Monday, December 26, 2011

I don't have a good excuse for not writing all this time, so I'm not going to make one.  Instead, I'm promising this won't happen again, and eventually I will add my writings from Thanksgiving etc. that didn't make it online.

Totally Different from New Years
In my opinion, it's a common misconception among Turks that they celebrate Christmas. More than once, I've brought up Christmas and gotten the response "We celebrate Christmas on the 31st"

No, you don't celebrate Christmas on the 31st, you celebrate New Years on the 31st.  New Years is also celebrated in the USA, and (altering a line borrowed from "The Latke who Wouldn't Stop Screaming") Christmas and New Years are two completely different things!

Now that I have that little rant out of the way, it should be mentioned that I have been incredibly blessed with all of the positive interactions Ive had with people regarding Christmas.  I received my first present about a week ago from my host sister's future father in law, who found me a large blow up Santa with a squeaking left foot to help me get in the Christmas spirit.

Ive had more than one person ask me when Christmas is, and I have been wished countless "Merry Christmas" es fromm people, from my classmates to my Islamic Religion teacher, who don't even celebrate Christmas.

Anyone who has visited Turkey (especially Istanbul) this time of year can attest to the abundance of Christmas (in fact they are celebrating New years) decorations in streets and stores. I've even seen a few "Merry Christmas" es (in English) from chain stores sporting the same decorations in all their stores throughout the world.

In summary, there is no lack of Christmas (New Years!) spirit this time of year. While there is no specific observance for Christmas day itself, the people of Turkey have not forgotten that there's was the country where the fabled Santa Clause (St. Nicholas) actually existed all those years ago. Also, no Turkish person would turn down an excuse to be festive.

My Christmas started the day before with my journey to Istanbul to celebrate Christmas Eve with the other exchange students there.

Anyone well acquainted with me knows that me traveling by myself through one of the biggest cities in the world cannot be without an  interesting story or two.  I will not write a play-by-play here, but I will say it involved me handing my phone to a complete (and confused) stranger so that she could confirm to my counselor that I was in the right place.  It also involved me missing my bus stop, ending up the only person on the bus, and asking the bus driver to turn around and bring me back to the right stop, which he did.  I am eternally grateful to the helpfulness, friendliness, and hospitality of the Turkish people.

Anyways, I made it to Taksim no worse for ware and, after gathering the other exchange students we made a loud multi-national parade to the restaurant where we were celebrating.
n one word, the restaurant could be described as "touristy".  The only Turkish people there were the entertainers and the few rotexes that had brought us.  The rest of the patrons were an eclectic mix representing Korea, Bahrain, Italy, and Singapore among others.

Our agenda that night included watching Turkish dancers, flame and sword throwers; and belly dancers with costumes taken straight from Hollywood.

At the end of the night, everyone was invited on stage for a few minutes of dancing. The South Americans proved that no one else can compete when it comes to having a good time, but the rest of us tried valiantly, and no one was ready to stop when it was time to go home.

Christmas day was, in comparison much less eventful for me, I spent the morning with the family who hosted me in Istanbul. They were kind enough to put me right on the bus to Edirne, so there are not interesting stories about how I got home.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Being Included

"Do you have any prayers for the road?" My host father asked me as he started the car

"Yes," I answered "I already said them"

"Your prayers are very fast" said one of my host sisters, gesturing toward her mother and Esra.  They were still using their hands to count their prayers, moving their thumbs from finger to finger as they finished each.

The above is just one example of many traditions. I got to observe many more family, religious, and national traditions during my family's trip to Samsun for Bayram

I ran into one of my first traditions on a pit stop between my home in Edirne and Samsun. This came to me in the form of a pink towel given to me by my host mother's mother, Ilhame teyze. After I accepted,I thanked her and kissed her on both sides of the face. Looking up, I realised my host father was trying to get my attention. Curiously, I watched his charades until I realised he was reminding me of an important part of accepting a gift from an older person. I quickly rectified my mistake by taking Ilhame's hand and kissing it, then touching it to my forehead.

