Natalie, outbound to Turkey

Merhaba arkadaşlar,

So it's been a little while since I last wrote a journal and month 6 is about to begin in a week. It's really hitting me that exchange is flying by and I leave in June, and I don't think I'm prepared one bit for my exchange to end. At the beginning of my exchange I would think, “I have a whole year to accomplish everything I want to and to learn Turkish fully”, only I was completely wrong. Yes, I have accomplished a lot in the five months I've been here and have come very far with learning Turkish, making best friends from all over the world, creating a family connection with two Turkish families, and making memories that will last me a lifetime. But, if I could go back to August 8th and tell myself one thing, I would remind myself to salvage every minute that I have in my new home country. I've also have had time to reflect on how grateful and thankful I am for every person in my life, here in Turkey and back in America. Being over 7 ,000 miles away from your family really helps a person to realize and acknowledge how important your family is and how much you really truly do love them. So thank you specifically to my mom who has been my main supporter and there for me through all the weird and amazing things that have happened to me since I left home.

So most future exchange students are probably curious about how the holidays were away from home, but all I can say about it, is that it's a different experience for everyone. I have an amazing host family that wants to celebrate and incorporate my American traditions into their families as well as the Turkish traditions, so my host parents threw a Thanksgiving dinner party with family and friends. I also had an American exchange student who lives on the other side of Turkey in a city called Samsun come stay with me for a couple days. Between the dinner, having my friend, and my amazing family, I really didn't experience any home sickness because I felt the meaning of Thanksgiving, being thankful for what you have and loving the people around you. As for Christmas, I was very fortunate to go on a Rotary trip with all my exchange friends to probably the most beautiful and unrecognized city called Cappadocia. I'll explain what Cappadocia is in a minute, but Christmas didn't really feel like Christmas. Turkey is about 99% Muslim, so Christmas Day is just another ordinary day for the Turks, but being with the other exchange students really helped spread some Christmas cheer, so I didn't feel very homesick because I was very busy on Christmas Day.

Cappadocia definitely needs to be one of the seven wonders of the ancient world and it makes me so mad that it's not. Cappadocia is rich with history and natural beauty and truly looks like it came straight from a fairytale. Around 1800-1200 BC, the area of Cappadocia, called Göreme, was occupied by the Hitties and later sat on the borders of the Persian and Greek empires and later Roman and Byzantine empires. Göreme being located on the border offered protection for some locals in the rocks, so the locals began carving and living in these rocks. Early Christians also used the caves to hide from prosecution from the Roman Empire, and in the 7th century, many monks created monasteries in these caves and rocks and painted Byzantine frescos, which are still preserved and there today in its original form. Seeing those original Christian paintings that were taken straight from the bible was so beautiful and humbling. Around 400 BC, the largest underground city was dug and carved and was used throughout history as a place of refugee. The city goes to about 2600 feet deep and is very detailed
Exchange has taught me so much about myself and who I am as a person and that you have to focus on yourself and who you are before you can worry about others. People will come and go and they come and leave your life for a reason, but family will always be there, even your host families. There are a lot of stereotypes about Turkey, the culture, and the religion, but you can't always believe what you hear. To any exchange students coming to Turkey in the future: you are very very lucky to experience this beautiful country in a way a lot of people don't get to and I hope you can treasure every waking moment and live your exchange to the fullest.

Till next time, Görüşürüz

Natalie

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