Julianne - outbound to Turkey

I know that literally everyone on exchange uses the lame excuse of not having any time to write journals, but for me it is completely true! I barely have time to check my email. In Turkey I have been so busy and having so much fun that I have not turned on the television once. Why would I when I can go meet friends from school and explore more of the city? My lifestyle has been turned completely upside-down, in the US my life revolved around school and getting good grades, getting homework done, and pleasing teachers. All of my extra curriculars were targeted towards getting into a good university. Here I can just have fun. I can focus on actually having friends and spending time with them. Socialization is my job. I am not expected here to be the valedictorian, or the star athlete. I am not even expected to, just encouraged to make friends and spread the image of America that is true. I am supposed to represent my country, my district, my club, and myself in a way that would make all those involved proud.

In school here I practice Turkish and I feel as though I am actually learning something applicable to my life. I’m not learning what the PH of a stomach is or why giraffes make no noise. I am learning something that is actually useful. There are many differences in school here. Unlike the schools in the US students are treated with respect and trust, not as juvenile delinquents who are likely to burn the place down if left alone for too long. There is such a thing as a student-teacher bond where they take care of us and we take care of them. If a teacher forgets their lunch everyone from class chips in and buys them lunch. We stand when a teacher enters the room to show our respect for them. Our teachers are the ones that switch classes not the students. So we stay in the same room all day with different teachers coming in and out.

We have ten minute breaks in between classes and this is when the real fun happens. Sometimes we have chalk wars where we throw chalk around and get covered in different colors; by the end we look like we celebrated the Indian holiday of Holi. We climb through windows to get to class and people carry each other through the windows. Our uniforms (especially for girls) are extremely ugly, so we shorten the skirts and change the shirts if we want to follow the rules at all. Most people just completely disregard the rules and wear whatever they want because no one enforces dress code. I know this sounds bad, but the more time I spend in the Turkish school system, the more I want to compare it to the US in the 80’s. People smoke in the bathrooms and kiss in the stairwells. There are no real restrictions enforced towards educational establishments.

Schools in this country are still places where free expression is thought of as healthy and good for the learning process. I agree with this thought process immensely. Since being in this Turkish school for three months I feel I have learned more than both years at Ponte Vedra High School. The people at my Turkish school are all immensely gifted. In Turkey you take a high school entrance exam at the end of middle school and how well you score on that determines which high schools you can go to. Izmir Ataturk Lisesi (my school) is the top school to get into in Izmir and top 5 in all of Turkey because it is 127 years old. We have some of the brightest students there from all over Turkey because of this. Turkey has managed to find the solution to getting rid of the time wasters no one wants in class; the kids who just go to school because it is illegal not to. The kids who are actually trying to go far in their lives have their own schools with likeminded peers, who benefits the learning process of others.

Sometimes when you visit foreign countries you have moments when you just know you are somewhere drastically different from where you are from. I am going to list a few of these moments just because there is no way of mentioning them except by just saying them. The first is getting on a bus and having the driver drive with no hands while singing the song “No Hands” in a tiny back street filled with traffic. Another is going to watch a surgery and being 2 feet away from the operating table because your host dad is the surgeon and says its normal to have people view operations. The last is seeing someone eat, smoke, talk on the phone, and parallel park at the same time while coming to the realization that they are still better at it than you. These things just don’t happen where I live in the US.

I went to the Mediterranean sea with my host family during the holiday called Bayram. Bayram is an Islamic sacrificial holiday where they sacrifice animals and give the meat to the poor. Although it sounds a tad barbaric, the thought behind the holiday is actually one of charity and equality. During the holiday of Bayram it is also tradition for young people to go up to elders and take their hand in a fist to their mouth as a sign of respect; in return they are given money. My family and 9 others decided to take a trip during this holiday, so we drove seven hours down to Marmaris and stayed in a beautiful ocean villa that had been rented out specifically for us. The villa was surrounded by orange, pomegranate, and olive trees growing freely and were open for anyone to take from. While there we rented a private beach and used it almost everyday. The water was crystal clear and beautiful! I would come up from swimming underwater and think I was hallucinating because the scenery was so beautiful; sapphire blue water surrounded by powder white sand with mountains and cliffs rising up all around.