I left feeling gratefuland happy, but I didn't understand the significance of what had happened until I was back in the car with Tuba.

"My Grandmother got you a chaste gift?" asked Tuba, clearly amused.

"Well, she gave me a towel" I answered

"That's a chaste gift" Tuba explained "It's meant to be used only after you are married. Older women like to give girls little things like towels and blankets in chaste."

Usually, I would fined something like "chaste gifts" a big jump out of my comfort zone, but under the circumstances it seemed very thoughtful, a genuine attempt to include me in Turkey's culture.

Since we were at my sister's for Bayram, I also got to witness bayram-specific traditions

The first traition I participated in was dressing up. For the first day, I borrowed a dress from Tuba, who also did my hair and nails.

Next was the kissing part, which I didn't particularly enjoy, but it was followed by the recieiving of money, which I didn't mind at all.

In more detail, Turkish children are supposed to kiss the hand of an older relative, put the hand to their forehead, and say "iyi bayramlar". In return, the relative will give the child money. In my family at least, you are considered a child until you are married, or even longer!

Another important Bayram tradition is visiting. During Bayram, it's assumedthat guests will come unannounced, and they will be expecting a feast!

The influx of guests meant I was exposed to even more traditions, especially religious. One visit sticks out in my mind where a more conservative muslim family came to visit, and we arranged two rooms to entertain them, one for the men and one for the women. The oldest woman had come in a burka, and only took it off once we were in a room with only women.

Luckily, the tradition of visiting goes both ways, meaning that we were able to pop in on any number of turkish families, and that meant we were fed a lot. Baklava and tea were the main feature on every menu, but I also got to try borek, dolmus, and homemade grape juice among other things.

The final tradition I will mention is one that is particular to my family. It involves the youngest girl in the fmaily going around and giving everyone in the family hand sanitiser. Since I'm the youngest girl in the family, I got the honor. Yes, it did occur to me that they mihgt have made that up just to see me running around offering family members hand sanitiser. It was fun regardless.

I was very greatful to exerience all of these traditions in such a short space of time! I hope there are many more to come.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

A Samsun we a'go
"What's that?" I asked my host sister, Tuba as she unloaded three bags of cheese from the other car.

"More cheese" Tuba answered

"Oh, good, I was just thinking we didn't have enough cheese."

"You'll be surprised"  was her response to my sarcasm.

We were packing up for the family's road trip to Samsun, and I'm pretty sure the last thing we needed was another bag of cheese. Despite my personal feelings, however, I helped stuff over half of the trunk with the special white cheese found only in Edirne, and then filled the other half with our personal belongings.

After kissing Asli (she had to stay behind to study) and the maid goodbye. My host father started the car, and we were off. Our first stop was going to be in Istanbul, to spend the night at my host sister's apartment.
As it turns out, the term "apartment" only very loosely describes the place we spent the night in. In my experience, all Turkish dwellings are pretty nice, but Esra's was more like a palace, or a page out of a high end furiture catalog.

However, the power was out at Esra's place, so we went to spend the evening at her in-law's apartment, which was, if possible, even nicer. The living room was gold-themed, meaning that everything but the tv was gold: gold rugs, gold tablecloths, gold glasses in the gold cabinet. Sitting on gold couches we were served Turkish coffee from gold coffee cups.

Before we came, Esra's in-laws had already been expecting guests, so after a bit of rest. I went with the other young women to the kitchen to prepeare for the other guests.  I mostly watched as unbeilevable amounts of assorted baklava was arranged on plates and tea and coffee was prepared. Guests began to arrive and everytime the doorbell rang, we would emerge from the kitchen to greet them. I quickly became used to the routine.

When it was time to serve the food, I followed shyly behind Tuba, carrying two plates of baklava.  Finding the guests rather intimidating, I attempted to slip in and out unnoticed, but it wasn't to be. A few minutes later I was informed that they wanted to see me again.

"Do you want me to come with you?" Tuba asked, kindly.

"That's alright" I replied "I'm fine." Bravely, I made my way back to the room where several women in headscarves were sitting.  I put on my exchange student smile and attmepted to answer a bunch of questions in Turkish.

