite a lot for her, I’ll tell you what happened on Thanksgiving in a minute. If she knew I was writing this she’d probably be mad at me. So shhh….

Anyway after Venice was all right she went home and most of us felt badly because she was really embarrassed. I felt bad because she had been trying to get me to dance with her all night and I never did. I don’t dance so lets just get this clear. She’s a sweet girl too so of course I felt bad, we’re good friends now and she’s not mad at me for not dancing, though she’s still always trying to get me to dance and I don’t know what else to tell her, it isn’t happening. But when I told that to my Rotex they told me otherwise because apparently there is going to be a ball in the spring and we all have to dance, so the Rotary is going to pay for us to have lessons. I guess we’ll cross that bridge when we come to it, and hopefully burn it as well.

After the party was over a few of us went to Taksim to meet up with these exchange students from Izmir (a city down the Aegean coast of Turkey) that happened to be in town. What was really cool was the Izmir kids got permission from their families and Rotex to go to Istanbul by themselves! We’re lucky to even go around town by ourselves! But I’m not complaining. Plus it’s a six-hour bus ride from Izmir to Istanbul. And I couldn’t stand the 5-hour ride from Istanbul to Ayvalik, and that’s not including the 1-hour ferry ride across the Marmara Sea.

So once we got permission we took the metro (subway) to Taksim, the only problem we forgot was that it’s a Saturday night. Believe me when I say that the most popular area in town is never an easy place to walk around on a Saturday night! Especially a Saturday night! It was already late and we were starving and miserable and by the time we actually found the Izmir kids we had to turn around and go home or we’d be late, which is quite common when living in Istanbul because everyone is late! Traffic here is terrible, because no one really obeys traffic laws; they just sort of do what they want when they want, and when there is a car accident its like the end of the world almost cause everybody stops! Its crazy when you first arrive in Istanbul and witness it, then it gets annoying when you have to deal with it so many times, then you just sort of get use to it. It is very different from Florida indeed my friends. So I left that night cold and hungry and kind of gru mpy, also I had a nice two-hour trip home and went straight to bed because we had Turkish class the next day. Life in Istanbul! Its actually not as bad as it sounds, these are only a few minor consequences, trust me there’s so much more about Istanbul that I can’t even put into words, you’ll just have to come here and experience it for yourself.

So other than the Halloween party we had a Thanksgiving party as well. But before the Thanksgiving party let’s talk about Thanksgiving Day. We’re not usually able to have a holiday party on the actual holiday, especially if it’s not an official holiday here. For example we’re planning a Christmas party for December 28th, because the 25th is a school day, which will kind of stink. But my family is thinking of letting me miss school that day because I’m actually planning to go to Church that day with some Christian friends of mine and really celebrate the meaning of Christmas. And yes they do have Churches here but we’ll talk more about that later around Christmas.

So Thanksgiving Day! I actually got to miss school that day because the exchange students needed to meet up together with the Rotex so we could all go to the police station and get our residence permits. We were actually passed our legal 90 days but what were they going to do? Arrest us? Anyway so we on the Asian side needed to meet up at the Autobus station at 2:30, so I figured it was in the middle of a week day so traffic shouldn’t be too terrible, I left around 1:15. I got on the first minibus to Kadikoy, I didn’t need to go all the way to Kadikoy mind you, and the autobus station was on the way there just 5 minutes down the road. So I’m standing on the bus, there were a lot of people on the bus that day so sometimes you’ll have to stand; I’m finally able to grab a seat on the back of the bus after 15 minutes or so. As we’re going down the road I see this HUGE mosque that I always see when I’m going to Kadikoy, now usually we kee p going straight, but this time we took a right. And I’m thinking to myself why did we just go right? We continued going and stopped a few times to pick up more passengers, so now the bus was over crowded. I could turn around and still see the minarets of the mosque from a distance. It had been almost 10 minutes now and I knew I was going to be late, plus I wasn’t going to stop anywhere near where I needed to go.

