Laney, Outbound to Turkey

To live in the home of a stranger you only met a few months or even merely a day before, and being able to instantly call them “mom” or “dad” is one of the most miraculous things of exchange. During my time here in Turkey, I’ve really come to believe that “home is where your heart is”. And my heart is here.

It’s been 5 months officially, and 6 months incoming since my arrival. So far I have stayed with 2 families. The first I communicated with very easily, as they knew English and had been to Amerika before. Though definitely Turkish, they were very aware of my culture and language. Somehow though, I don’t think I connected to them as well as I have with my current host family.

My current host family is actually just one woman. She has grown up in Russia, Bulgaria, Germany and Romania and now she lives in Turkey. She knows Turkish and Russian but not much of English and acts very differently than my previous family. We have had some misunderstandings which I talked about before, but honestly they have only brought us closer together. I feel very comfortable with her and in our home. Just this morning I was thinking about how amazing it can be to adapt to new, vastly different homes. It isn’t necessarily easy, but if a person is willing then it’s possible.

For myself, I was a very anxious person, particularly around people. And still, certainly I can be but it isn’t so difficult anymore. It has become easier yet at the same time more difficult to express myself and my feelings too.

(The new language(s) both gives you new ways to say things, and mixes up your native tongue pretty badly).

Anyways, I usually reserve the words “I love you” and the like for people I’ve known longer than a few years, but with annem (my mom) I say it so easily- and I have only been in her home for roughly a month and a half.

Part of it is the culture I’ve been surrounded by. Both Turks and Russians tend to be very expressive, at least from my experience in Adana. Saying “seni seviyorum” (I love you) or calling your friends “canım” (my darling) is entirely normal. Hugging twice and kissing both cheeks is the typical greeting in Turkish culture, and for my Rus Anne (Russian Mother) it’s giant bear hugs and 5 kisses at least.

None of this is what I am accustomed to in the US, but it’s been amazing to grow to be used to it. Now these are my greetings and my ways of saying goodbye.

A big reason Rotary sends kids to go on exchange is so they can become “citizens of the world” or “global citizens”. It’s a beautiful thing really, even if the experience itself genuinely sucks sometimes.

Being able to learn a new culture and a new language does a lot to you. Before coming here, I knew very little of Turkey or Turkish. (It’s part of why I chose it) But now, after having been here for 5 months I have grown to learn and forget an awful lot. Things with English, my culture, my country I have forgotten but it’s been replaced and/or modified by things I have learned and gained here. A good example would be actually “seeing”.

By seeing I mean being able to actually see things the way they are. Since I’ve been here, I have actually been able to see Amerika in a very different light. It is akin to a bird and a tree. The bird is on the ground for food and it sees a city at eye-level, but when that bird flies to the top of a tree it can see just how far that city expands. It can see both the beauty of fireworks that we launch on the 4th of July, the smoke that is being put into the air, and the flags that flutter proudly. Not all is bad but not all is good. It’s just different now.

As for Turkey, I also feel like that bird. At the beginning, even though I was in a plane, I still saw the cities from the view of a bird on the ground. Everything was so large, so magnificent and magical. It was so much to grasp until I started to fly up, see, learn and understand more. Now I’m starting to see things from a bird’s-eye view in the air. Both the whole of my new city, my new country and even the world.

There is a lot I don’t know, and I can see that a lot better now. The vastness and intricacies of varying countries, their politics, their beauties and their problems massively outweigh the amount of life we have to live.

Before I arrived to Turkey, people warned me about how it is a “Muslim country”, an “Arabic country” and I need to be more careful as a woman.

When I first arrived, I saw the opposite of what people had told me. I saw that most people actually are not religiously Muslim, but born Muslim similarly to how Jewish people are born Jewish. And Turks are definitely *not* Arabic. Both the history, the blood, the culture and the language are very different.

About midway from then until now, I came to see some of foreigners’ views being true. I have experienced sexism here and it can be dangerous for me to be out at night. I have learned of some Arabic influences such as words like “inşallah” (If God wills it/I hope it will be) and even things like Künefe, a very common dessert.

And now I understand all the sides from first-hand experience rather than word-of-mouth. And what I see is a country filled with different people who hold different beliefs and have influences from everywhere. Because today we have a globalized world, no country is without influence from another. And Turkey which is the land of Anatolia and is in the middle of it all, has tons of differences garnering it’s shores and mountains like raindrops on a spider’s web.

It has furthered my belief that one-person’s view can be vastly different from another’s.

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