Afterwards, I came back to the kitchen, where Tuba congratulated me on my survival.  "I thought they were going to eat you alive" she admitted.

In the kitchen, we enjoyed baklava, then I helped make fruit salad.

Overall, My evening in Istanbul was a very nice experiece. I spent the night with Tuba on Esra's couch, and we woke up early the next morning ready for our last leg to Samsun.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

It's the Little Things

Trying to be a good exchange student
In my pre-exchange days, it seems like countless things determined my worth: grades, fitness, after school activites, relationships.... the list could go on into ifinity. Now, sometimes it feels like there are only two things that matter: Turkish and my social life. This isn't really bad thing, as long as my Turkish and social life are going alright, and usually  they are; yesterday, though, it felt like I hit a wall.

The 28th and 29th of October mark Turkey's republic day, which means no school on Friday. That, on top of my host parents going to Istanbul sounds like it could be a lot of fun. The only problem was I didn't have an invitation to do anything.

"You should ask your friends to go to the cinema" my host sister suggested.  This sounded like a good idea, except for my lacking Turkish skills. Sure, I could type out. "Do you want to go the cinema today?" in Turkish but the logistics of plannning a time and place to meet seemed beyond my reach.    

Nevertheless, I  tried the one number I had in my phonebook, and after initial pleasantries I texted "Do you want to go to the cinema?" (in Turkish)  After an agonisingly long wait I learned she couldn't go.

Next, I turned to Facebook, where I messaged a few of my friends, but nothing seemed to work out.  I was about ready to give up, and what was worse, I couldn't even communicate in Turkish by myself.  I frequently had to turn to the evils of Google translate.  I felt like a complete failure, I couldn't do the only two things that seemed important.

Frustrated, I went back to the kitchen to study.  Apparently I let my mind wander, though, because I began to think.

What makes a good exchange student?  Is it how many people she hangs out with after school? How many words of Turkish she learns?  What about all of the conversations I've had with people comparing cultures? What about all the misconceptions I've cleared up about Alaska, or eyes I've opened to Turkey through my blog and Facebook posts? What about all of those little moments where I've felt happy and accepted here? One recent moment stuck out in my mind particularly.

I was studying with my host sisters in my room when I heard my host father calling out something from downstairs.  Usually, if I don't understand what's being said, I assume it's not about me, but as it turns out, this time it was.

"He wants to show you something, probably on TV." The oldest sister, Tuba, explained in a voice that clearly implied I didn't have to if I wasn't interested.

I was bored of studying anyways, so I headed downstairs to the living room where my host parents had the TV on. "It's the American Champion" My host father told me. I didn't understand what he meant until I saw what he had on. Figure Skating!

For another person this might not have been  a big  deal, but I considered this small gesture incredibly thoughtful.  For one thing, it showed he remembered me telling him about my past in ice skating.  For another thing, it reminded me of something my own father would do, although with him I'd probably roll my eyes and act like I wasn't interested.

There have been countless little moments like these.  I still remember the time I taught my classmates how to waltz in exchange for lessons in traditional Turkish dance, and the time we had an impromptu Turkish dance performance in front of my math class.  There was the time my friend offered to teach me all the "bad" words in Turkish, and all the times Vahide said I was allergic to alcohol so her friends would stop insisting I try some.   There was the feeling I got when the president of my rotary club told someone I was his daughter, and the moment I realized "family" is more than biology.  There was just yesterday when my host sister taught me how to make borek, and countless times when one of my english-speaking friends would wonder how my closest friends were girls who didn't speak english. I try to explain, but I really can't describe these bonds that go deeper than words.

So maybe it doesn't matter that I didn't have anything to do one friday, or even a whole weekend. I can stay home and try to improve my Turkish, and I can talk with my host family and cherish the little things.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

No Shaking Here!

We interrupt our regularly scheduled programing to bring you a map of Turkey. Just about as North West as you can go there is the city of Edirne, that's where I live.  The red dot all the way to the east is where people have been affected by the recent earthquake.  I have been asked many times, so if you were wondering, I'm safe and sound.  No shaking here! follow this link to learn about those who were affected.   