Every night we would go out to dinner, which was really interesting because the restaurants we ate in were so extravagant! One of them was in a marina where the water was lit up from underneath and you could see all of the huge fish swimming around. Another was on a cliff over looking the bay with an all you can eat buffet bar of fantastic food (which I can tell you are not that common in Turkey). Always the rides back would be a little spine chilling because Turkey isn’t known to have many street lights, so we were on perilously small roads on huge cliffs in the pitch black taking turns at full speed.

The next weekend I had my second inbound orientation, which was actually a four day excursion to Istanbul. Although there are many geographical similarities to Istanbul and Izmir, I am here to say that they are wildly different. Istanbul is much more conservative than Izmir. There were many more people there with covered heads and prayer beads. Of course while we were in Istanbul we did all the touristic things such as go to the Hagia Sophia, the Blue mosque, the Tokapi Palace, the Grand Bazaar, and on the Bosphorous tour.

All of these sights were as spectacular as people say they are, especially the Hagia Sophia with its astoundingly detailed architecture, but these were not what impacted me the most while I was there. It was the interactions I had with people and the subtle differences to Izmir that caught my attention. For example when I was in the blue mosque an Arab man came up to me and rudely told me to show my respect by tightening my scarf around my face. (I would like to note that in the blue mosque because it is a tourist attraction you are not even required to cover your head if you are a woman.) Me being the feminist, I am, told him to go find his wife and leave. He then proceeded to march up to the women’s prayer room and leave with a woman who was completely covered except for her eyes.

This is a first rate example of the fact that a majority of Islamic people who I live and go to school with are completely normal and have a moderate view of their religion just as most Christians do, but the vocal Muslims who catch our attention are the crazy fanatics who are a severe minority. Every type of religion has some sort of extremist, but for some reason in the Islamic faith, this has become their stereotype. In the US we do not like being seen as the obnoxious stupid fat tourists in other countries, so why do we continue to give another ridiculous stereotype of being terrorists to Muslims. Where is the logic in this?

Another interaction that truly impacted my view of Istanbul was the true love for one another people have. We were walking and an old woman fell and men jumped out of their cars to go help her and call an ambulance and her family. Istanbul may be the biggest city in Turkey, but the neighborly feel of a small town has not been extinguished. A less flattering detail of Istanbul is the cat calling in the bazaar. Everywhere I turned a man would be giving me some outrageously cheesy pick up line and I kind of just wanted to sprint for the door. Contrary to popular belief pick up lines hardly work with strangers and they do not make me want to enter a shop. You would think they would have caught on to this by now, but apparently not. Also while in Istanbul, I realized how incredibly clumsy I am. I do grant the fact that majority of the streets in Istanbul are very uneven, but for some reason my feet decided to not work at all that trip. Even in the hotel our first night there when I was going down the stairs I fell and got a huge bruise all the way up to my elbow. Since being back in Izmir I have gotten a little better, but not by much.

I have to say that I think driving in Istanbul is actually less crazy than Izmir because a majority of Istanbul is straight traffic. In Izmir it is severe road rage with 3 cars next to each other on a one lane road seeing who can get out in front. Istanbul really is a beautiful city filled with history and I wished I could have stayed longer to see more of it, but I am happy I was placed in Izmir instead because it suits my lifestyle much more in terms of how I am treated and that I can walk down the street without tripping on a hidden ridge in the road.

Later that month we had Turkish Republic day, which is the day that Mustafa Kemal made Turkey a Republic form of government. In my city of Turkey, because it is very liberal, Ataturk is seen almost as a god. I agree with the supporters of him when I say that he did great things for this country that were ground breaking and that he was way ahead of his time in terms of ideas. During Republic day as exchange students, we were features in the cities republic day parade. We wore our Rotary blazers and did our best to look graceful while walking through the uneven streets of Izmir. At the end when the leader of Izmir gave his speech we were even mentioned as fine representatives of Rotary International. All the Inbounds of Turkey bought matching red ribbons to put on our blazers to commemorate this event and show our support for this great past leader of Turkey! I have become incredibly close with these people, they are like a second family to me and for all future exchange stude nts I can tell you that your fellow exchange students are your support system that will get you through anything. They can make or break your exchange and mine have helped me have the best three months of my life thus far!