I did my best not to panic, plus this man next to me told me to calm down we were going to Kadikoy. I was too worried and frustrated at the time to even think of what to say in Turkish, cause this had never happened to me before. Plus with the overcrowded bus I think my claustrophobia was starting to kick in as well so I knew I had to get off before I had a meltdown! So I quickly yelled “Inmek Istiyorum!” “I want to get off!” in Turkish. As soon as I heard the doors open on the bus I got up and pushed everyone out of my way, I jumped off and looked behind me and could still see the minarets of the mosque and began running.

I knew people were staring at me and wondering why I was running but I was in a hurry to really stop and notice, I just kept running. I felt like Forrest Gump but I knew I looked like an idiot, well more of an idiot. I love Forrest Gump okay! Anyway I just kept running until I got close to the mosque, and from a distance I could see another minibus that was headed in the correct direction I needed to go. I guess the driver noticed me because he opened the doors and honked at me till I hopped on. After I paid and sat down I took a look at my watch and saw that I had actually ran for 5 minutes straight! No wonder I was exhausted! And remember when I said since it was the middle of weekday traffic shouldn’t be as terrible? Well I was wrong.

Anyway so I was maybe half an hour late at the least, and my rotex kept reminding me all night. We picked up the students on the European side in front of some mall and I needed to run inside and get cash from an ATM because I had spent the change I was going to use to get home on the 2nd minibus, my rotex said I had 5 minutes. But since everywhere is crowded in Istanbul it took me like 15 minutes so I got yelled at again, my Thanksgiving Day wasn’t going as good as I hopped and/or wished it would. Once we got to the police station we all sat in a room and got yelled at by both our rotex and the police for being too loud. So remember to be very quiet in police stations! We were there for half an hour or so and it was already starting to get late so everyone was hungry, but no we didn’t have time to stop for food, we all needed to get home said our rotex, who was also in a bad mood that day. So traffic of course is very bad and in the middle of it our dear friend Venice decides that being conscious is boring so she throws up, has another seizer and faints again. Poor girl, she’s okay though! No worries. We were able to take her to a nearby hospital from there and her host family was coming to get her. Unfortunately for the rest of us that was the end of the line with the bus, so we had to walk several miles to the nearest metro bus station and hop on another one. From there us Asian side kids took the bus going to Kadikoy, we were still in Europe at the time mind you. So that was a fun 40-minute ride across the Bosporus.

Once we arrived to Kadikoy I hopped on the first minibus to Kartal (that’s where I live) and enjoyed another 40-minute bus ride to myself. When I got home my host family had already eaten but left me half a pot of spaghetti noodles, needless to say I ate all of it. My host mom was happy; she even left the burner on a little so it would stay warm for me. Once again, I love my family so much! It’s the small things they do, like feed me noodles that makes a difference. Anyway once I told this to my parents back home, my father said that this had been a character-building day for me. Trust me future Turkish outbound, you will have days like this too! I hope it’s not as bad as I had it, maybe worse. Just kidding, no I’m not.

So I would love to tell you about our actual Thanksgiving dinner party we had and my amazing experience that night but I have to go eat dinner now. So we’ll save it for tomorrows post! Thanks again!

December 5, 2013

 Okay to start of today’s journal let’s continue where we left off, so Thanksgiving Day was interesting, and by interesting I mean it was a complete headache. Or as my father back in the states likes to say, “it was a character building day”, trust me you future Turkish exchangers you will have plenty of those waiting for you here! I’m so excited for you! Now as I mentioned the Rotary was kind enough to throw us exchangers our own Thanksgiving dinner party. We were all suppose to prepare a meal from our home countries, so of course you had the Americans arguing who was going to make Turkey or Apple pie. Well we all took time to figure out who was going to prepare what, and I got mashed potatoes! Lucky for me that mashed potatoes is also a common dish served in Turkey, so it was easy for me to explain to my family what I was cooking and I also received help from my host mother. Yeah my family is many types of awesom e!

