My First Two Weeks in Turkey!
So it turns out I actually avoided jetlag, but not for the reason you would think. Since the day I landed in Turkey I have been so busy that I have not had the chance to feel awake at night. Sleep is so precious to me now that I sometimes don’t shower, just so I can catch an extra half hour of shuteye. For my entire first week here I have not gone to sleep before 11 at night.
So starting with my first day after the plane landed I had my first traditional Turkish breakfast, which consists of tomatoes, cucumbers, toast, different cheeses, and olives. It was really good because I was starving from the lack of edible food on the airlines. After eating breakfast I decided to iron some of my clothes that had gotten wrinkled on my way over here from Florida; only to discover that they all had been ironed, folded, and put away by my host family's maid, Ayshe. Ayshe is one of the sweetest people I have ever met! She makes me breakfast every morning and cleans the whole house every day. She doesn’t speak any English at all, which is great because I practice Turkish with her all the time (most of the time though we have no idea what one another is saying). Then Idil (the daughter of my host mom's friend) took me around Alsancak (the center of the city).
Izmir is beautiful and I can’t put that any other way. It has a beautiful ocean and coastlie. We have beautiful mountains rising up all around the edges of the city and if you look out over the bay, you can see more mountains that are actually in Greece. Idil and I got our hair done at this Turkish salon and it was definitely an experience I will never forget! Many people kept coming over to me and petting my hair, asking if it was real; there reaction when I said yes was one of shock and awe. I have not seen a single other person with natural red hair here, so this is probably why I am seen as such an exotic visitor.
Here in Turkey I obviously don’t blend in, but being different here, unlike the USA, is seen as a positive thing. Women in Turkey want to show that they are strong and independent; many do this through hair dye, high fashion, and color contacts. They keep telling me how beautiful I am, which is really embarrassing for me because I am not used to all the attention I am getting. When I walk down a street people do not glance, they fully stop and stare; cars slow down just to get a better look at the foreigener in their neighborhood. I do not know if I will ever be fully comfortable with this attention.
I went to my first Rotary meeting that night, which was basically a big welcoming party for me. I met many Rotarians, Interacters, and Roteracters. My host mom is the President of our Rotary club; Dokuz Eylul Rotary Club. She is so sweet and she takes care of me like I am her own daughter. The Rotary meeting was on a rooftop over looking Izmir. The view was breathtakingly beautiful. The Roteract president gave me a huge gift of Turkish traditional items and things to put on my blazer. My blazer is very full now and probably weighs about 10 pounds, which will make walking through the airport on the trip home much more interesting!
I am proud to say I have tried every type of food I was given so far and although some of the things I did not like, I smiled and thanked everyone for giving me the food. I have discovered that no matter how many times I try it, I do not like yogurt. In fact I find it extremely repulsive. Just the thought of eating yogurt makes me want to gag. I am sure that many people back home are thinking that I am crazy and that yogurt is delicious, but I am here to let you know that yogurt here is very different than the yogurt in the USA. Yogurt in the US is usually sweet and flavored. Here it is none of the above. In my opinion it is salty and plain and sour. It has the consistency of an egg yolk and tastes like spoiled milk. There is a specialty drink called “Ayran” here made with this yogurt mixed with seltzer water and salt that literally everyone drinks. If I am made to try it one more time I may scream. And to top it all off (no pun intended) they put yogurt on everything.
On a more positive note I have had some food that is amazing. Most of this was some form of lamb because the lamb in Turkey is incredibly tasty.
For those of you who are wondering, my family here is very liberal, I dress the same way I do in the United States and do not attend a Mosque. My host mom does not cover her head. Actually, a majority of people where I live do not cover their heads. When they say that Izmir is a liberal city they are not kidding. Many people here are striving to be as western as possible. They love the United States and Europe. I have not met any fanatics of Islam so far on my trip here and I have been warned if I do to just walk away and don’t look back.
I met the two other exchange students the next day who will be going to my school Izmir Ataturk Lisesi with me; Barbara and Maya. They are amazing friends and I am so glad I met them. They are supportive and totally understand everything that I am going through because they are going through it too. We are already very close and they are a nice contrast to the Turkish friends I have made. We all went uniform shopping together and ended up looking like we worked on airlines with our outfits. I have had my skirt brought up to regular length and it fits well. My host mom also found me a skirt that her friend’s daughter used to wear, but it is very short.
I went to see Konak and the famous clock tower that was built by the same man who designed the Eiffel tower! It was beautiful! When we got there, a protest was taking place. Since I have arrived I have seen 6 protests. All of which were rather large and had police there in riot gear. Apparently protests are very common, but the fact that I have seen so many is highly unusual. I am starting to think I attract them.
I have attended a traditional Turkish wedding since I have been here and truthfully I would have to say it was somewhat similar to weddings in the USA. I have also been involved in a 27 km bike race, which was very fun! I really like bike riding and I wish I could do more of it here. The bike pros that assisted with the race were very interested in me and why I was participating. I have been to 5 different Rotary clubs and exchanged banners so I only have a few left to trade, but I am proud to say that many different clubs in Turkey have heard of the Ponte Vedra Beach Rotary Club!