Friday, October 21, 2011

October Snow

A Bit of Magic

Note: This was written on Monday, thus the reference to dorms, I have since moved to a wonderful host family!
I was watching Ellen DeGeneres dubbed in Turkish wehn I heard sceaming coming from the next dorm room

"Eeeeee Ahhhhh" (yes it actually sounded something like that)

Having become accostomed to the fact that Turks are, in general, louder than American, I thought nothing of it until Tugce came running in, looking lke a child on Christmas morning.

"Kyla! Gel Gel!" she implored "It's snow! snow!"

I was pulled into the dorm room, where I looked out the window.

I could see where their confusion came from.  The Precipitation falling from the clouds certainly wasn't rain, but it was a far cry from snow.  Turkey was going to have to do a lot better than that to impress this Alaskan.

By first period, I decided that it was sleeting.  The rest of the class, however, inisted that it was snowing, and, of course, that meant they couldn't possibly pay attention.  The teacher attempted to close the curtains to regain some order, only to have them yanked open again.

"Kyla! Snow!" various classmates chorused throuhout the day; and,  at the begining of third period, I finally gave it my official Alaskan seal of approval.

Someone in the class began a heavily accented version of "Jingle Bells" as the snow fell thicker and began to stick.

"This is the biggest snow we have ever seen!" Burak explaineed to me, the normally serious and "cool" sixteen year old bouncing in his seat like the rest of the class.

I had to admit, even by my standards, it was snowing pretty had. Huge wet flakes stuck together and fell quickly to the ground covering cars and rooftops on their way down.

"Maybe you bring snow" Burak joked. The rest of the erupted in laughter along with the teacher, who hadn't even bothered to start trying to teach anything.

I started to worry about how the driving conditions would be.  Driving is scary enought in Turkey without icy roads adn windshields. Butt, as it turns out, there was nothing to worry about. There was no sign of the fluffy white stuff by lunch.  Students stared disparinglyout the windows at dripping trees and muddy puddles, the only reminder of that morning's snow.

At the end of the day, the huge fluffy coats and scarves grabbed hurridly that morning were dragged home again to be filed away in closets and drawers for another day.

I was secretly relieved,  I didn't come to Turkey because I wanted snow in October.  But I was glad for the short-lived flurries.  Although they were but a distant memory they left behind a bit of magic.

In other news:

I think this is the third time I have written this, but it's worth repeating. I have a new host family! I have gone from the oldest of three girls is Alaska to the youngest of three girls in Edirne. Actually, I have four host sisters all together, but two of them are grown, and live in Istanbul.

I attended my first meeting for Model United Nations Club on Thursday, and it sounds like that will be a lot of fun. The whole competition is in English, so I'm hoping that will work to my advantage.

A school trips to Istanbul is also in the works.  It will mostly be touring Universities there, but I have heard there will be shopping as well.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Midweek Update

Don't Panic!
I am going to write a more thorough update over the weekend, but I wanted to assure everyone that I am alright after my dramatic last two posts. I have moved to a new host family, and I am settling in quite well.Also, I'd like to encourage everyone to take a look at this post by another rotary exchange student in Turkey. The families of the soldiers killed in this morning's attacks are in my prayers, and I hope you will consider including them in yours as well.
Izzy in Turkiye: The Strength of a Nation 

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Some More Incoherent Ramblings

Yes, I'm still writing while medicated
The next day began much like the last.  I incoherently mumbled and stumbled around.  

"Kyla, you are going to stay with a different family this weekend," my host sister told me "We have a family problem and we are going to Istanbul to talk about it"

"Mmhhmmm" was my response until she sent me upstairs to get packed.  At a different point this sudden change might have bothered me, but at this point I was pretty good with staying anywhere with a bed.  

My day at school reminded me of a chapter from Harry Potter. It seems like in almost every book, Harry ends up in the hospital wing going in and out of consciousness, while various people visit him, standing awkwardly over him and having conversations that he undersatnds to varying degrees.  

