Julianne, outbound to Turkey

It’s hard to believe how much a change in scenery can impact you. How a different lifestyle can set you on a completely different path. I never thought of myself as ignorant or unaware of the world; having traveled it from a young age, but exchange has proven me wrong. In my life I have never truly appreciated what I had. From the opportunities I was given, to the home I grew up in. Never having to worry about money or where my next meal was coming from. I have been introduced to people whose lives make mine look like a fairy tale. People who have endured hardships, that I couldn’t imagine in my wildest nightmares. I used to be a judgmental person. I thought that just because you dressed a certain way or talked a certain way automatically put you with a certain class of people.

Since being in Turkey my views of the world have been completely turned upside-down. I have met people from different countries, cultures, religions, socioeconomic backgrounds, and age groups. They have all in some way, shape, or form opened my eyes to the pieces of the world I had consciously or unconsciously chosen to ignore or not pay attention to. To each an every one of these people I would like to say thank you. Although my world views are no longer as clean cut, they are much more real and all encompassing. My black and white vision has been mixed into gray and I could not be more happy.

My perspective has changed, my views have broadened, and my mind has been opened. It is actually quite surprising how being in a more closed and conservative country has made me become open to much more. I have tried things here, I would have never tried at home because I would have been too scared. Not only have the people of Turkey impacted me, but the other exchange students have also made a huge impression on my life as well.

I read 5 newspapers a day now and I am more informed than I have ever been in my life. I have learned just because it isn’t in the news doesn’t mean it isn’t happening and isn’t a problem. Just because we have decided to put another issue at the forefront of our minds doesn’t make the other any less important. Everyday something is happening somewhere and the only way to keep up with our world that moves at a faster pace everyday, is to stay aware and stay involved. My entire life I have been working towards becoming a scientist, but now I have had a change of heart. I would like to be someone who is involved in the intercommunication of international groups. I have decided from this point on this is my new passion in life.

In my district in Turkey they say that I am very good at socializing, that I have the ability to walk up to anyone and start a conversation. I have always been a shy girl. I have been taught that just because you talk the most or the loudest in a room doesn’t automatically mean you are right. I have been trying to break out of this mindset because talking is an asset when you are an exchange student, but in truth I’m not outgoing. I just pretend to be outgoing; I am actually terrified to walk up to new people.

Obviously as an exchange student this is not acceptable, so I had to find a way to overcome this flaw. My only strength is that I can make people smile with a joke and as soon as this happens people begin to relax and open up. No matter what your nationality, race, or creed, everyone in the world enjoys a joke even if it isn’t that funny, it is an international ice breaker! Jokes will make getting to know someone a lot easier. In the USA I was always too busy with school to socialize that much, but now that I actually have the time I feel much more open and able to be myself with people.

The truth is I don’t want to go home. I don’t want to return to my old high school. I have changed too much to go back and meet my old friends. They won’t understand what I have become and the transformation I have gone through. I have actually begun to find myself and not just become what other people wanted me to be. I always tried to be what others were looking for so I could please everyone. Of course I hope people like what I have become but it is no longer my main concern. I am finally happy with myself; I have found inner peace at least for the time being.

It’s hard to look back at the US because everything is so different. There are things that I like about the US, but I have never felt as though this is the place I will end up. I have always felt that it is just a step along the way until I find where I need to go. I am a nomad. I have known this about myself my entire life. I know I will never settle in one place for long. My only true bond is to the open road and I plan to uphold it. It’s hard especially on American holidays that I have celebrated my whole life to see how easily they can be forgotten. How you don’t even remember they are coming up until they are passed and gone.

We have since traveled to Cappadocia one of the oldest places I have ever had the privilege to travel to in my life. We went to thousands of years old cave churches that were literally carved into the faces of cliffs, we went hot air ballooning in the wee hours of the morning in dangerous conditions with high wind turbulence just to view the natural beauty of the land created by volcanoes long ago. While it was freezing cold we slept in caves and tried some of the food native to this region.

Next we went on a trip to Konya, which is known as the most conservative cities in Turkey. I have to say that out of all the places I have traveled to in Turkey I felt the most unwelcome in Konya. Majority of the women there were almost completely covered. Even though it was cold and I was almost completely covered as well my skinny jeans and long sleeve sweaters were drastically different from the scene of never ending burkas. We as a group did receive many angry stares and were turned a way from a few restaurants because we were speaking English when we walked up. To this day this is the time I felt most like an outsider. The scenery in Konya is beautiful, but I have to say it was not worth the price of being there.

Because it is now after December, we are now allowed to travel alone around Turkey with permission. I am about to embark on my first adventure alone to Mersin, a city in the South East of Turkey a little west of Syria on the water. I am very excited to go and see an area of Turkey I have not explored yet. This is one of the best things about being in Turkey, I can see places that very few even seasoned travelers would go to. The culture is also so wildly different from all other countries that my experience is truly unique. I am also going on a school trip to Ankara and this will also be another city that I have never been to before. I am very excited for my upcoming months in Turkey and I could not be more happy with my choice of country and the people in Rotary who made this choice a reality!