So there’s this somewhat embarrassing story about potatoes, I’ll try to sum it up real quick. Since I’m so busy I forgot to ask my mother to pick up potatoes from the store. So one day after our Turkish lessons I looked across the street and saw a Migros. Migros is a popular super market here in Turkey, you’ll see them all over the place, it’s basically the Publix of Turkey, and in some places you go it’s more like Winn-Dixie if you know what I mean. So I went into the store and bought an entire sack of potatoes. Hooray for doing things at the last minute! Oh and I was hanging out with some friends after class too, so I spent the whole walking around with a sack of potatoes stuffed in my backpack.

So anyway, this dinner party was provided by the Rotary, but planned by exchange students. So it became a headache as well, since no one knew till the day of when we were all suppose to arrive. Most of the exchange students like to like to meet up ahead of time someplace so we can all go together in groups, it makes things easier I guess. However I was in the kitchen slaving over a hot stove making the worlds greatest mashed potatoes ever! So I by the time I looked at my Facebook notifications and saw that we needed to be at the restaurant by 5:30 and a group of my friends were going to meet around 3:30 in Kadikoy, it was already 1:30, so initially I knew I was going to be late…again.

My potatoes still needed an hour to cook, cause I had to make enough for 40 people. Some of the exchange students host family’s came to the dinner, my family unfortunately couldn’t make it because they already had made plans for that evening. So they’re not perfect, but it’s okay. I had to get there by myself though so that was frustrating. I messaged my friends that I would probably make it around 4:00 and if I wasn’t there then just go ahead without me. Well I walked out the door by 3:00 and Istanbul traffic decided I could get to Kadikoy by 4:30, so of course no one was there. I had to take a ferry because the restaurant was in Levent, the area where our Turkish classes are, and it’s all the way on the European side.

I needed to put some money on my Istanbul card, an Istanbul card is a special card you need to purchase when visiting or living in Istanbul. The card itself cost only 6TL (TL=Turkish Lira), which in the exchange rate 6TL is only $3. You put money on the card and use it to pay for using the Ferry, Metrobus, Train, or Metro.

So now that I’ve explained what that is I can continue the story without you getting confused. I needed to put some money on my Istanbul Card, luckily I had 20TL cash in my pocket, which would be enough to last me 3 weeks. So I go to the machine that is used to put money on the card, I wish I actually knew the name; I inserted the money and put my card on the scanner, as I looked over I saw that my ferry was about to leave so I quickly removed my card and ran to gate. As I put my card on the payment scanner, the screen said I had no money left and I was confused then I remembered that when I took up my card the screen never turned green to signify that the money was put onto the card, the nice gentlemen behind me in line was happy to accept my generous donation of 20TL.

I asked someone when the next ferry would arrive; the next wasn’t until 5:00. I would have called my counselor to inform him I was going to be late, but since I was late on my phone payment I could only make emergency calls, which I still don’t even know how to make those yet. So I went to the ATM get some more cash, then PROPERLY put money on my Istanbul Card, I double-checked this time. Then I paid at the gate and waited for another hour. Eventually the ferry came and I had a long ride over to Europe, took the Metro to Levent and arrived in time to actually be one of the first few students to make it. So everyone was a little late, but dinner was delicious and my mashed potatoes were awesome!

January 25, 2014

Hello all! It’s been a while. So I pretty much left off in mid December so we have a lot to cover. I’ve had some snow days, a school field trip, Christmas and New Years. All exciting stuff and very different from what I’m us to back in Florida.

