Julianne, outbound to Turkey

Sometimes I think about what it would have been like to go to another country for my exchange, but every time I think about it I come to the same conclusion. I would never change my choice of coming to Turkey. It’s like sometimes moments of your life happen that you know will stay with you forever. Every moment of being in Turkey is like that for me. Of course if I had gone to certain other countries my language skills would probably be more advanced at this point because of previous knowledge or similarity to English. My experiences would have been totally different. It’s hard to believe I am almost half way done with my time here. When I think of my exchange this way it makes me a little sad and happy at the same time. It’s hard to explain the mixture of emotions that takes over. I’m proud of all that I have accomplished so far, but I’m sad it has gone by so fast. Time is slipping by at a rate that is almost unimaginable.

I am, however, proud to say that I have not let a moment slip by that I haven’t used in an important way. Every moment since I have arrived in Turkey I have explored new places and met new people. There is a phrase in Turkish my host mom loves to use when describing me; loosely translated it means when I was born my mother threw the umbilical cord out the window, so because of that now I feel the need to go out and explore all the time. My host family and I have a great relationship because they know I am not just going out to meet exchange students, I am going out with Turkish friends, learning about Turkish culture, and discovering the city. In Turkey, I am given a great amount of freedom by my host family because they know I am safe about everything I do and I stay out of trouble. My goal in Turkey is not to see how many rules I can break, but how many firsts I can have. Like my first time exploring Bornova (where I live in Izmir). My first time reading a an article from the newspaper completely in Turkish, my first time walking in hail, and my first time being able to find my way from one end of the city to the other; completely on my own.

Honestly in terms of language in my district I am not the best. I have made a huge amount of progress and I am steadily getting better, but what I have excelled at is cultural immersion. I am one of the few that has true Turkish friends and this I feel is a triumph. Here making friends with a language barrier is extremely difficult and I have succeeded! I have truly adapted to the atmosphere of Turkey and I find myself explaining cultural aspects to other exchange students. I find myself leading and showing them around places in the city they have yet to explore. I wish I could say that my life has reached a steady pace where I can predict what I will be doing in the next few days, but honestly everyday is an adventure. Besides school, which I attend regularly, I never know where I will be or what I will be doing. I always say part of being an exchange student is that you actually have the ability to make your own choices on where you go and who you choose to be with. Be wise in these decisions, but every so often take a risk that you think will pay off in the long run.

To all future outbounds (or any who actually reads this journal) I just want to say, follow your gut; in a country that is still new to you, your gut is the one reliable source that will tell you what is a good decision and a bad one. I want to warn you that by 5 or 6 months into your exchange you will feel cocky. You will feel like you have lived in the country long enough to know how it works and how to get around, but unpredictability will hit you one day and you need to be prepared. By five or six months you are not an expert on where you live. People can live in a country their whole lives and still not know that much about it. I don’t care if you are in a tiny village in France or a huge city in Brazil. Be prepared and be ready for anything.

For anyone coming to Turkey I recommend bringing all the jeans you think you will need for the whole year because its basically all people use here and they are expensive. I would bring a pair of waterproof boots like Timberlands or Hunters because it gets really cold and rains/snows a lot in the winter. Literally everyone also wears leather jackets and dark colors. My wardrobe has become very monochromatic in terms of color scheme. Plunging necklines are semi uncommon, but are still used or at least I use them. For boys going to Turkey, shorts are pretty uncommon no matter how hot it is and sandals for boys and girls are uncommon as well.

I had a trip to Mersin for five days last week and it was extremely interesting. Mersin is a city in southeastern Turkey. It is a few hours from the Syrian border actually, but it is very safe. Right now there is a great deal of problems going on in my area of the world. Everyday I feel I am witnessing history as the Syrian refugees pour into Turkey. Mersin has a different culture and feel than Izmir, but it has changed and become more conservative as the refugees have affected the cultural identity of the city. Mersin was one of the cities that had a huge amount of refugees because of its close vicinity to the Syrian border; much higher than my host city of Izmir.

Just before I went to this city a young girl named Ozgecan was raped, killed, and burned. I visited during the cities period of mourning. The death of this college student caused an uproar throughout the nation. There were protests all over the place to defend women’s rights. Men in Istanbul even put on mini skirts and marched through the streets to show their support. Personally I wished I could have marched with them. I find the whole story disgusting and disgraceful. Turkey in so many ways is incredibly modern, but in others I feel like they haven’t progressed at all. For example in all of Turkey women have the right to vote, but there is also a law that states if a woman cheats on her husband or gets pregnant before she is married, her family has the right to kill her. This is called an “honor killing” and it is completely legal. They consider it a family matter. When I heard of this for the first time I couldn’t believe that such a modern and beautiful country could have such a despicable law still in existence. I did and saw many amazing things in Mersin, but many of these were shrouded in darkness because of the shadow of the terrible event that had recently occurred in this city.