I had my first two weeks of school and they were great. I have had no problems making friends here. People want to meet me and get to know me. I have a solid friend group now that I hang out with on a regular basis. They are like my second family! We all look out for each other and they try to keep me safe in the city. I have had an easier time than most of the other exchange students in Turkey. I think it is a mixture of the fact that I look so different and sheer luck. I stick out so people know that I am not from their country and automatically look out for me a bit more, however I was also put in one of the most welcoming classes in my school which is mostly luck. My host mom also being very outgoing has introduced me to many people. All of these factors has made my adjustment here very seamless and easy.
I take the subway to school everyday, but it takes me 15 minutes to walk to the subway and 15 minutes to walk from the subway to school. Overall it takes me around 45 minutes to get to school in the morning which isn’t that bad because I get to listen to music on the way to school. I don’t really understand anything that is going on in school except in chemistry and biology.
My English teacher is actually incredibly bad, he has broken English and a very thick accent so usually I end up teaching the class. Apparently his Turkish is very bad as well, but I can’t tell because mine is worse. I have 15 classes here including history, literature, math, geometry, biology, chemistry, physics, counseling, music, PE, Grammar, religion, philosophy, English, and French. Because all of these are taught in Turkish I understand nothing, but the only class I am truly useless in is French. I don’t know how many of you have tried learning advanced French taught in a language you don’t know, but it is literally impossible. Starting out I did not know a lick of French, now after 2 weeks of class I have learned 3 words.
Luckily most of my teachers don’t care if I try in their classes. During most classes I just write down Turkish words and study. Many boys in my class have offered to give me Turkish lessons, which is helpful. None of them are very good teachers, but its fun to have someone to converse with during lunch and after school.
Everyday after school I go somewhere. I do not think I have ever gone home right after school before. My school is right in the center of Alsancak, which is great because there are many places to go and meet. I can find my way around Alsancak all on my own now which is a very big deal to me because it is so complex. I have found a great little English bookstore and I have already bought 4 books. Most exchange students spend their money on food, I spend mine on books. Speaking of which, while I have been here I have lost 2 kg. This is equal to about 4 pounds. I have started to walk a lot more and I am one of the few exchange students that actually looses weight on exchange. I truthfully thought I would gain weight, but I guess everyone is different.
We had our first orientation where we met all the inbounds and went to a traditional market place. When I arrived at the orientation I received a 15 minute lecture on how I should not have worn shorts when I “knew” that we were going to a traditional market place. They lectured me on how I get yelled at on the streets because I dress provocatively. I would like to say for the record that I in fact do not dress inappropriately in any way, shape, or form. I dressed more conservatively than many at the market place. I am very conservative in dress here because I know I do not want to attract any more attention than I already do. I attract attention because I have red hair, blue eyes, and white skin, not because of my clothes. Also my host mom speaks very little English and did not tell me where the orientation was going. However she did tell me to wear shorts because it was hot outside. When we got to this market, I realized I had already been there with my host family, and guess what? I wore shorts and absolutely nothing happened.
I would just like to say that a woman’s choices in what she wears should not constitute the wrongful behavior of others. Just because I wear shorts does not mean it is my fault that a man catcalls at me down the road. There is a line where, yes, I do believe you can dress inappropriately for a given situation and attract negative attention, but I was in shorts and a t-shirt not shorts and fishnets. This is not directed at the people who gave me this lecture; it was just their way of looking out for me. However, I feel very strongly about this issue in a global context and when it was applied to me I felt that I needed to address how truly insulted I was to have been told that my clothes and the clothes of women around the world constitute a reason to be treated in a lower manner.
Out of the inbounds in our district I tend to be the trailblazer in terms of making decisions and being out spoken. When we stopped for lunch we had to line up and choose a traditional Turkish food. The problem was that we had no idea what anything said on the menu. I ordered something that sounded like beef and everyone else decided to play it safe and get the same thing. It turns out that because of me everyone ended up ordering liver. I had never tasted liver in my life up until that moment and I have to say I don’t care for it. No one really ate their lunch that day, but its just a word to the wise that people really should not follow my lead!
There are many things in Turkey that are drastically different than in the US. For example, no one wears seatbelts. When I get into a car and put on my seatbelt people laugh at me, which is insane because the driving here is INSANE! I have almost been hit by cars multiple times and a car has crashed 5 feet in front of me on the way to the subway.
Another thing is that they don’t have dryers here! It takes literally a week for a pair of socks to dry, let alone anything else! Also the police carry machine guns, they really don’t mess around and won’t hesitate if there is an issue. Also we have chalkboards in our classrooms at school. I have never had a chalkboard in school ever. Even my parents had white boards for most of their schooling, so it’s like going back in time here.
Light switches go up to turn off and down to turn on which is weird and confusing especially when you are leaving a room. Also when you want to answer no for a question you click your tongue instead of saying no. Talking about politics is also very common in every situation. In the US we don’t do this too often for fear of conflict, but Turks love to debate so it is very open forum.
My exchange overall has been basically amazing. I can’t imagine ever having gone somewhere else. Turkey was a perfect fit for me. I have found my place in this culture and sometimes it is surreal how easily it happened. I hope my exchange continues on this high note!