So to start off I woke up on a really cloudy morning one day, looking outside my window thinking it was raining and getting all bummed out because rain in Istanbul can be depressing at times, till I took a closer look and realized IT’S SNOW! And from the look of it, it had been snowing all night. It was like a blanket almost covered everything. It was kind of scary watching the cars on the roads; cause Turkish drivers are crazy so you don’t want to combine all that with icy snowy roads. Not a good combination. Anyway my host brother and I watched the news with intent waiting to here the announcement that schools were closed, but to our surprise no they weren’t. In fact they were all open that day. But thankfully I have the best host parents in the world, they let us stay home that day, but we had to go to school the next. So my brother and I played in the snow all day and had a good time. The next day at school, a lot of kids stayed home that day as well, b ut the rest all played in the snow during the 15-minute breaks between classes. For a Florida kid this was a magical week.

Speaking of school, I forgot to mention my classmates little habit of deciding not to show up for school on random days thus leaving me alone to my own devices for 8 and a half hours in a classroom of boringness. Well on Christmas Eve they decided to do just this. So I made myself comfortable ‘till a friend of mine popped in and told me that she and her class were going on a field trip to Istanbul University and since I was 18 I really didn’t need permission to go, so I went. It was an interesting day; I don’t really think they planned out what to do that day. We didn’t even have a tour scheduled, we just walked around one building at the university for about half and hour then everyone decided to split up and go shopping. Lucky for us Istanbul University is in a really old touristy area of the city. So I went shopping and bought a few souvenirs for myself, and ate at a café with my friend. It wasn’t the most productive day but at least i t wasn’t a wasted day.

Now Christmas Day I woke up a little earlier than usual, after getting permission from my host parent for skipping school that day. You see Christmas isn’t as big a holiday here in Turkey as it is in most Christian majority countries. So yes there was school that day, but not for me and other exchange students who all had permission from family and Rotary to skip school that day, and most of us really did it for religious reasons. We all met up in Taksim on the European side and walked together to a very old Church called “St. Anthony of Padua” or “San Antoine” as its called here by the locals. We went to an early Christmas Service held in English. After church we went to an American café down the road called “Amy’s” or “Missy’s”, it was something like that. Anyway the owner was a nice American lady and she made us so many pancakes. Trust me when I say pancakes are hard to come by here in Turkey, so tha t was probably one of my favorites Christmas presents this year. And later that night I got to video chat with my family back home. It was weird not being back home but it was still a very memorable Christmas.

New Years! Happy New Year by the way! New Years eve was family time. Here in Turkey most of our western Christmas traditions have been incorporated into the new years celebration. So there was gift exchanging, lights, and decorations, new Years trees, and even Santa Claus or Baba Noel (his Turkish name). My family went and visited my host grandmother and aunt’s apartment. There we had snacks, music, lots of food and right after the clock had stroke midnight we all exchanged gifts. I got some cool t-shirts and my own slippers. I love my gifts. I bought a game of “Jenga Boom” for my family to play together. And speaking of gifts about mid January I received my care package from my family back home with some late Christmas gifts and classic snacks you can’t get here in Turkey.

They said the holiday season was to be the hardest part of our exchange and they did not lie. It wasn’t easy and I battle many negative feelings to just go home. But I learned that no matter what home will always be there, its waiting and I will be home quicker than I think, so I might as well live it up here in Istanbul while I have this chance. Time flies too fast my friends. Make the most of every moment you’re all given. That’s all I got for now, tomorrow is the first day of my big tour here in Turkey with all the exchange students. I’ll post all about that next month when we get back, till then thanks for reading! See you soon! Cheers!

May 7, 2014

Greetings once more! It’s been a while since I’ve last updated my journal because the past few months I’ve been busy like never before. I’ve been busy living because despite the projects you’ll have to do with Rotary or with school, living a new life in a different country is what being an exchange student is all about!

I last left off right before I was about to depart on my first tour! The Western Anatolia tour! Where all the Istanbul exchange students and I had the privilege to tour the entire western half of Turkey. Seeing cultural small towns and villages, to huge touristic cities, as well as amazing ancient artifacts and sights along the way.