My day at school was much like this.  After, yet again, staggering into the nurses office. I was put back in bed.  By the end of the day, I had recieved more visitors than I could count, and I imagine even more people came to see me while I was legitamitely asleep. Sometimes I was able to sit up and have a conversation with them. Other times, My visitors stood by my bed speaking about me in hushed voices, thinking I was asleep.  Many visits fit somewhere between these two extremes.  Like when the principle took his seven-or-eight year old daughteer to see me.  

"Say hello" He prompted his daughter as I groggily sat up. I attempted a sweet-but-tired-smile and probably ended up looking like a lunatic swamp monster.  The girl hid behind her father's leg.  

I was quite content to lie in bed all day, and I was glad to see how many of my friends cared enough to sacrifice their breaks to see me, so there was no show of emotion until my host mother came to say goodbye for the weekend.

I kept a brave face until she left, but I felt abanodoned and lost.  I had been told earlier that I was going to be spending the weekend in the schools dormitories, which fufilled my main requirment of having a bed, but it wasn't the same as having a family.  I curled up to face the wall and started to cry.  (This probably had more to do with the medication I was on than anything else)

When Vahide came in to say good bye, we had a Turkish style hugging and crying fit, while Berna laughed awkwardly and got us some paper towels.  We almost succeeded in getting the nurse to cry too when Vahide had to leave.  Oh well, we tried.  

Before bed, one of my friends who normally boards at school came in to stay she would come back to school early that weekend so I would have someone to spend Sunday with.  I just hope I'm not asleep all day Sunday too...

I've spent last night and all of today getting to know the school staff a lot better than I ever really wanted to.  If you want to know the details of my diet you could ask the schools chef, who was nice enough to make adjustments to the menu for me, as well as bring me an apple and salad.  I made special friends with one of the cleaning ladies when she tried to show me where the school nurse was only to have me collapse agianst a wall.  I learned she is deceptively strong for someone so small when she practically carried me to the office where the school nurse was waiting.  Speaking of the school nurse, we are now friends on facebook and she has been pretty much amazing.  She has had to do just about everything for me including feeding me and buttoning up my sweater this morning, and I'd rather not bring up the places she's had to stab me with needles. 

Overall, I can't say this has been the best part of my exchange, but on the upside I'm really too groggy to really feel strongly about anything so I'm pretty content to spend this weekend in the nurses office.  The doctor says I can expect to stay tired and sleepy until about next Wednesday, and I might be switiching families after the weekend.  It's been rough, but it's nice to know the lengths total strangers will go to just to help a sick foreign exchange student.  

Some Incoherent Rambling

My Adventures in the Turkish Health Care, Written While Still on Meds

It all started with what looked like some bad bug bites on my wrists.  I showed them to my host mom and sister, who thought it was the work of some of the small flies that are so common here.

  I thought nothing of it until I went upstairs to get dressed to go to the mall.  The rash covering my neck, back, arms and shoulders looked worse than anything a few flies could come up with.  My host mom told me to find my insurance.  I said a silent prayer of thanks that it had come in just two days before.

Honestly, I was kind of excited to see a Turkish hospital.  I looked worse than I felt and I could feel the anthropoligist inside of me eagerly anticipating this chance to see a different part of Turkey.

At the hospital, I was ushered into a back room of the children's section where nearly the entire medical staff croweded in, curious to see what was ailing the foreigner.  I was asked many questions in various combinations of Turkish and English.  Nurses took copious amounts of blood from the back of my hand and I began to suspect that they were actually vampires only posing as doctors to steal my bood. I still have not completely ruled out this theory.

Next, I was led to a long room lined with small white beds.  I was sat down in one corner and hooked up to an IV, while my host mother made friends with the other patients.  As is the Turkish way, they probably learned more about my condition than I did.

The IV seemed to work on my hives, but it also made me very sleepy.

"How many Kilograms do you weigh?" The doctor asked in Turkish

"Kilo-what?" was more or less my response, so I was led back down the hall to the scale.  Only this time the floor seemed noticably more bouncy than before.