Looking forward on my exchange I feel sad. Whenever I look at the photos I have taken I know that the places I have been will never be the same as the instant I took that photograph. That everything is changing. Enjoy every moment in the moment because once its gone you can never relive that moment again. When you are an exchange student you thrive on change, but once you get to a point where you are incredibly happy you don’t want things to change anymore. You don’t want to continue on because you know the farther you get into your exchange, the closer you are to returning to the life you left at home; that the more friends you make, the more friends you have to leave at the end of the year, and the closer you get to the other exchange students, the harder saying goodbye to them will be.

When I have days that are incredibly amazing it’s hard to let them end because moments like that in life are so rare. For my entire life I have tried to stay emotionally detached from everything and everyone because it makes it so much easier to live for yourself and reach the goals you want; but now everything has changed. Everything about me is different. I have done a complete 180 on who I am as a person and although I am proud of who I have become and how open I am, I have become so much more vulnerable. Everyday I feel a few details of past days slip out of my memory and it makes me so sad. I don’t want to forget any moment of my time in Turkey. This sadness is however derived from the fact that my exchange has been exceptionally successful and incredible in all aspects. It has been far beyond my expectations and I currently have had almost no problems.

Since I have been in Turkey however we have had a tragedy occur and we all have had to deal with the pain of it. One of the students here had a parent murdered in their home country. They will not be returning home and so we have taken it upon ourselves to take care of them during this tragic time. I do not want to share the identity of this person, but I do want to express my deepest condolences to them and all other exchange students, past, present, and future, that have experienced something terrible like this on their exchange.

One of the great things about living abroad is that you get to test your limits and you get to know what is your breaking point. I have never been in a situation where I have actually reached my breaking point, but that doesn’t mean I won't encounter one of these moments soon especially since I have almost 130 days left. I have had to learn to get along with people that I would never have chosen for myself as friends and I have actually found that I get along better with them than people I would think would be a better match for me. I have come to realize that you can connect to people that are just like you AND people who are complete opposites. I like having some friends that I can relate to and having some friends that I can debate with all the live long day.

I sincerely apologize for my English and how bad the writing of these journals have become, but writing about experiences and feeling I have had that have happened in another language do not always translate correctly and at times may come out awkward. I sometimes find myself putting English words in the Turkish grammar order. I find infinite typos and misspellings. I can’t even remember what half of the punctuation symbols mean. The SAT’s will definitely be fun when I return, especially in the essay section.

So I thought I would give you a briefing on Turkish people and what I have learned about them so far. Turkish teenage girls love drama. They love to gossip and start fights in school. I truthfully don’t know why and I don’t want to stereo type them and put them all in one category, but I have found it to be true. All of the girls here think I am literally in Turkey for one purpose; to steal their boyfriends. Believe me when I say I have no idea where this stems from. Apparently I have the look of a man stealer. Many of the girls here don’t really like me because of this, but they are all usually nice to my face. On the other hand the teenage boys never seem to leave me alone. They always want to talk asking me about everything and anything under the sun. They just can’t seem to get enough time to talk to the foreigners. I have been at my school for five months and I am still crowded at lunch so much that I can hardly find time to eat. The older generations here are pretty similar to the younger generations just a little more conservative and sedentary. They rarely do anything but drink tea and talk once they get past a certain age.

I received what they call a “traditional Turkish bath” the other day. I was very excited to go with my friend Lea to get it, but when we got there it was nothing like I thought it would be. A Turkish bath or a Hamam is basically an underground building that is split into two sides (one for men and one for women) and in these two rooms are two gigantic caves filled with steam and sinks and bowls with a large heated marble slab in the middle. Everyone basically gets naked and they wash in the sinks. Once you have thoroughly cleansed yourself and are soaked with water you go and lay on the marble slab. Women who work at the Hamam then come up to you and do the traditional Turkish scrub, rub, and shine. They take an extremely rough cloth and take off your first three layers of your skin all over your body and when I say everywhere I mean everywhere. Because remember, you are completely naked. Then they scrub you with soap and after this they massage you. They put carbonated water in ground coffee and rub it all over you following the soap. You then have to stand completely naked for 10 minutes so it can dry on you. They pour carbonated water on your face to take off the coffee grounds and the burning sensations it causes is one of the most intense I have ever experienced. After washing all the coffee grounds off you, the Hamam workers take shampoo and wash your hair and face 3 times. You are finished once the last bit of shampoo has been washed from your hair. It is tradition for a bride to turn on all the faucets at the beginning of the Hamam time to have good luck on her wedding day during her bachelorette party. I personally did not enjoy this experience, but only because my skin is not tough enough to take so much all at one time.

The last thing I would like to talk about in this journal is the fact that I have become a diehard tea addict. I have to have at least five cups of tea everyday or I can’t function. Turkey is the country where people drink the most tea in the world. Most people think its China or Japan, but its actually Turkey. The home of the famous two-kettle Turkish teapot. I have to admit at first I did not like Turkish tea at all I thought that it tasted like rotten leaves, but now I can appreciate it and I really have adapted to liking it. It is a true testament to the fact that your taste will change as you assimilate to the culture of your host country.