Our tour started from Istanbul stopping in the small town of Pamukkale, where we visited the ruins an ancient Greek/Anatolian settlement and natural springs, which was nice because it was kind of chilly that day and the warm water felt great!

The next stop was the city of Antalya. Before our trip I’ve heard much about this popular holiday getaway and how many Turks and Europeans own homes there. Which didn’t surprise me because it was very beautiful there as well as modern. However I will advise anyone who would like to visit here to wait till the summer months when it isn’t freezing cold and raining every day. We just had to go in January! But I digress; it was still very nice to visit. We stayed in Antalya for two days because there were several sites around the area we needed to visit. Day one of Antalya we stopped at the coast and saw a natural waterfall flowing into the Mediterranean Sea, which was the first time I’ve ever seen the Mediterranean. We were also able to visit the ruins of an ancient Roman/Anatolian settlement, which included ancient Roman bathhouses and the remains of an ancient amphitheater, which is still in use today!

The next day we left Antalya early in the morning and headed up the coast to a town called Demre, home to the final resting place of St. Nicholas. That’s right kids Santa Clause was Turkish...well actually not Turkish. He was really an Anatolian Greek and a Roman citizen. So I guess you can say he was Greco Roman. Either way his final resting place is in modern Turkey, well what’s left of him because Italian sailors stole a lot of his bones a long time ago. But his tomb remains in the ruins of the ancient church he founded in the town he grew up in. Fun fact! A lot of Russians live and visit Demre quite often after the Russian federation offered to purchase the town from Turkey but the Turkish government turned down the offer.

Later that day we visited ancient Greek temple mounds carved into the side of a mountain! We took a nice boat ride down an old creek and stopped on a small island right off the coast. The coolest thing ever was standing on that beach in the warm sun watching the waves wash ashore then turning around to see a snow topped mountain standing off in the distance. That is something you will never experience back in Florida.

We spent the night in Bodrum, another popular vacation destination for many Turks and Europeans. The next day we toured the city and visited a historical castle that was established by Medieval Greek knights during the Crusades. There was a collection of unimaginable treasures and artifacts; there were even the skeletal remains of a princess there! I saw a dead princess! And her room was huge! And I still think its weird they have her skeleton on display and not in the tomb, but still pretty cool! The castle was seriously like something out of ‘Game Of Thrones’! And this was also the first time I’ve ever been in a real castle before. I’m not counting Topkapi Palace in Istanbul because it wasn’t anything like a castle and it had been restored and modernized so much over the years. This castle was genuine!

That same day we travelled out to see the Acropolis, the ruins of an ancient temple dedicated to the Greek god Apollo. At one point there was another temple beside the Apollo temple in honor of the Greek goddess Artemis, but ancient Christians destroyed that a long time ago. It still amazes me how those people of ancient times could build such structures.

The next day was a day I have been waiting for a long time. The day we visited Mother Mary’s house. Yes Mary the mother of Jesus Christ lived out the remains of her life in Anatolia with the apostle John, whom Jesus gave Mary to as his mother while He was on the cross. As a Christian seeing the final resting place of Mary was a very amazing and spiritual experience. People from all over the world come to visit Mary’s house. The new Pope was there not too long before. Even Muslims come to make a pilgrimage to Mary’s house, because Mother Mary is considered sacred in the Muslim religion as well. We visited the wishing wall by Mary’s house as well and got to drink holy water from the fountains of Mary.

Later that day we visited another Biblically historical sight, the ancient city of Ephesus. Where the Apostle Paul had gone and preached the gospel and even wrote letters to the Church of Ephesus in the book of Ephesians which we have in the Bible today.

Ruins, ruins and more ruins! We ended off our trip the last day by stopping in Canakkale, which has several historical war stories. First, Canakkale was where the assassination of Archduke Ferdinand took place, which set off the First World War. Secondly, Canakkale is where the invasion of foreign troops landed when seizing hold of the Ottoman Empire during WW1, specifically British and Australian troops. To this day Australians have an official holiday and even visit this location in memory of the many troops that lost their lives. Last but not least we finished off our final leg of the tour with visiting the ancient city of Troy, where the historical battle of Troy took place between the Spartans and Trojans, as Homer mentioned in the Iliad. To sum it up there was a lot of old ancient ruins and a giant wooden horse. At this point we were all so tired and ready to go home to Istanbul.