"I feel dizzy" I said, clutching my head.

"Do you have a headache?" Vahide asked

"No, I feel dizzy" I repeated cursing myself for not learning more Turkish. The Doctor and Vahide shared a confused look

"I'm going  to fall down" I finally managed to explain.

I was helped back to my bed, but no one seemed concerned that my ability to walk had been significantly affected.

"How much did she weigh?" The nurse shouted across the room, in Turkish

The doctor shouted back and I groaned inwardly.  The doctor's shirt began to bug me.  "Crazy Lazy Jazzy" it read. "Jazzy doesn't even rhyme with Lazy or Crazy!" I thought "Who the heck designed this shirt?" It was safe to say that the curious exchange student was out for the evening; leaving a cranky, hormonal, American teenager in her place.

"The Doctors say you're allergic to the forest," Vahide told me, "So you shouldn't go back there"
I seriously doubted the quick walk through the tree lined path we took at school had anything to do with the hives. I aslo doubted anyone could actualy be allergic to a forest, but I was too tired to argue, so I agreed I would avoid all forests from then on out.

After all needles were removed from my body I was helped back to the car where I immediatley fell asleep. By the time we got back home I wasn't able to get inside the apartment by myself so Vahide and her mother took turns supporting me until I collapsed in bed.

The next morning, Vahide came upstairs to tell me breakfast was ready. This in itself was odd because, up until today, I had always been the first one awake, and was usually waiting at the dining room table for breakfast.

"Do you want to go to school today?" Vahide asked me

"No" I mumbled, in a tone that clearly announced I had given up being a cultural amabassador and was quite content to be a self-aborbed cultural-shocked sixteen-year-old-girl.

Despite my attitude and general inability to move indepentantly, it was decided that I would have to go to school because they couldn't leave me at the apartment alone. Vahide took my uniform out of my closet for me and helped to get dressed, then helped me down the stairs to breakfast where I nearly fell asleep at the table.

I was helped to the car, and into school, where Vahide immediately took me to the nurse's office. I can't imagine what the nurse must have been thinking as I stumbled into the room, about to pass out.
Vahide explained that I was having an alergic reaction to the forest and left me to spend the day asleep in the nurses office, which I would have done happily, except for the fact that I really needed to use the restroom.

"Tuvalet Nerede?" I implored, surprised that I remembered any Turkish.  The nurse helped me down the hall, to the bathroom.  Nervously, she waited outside, obviously worried I was going to pass out.

"Kyla? Are you Ok?" she called out a few times

After I had made it back to the office, she checked me over for the rash, it was obvious to both of us that it was only getting worse.  A doctor was called, and I asked to call my parents.  A member of the local rotary club loaded me into his car with the school's IB coordintor, and I was whisked away to another Turkish hospital, I wasn't nearly as excited this time.

In my opinion, this doctors visit went much better than the one before, no blood was drawn and no one was wearing annoyingly un-rhyming shirts.  I was given a diet to folllow for fifteen days as well as some shiny needles that I would get injected into awkward places. I also got some drugs which the doctor said I could only  take after she told me to.

I spent the rest of the day more or less passed out in the nurses office until I was picked up at the end of the day.

To Be Continued....

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Fitting in

Attack of the Romanians

I was going through the lunch line yesterday when I noticed some strange people in the lunch room. They weren't wearing a school uniform, and they seemed, well, different. I couldn't help but stare.

"They're from Romania" says Ece, one of the girls I usually eat lunch with.  We have a bonding moment when we look at each other and at them. We're the same: we're wearing the same clothes, somewhat speak the same language, and we are both familiar with the same customs.   The Romanians are different from us.

"Wow, they're not from Turkey, that's really strange" I catch myself thinking.

Oh, that's right. I'm not from Turkey either

When I learned, towards the begining of my exchange, that our school would be hosting a lot of students from Romania, Spain, and Italy, I wasn't particularly excited.  I was afraid they'd come and "steal" my spotlight.  What I didn't realise was how good it would feel when I realised I was just another classmate.

