Natalie, outbound to Turkey

Today I experienced being lost for the first time by myself and it was one of the scariest feelings I’ve ever experienced. I got on the normal bus to get to the other city center near my house and it took a detour which was odd. The bus driver was very angry and stopped the bus in an area I’d never been to and made everyone on the bus get off. I had no idea where I was and nobody spoke English, I felt so sick to my stomach. I found some woman who spoke no English and I explained, in the best Turkish I could, that I had no idea where I was and I was trying to get to T. Ozal and she helped me to get onto a different bus. I am very fortunate to be in a country that the people are known for their hospitality, because even though there is an obvious language barrier, the people want to help in any way they can. Every exchange student has this type of experience, I think it’s honestly one of the best ways to learn your surroundings and it forces you to speak the language even if your scared.

So, I’ve experienced three very important Turkish events in the past couple weeks. First I went to a celebration called Sünnet. Sünnet is an Islamic and Jewish religious tradition in which circumcision is performed on boys typically aged at 7 or 8. After the circumcision, the parents of the boy throw a huge party for the boy, where family members, friends, and strangers will attend and eat a lot of food and dance all night. The boy wears traditional clothing( usually a cape, a sash and a crown) and the people at the sünnet put gold onto the boy’s cape as a present. It’s a very strange celebration, but very interesting, haha.

Next, I went to a Turkish wedding, which are very different from American weddings. In a traditional American wedding the bride walks down the “aisle” with her father, but in Turkey, the bride and groom walk up to their seat which is elevated near the stage. There is a lot, and when I say a lot, I mean A LOT of dancing to traditional music. When it comes time for the bride and groom to get married, they sign in a book in front of a government official and then the groom kisses the bride on the forehead. There aren’t any bridesmaids or grooms men, but the bride and groom choose one person each to be their “witness” for their marriage. In some Turkish weddings, people will throw American money when people are dancing, which is meant for the band and workers at the wedding. Unfortunately, my friend and I were not aware that it was meant for the workers and we took the money that was thrown at us by some old man, haha.

The last event that I was apart of was Bayram. Bayram is an Islamic holiday in which Muslims will sacrifice a sheep/goat and donate part of it to the poor and eat part of it. Families will all get together to visit and there is a lot of eating and “ Iyi Bayramlar”.

About the food, at the beginning I wasn’t the biggest fan of the meals here, but I have come to love everything and I’ve gained a little bit of weight :(. For breakfast, which is “kahvaltı”, the traditional Turks will eat cucumbers, tomatoes, special bread called Simit, millions of different cheese, olives, yogurt, and Turkish tea, called “çay”. For lunch and dinner it really differs, just with any culture. My family and I eat a lot of kofte, which can be compared to a meatball, but it has a different taste, in a red sauce with potatoes, and a mix of fresh vegetables, like zucchini, eggplant, tomatoes, onions, scallions, squash, etc. Another really popular dinner/lunch is Kebab, especially in Adana, my city. Adana is the founding city of the kebab, and its eaten with onion,bread, parsley, tomatoes, green and red peppers, and a lot of random vegetables.

Adapting to the Turkish culture and language was difficult, but I am finally starting to feel like I belong here. I can not imagine myself in college right now or in a different country other than Turkey. Maybe I can convince Rotary to let me go on exchange again next year, (double gap year?) :))?!?!? As hard as it has been, I love the life I have begun to build for myself. Like other exchange kids have said in their journals, this is NOT a vacation, although you do get to go on very very many vacations, this year is very hard, and it’s not for everyone. You have to be really dedicated to your exchange, because it’s very easy to think “I want to go home”, but you have to go out and explore or even just Skype with the other exchange kids in your country, because it will take your mind off things. This is truly and honestly a once in a lifetime opportunity and it shouldn’t be taken lightly, so if you are applying currently for Rotary, take it seriously, because you are extremely lucky to have this opportunity.

Güle Güle, Görüşürüz!!

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