So that was our Western Anatolian Tour. A truly a memorable experience I will never forget! I’ll include some pictures from my tour in the next journal update I submit. Thanks again for reading and tune in for next time! Cheers!

Hello again, here’s another update on what’s been going on for me over here! So the Western Anatolian Tour started on the last week of January and ended around the first week in February, which means only one thing to me…my birthday!

Yes, since I came to Turkey I’ve aged. One year to be exact. I left the states when I was eighteen and now I will be returning as a nineteen year old. Now it’s weird celebrating your birthday away from home. Being away from all your friends and family. Unless you’ve actually experienced it you wouldn’t understand, but I think we all go through this at some point in our lives. It was a tough day for me, at least at first.

In the morning everything was the same as usual; I showered, ate breakfast, talked with my host brother and set off for school. I’m so use to my mom back home waking me up and telling me “happy birthday” and doing other embarrassing mom things she does, but not this year though. At school everything was normal, teachers came and went, students talking loud and goofing off, and I watched YouTube videos most of the day to try and cheer myself up. When I returned home my host mother was there earlier than usual. When I asked her she said she came home early because she had to cook, clean and get things ready for my birthday. Apparently they planned to have a big meal prepared and invite some family to come over. I was pleasantly surprised.

That night it was just my host family and I, along with the aunt and grandmother who make delicious food! We had a nice big dinner with some of my favorite Turkish food and some traditional birthday treats. After dinner we had cake and they even surprised me with presents, just some really nice shirts that I wear when I go to Rotary events. We had Turkish birthday cake, which was a chocolate/vanilla mixed with strawberries, bananas and raspberries stuffed inside, and topped with sparklers. Here in Turkey cakes have to be extravagantly decorated but the one thing that all Turkish cakes must have are sparklers, which make it look even cooler! We had cake and tea, sat around and talked then ended the night with Turkish coffee. My host mother and aunt look at the coffee grounds left over in the bottom of the cup and read our fortunes. I would tell you mind but then it wouldn’t come true.

So to some up everything, it wasn’t exactly the best birthday party I’ve ever had but it certainly was the most memorable one I will ever have. Plus at the end of the day I logged onto Facebook and saw all the “happy birthday” messages my friends and family back home and around the world left for me, which fulfilled my happy birthday.

Another thing that has been going on lately with us over here in Istanbul is dance! In just two weeks from now is an annual weekend Rotary event for all the districts here in Turkey that is being hosted in Antalya and as exchange students we are all required to go. My district however has thought of a great idea and volunteered all Istanbul exchange students to perform a traditional Turkish folk dance on one of the days of the event. So for the past few months we have been going to dance class every Sunday morning since the beginning of March. At first we weren’t excited (except for some of the Brazilian students) and actually some were really upset that we’re being made to dance. There’s a huge argument right now about whether or not its fare, but technically we’re still required to, so we have. To be honest it’s actually kind of fun and its one interesting way about learning another culture by learning a traditional dance. We have been learning Trakya Dans or Thracian Dance. The traditional dance of Thrace, which is the area of Turkey, that’s located in Europe next to Bulgaria. I was disappointed though that we didn’t learn Black Sea Dance, which is much faster, more aggressive and a lot of fun! I love Black Sea music and in Istanbul it is very popular.

So the Rotary event is coming soon and I think that will be a great way to end my year in Turkey by performing in front of my host club. Hopefully my Rotex counselor will film it and I’ll see what I can do to post it on the sight. In my next update I’ll include pictures from the tour and my birthday. Thank you again for reading and I hope you enjoyed. Cheers!