During English class, many teachers from the other schools came to see what a Turkish classroom looked like.  Our principle led them in, and explained to them the curriculum we are using and other standard things. Afterwards he introduced a few of us.

"This is Burak," he begun "Burak is going to Italy next month for a debate tournament. This is Kyla, she is an exchange student from Alaska, and this is Usel, she is a swimmer"

Although it seemed strange at first, I like how he introduced me as a normal student, as if my exchange was just another normal, yet noteworthy, extracurricular.

This trend seemed to continue throughout the day. It seems all it takes is a bunch of foreigners for me to transform from the weirdest kid in school to the girl who speaks really good English, and some Spanish too.  Instead of people thinking it was funny to when they tried to talk to me, they were asking me to help them talk to the visitors.  It was a nice change.

Throughout the day, I came to enjoy when the Romanians would take pictures of me with the other students.  Although I pretended to be annoyed like my friends, I was fondly imaging the caption they might put under the photo once they got home. "Turkish students during break" They would never know that the super blonde one on the left was actually from Alaska.

Sunday, October 9, 2011


Things to do when feeling down

I've had the good fortune to more or less avoid any homesickness so far in my exchange. However, I have had plenty of times when I've felt down, or missed something specific from home (I will give my address to anyone who is willing to ship me a box of cheerios) So I've compiled a list of things I do when I need a boost, I thought the public may be interested.

1. Bug my sister to take me shopping! works every time
2. Look out the windows of my house
3. Take pictures of my house, pretty much the coolest place ever
4. write, write, write, and write.  in Turkish and English, it makes posting on this blog much easier when I can just edit entries from my journal
5. Read
6. Go for a drive. It reminds what a cool place I'm in when I pass crumbling mosques, fields of corn, flocks of sheep, horses wandering around the city, and Burger King.
7. Watch This
8. Dance the Safety Dance
9. Edit pictures on my computer
10. and of course, sometimes I post here!

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Adventures in Volleyball

A Journey Way Outside My Comfort Zone
I can't stand volleyball.  I just don't like anything abou it.  For starters, it's a sport that involves a flying ball, which is scary and could hurt you.  On top of that, volleyball is usually played by girls dressed in the same amount of fabric required to keep a large cat warm, and these girls, are, in my experience, the preppiest members of any given student body.  If this weren't bad enough, it seems the rest of the world simply can't get enough of it, making volleyball the most overrated sport ever.

Unfortunately, the wise woman who wrote the above paragraph was  not around when I was asked at lunch if I knew how to play volleyball.

"Yes" I replied, which was only partly a lie.  I knew, in theory how volleyball was played.  Twice, I had even played the game myself, Once was in a swimming pool, but that is irrelevant.

"The volley ball club is meeting in the garden soon, you should come if you like playing volley ball."

Yes, I attended that meeting, and came to two conclusions.

First, the whole "all volleyball players are preppy" thing is absolutley true, even/especially in Turkey.

Second, our first practice was going to be on Thursday, and I was going to be there.

After chasing down Selin to confirm that, in fact, "Persembe" did tranlate to "Thursday" and that was, in fact,  the day we were meeting and not just a random word I had picked up from what the coach was saying, I resolved to Google some basic volleyball tips so I wouldn't look like a complete salak (idiot) come Thursday.

What I hadn't taken into account was gym class on Tuesday, taught by the same woman who coaches the volleyball team.  What did we do in gym class you ask? *surprise* we played volleyball.  Have I mentioned I can't stand volley ball?

Regardless, I was determined to make  a good impression, so I carefully watched the other girls as we passed the ball around the circle.  Each time the ball came my way I managed to both not catch it and serve it incorrectly.

So much for good impressions. The coach to pity on me and took me aside for some non-verbal coaching.

I rejoined the circle, and was still probably still the worst payer in class. Being the exchange student, I was passed the ball twice as much as everyone else, and failed misreably three or four times as much as everyone else, but, slowly, I got better.

Gym class is an hour and a half, and it didn't take nearly that long for the other girls to start getting tired, it didn't help that most everyone is sick. One by one, my class mates left the circle and went to sit with our teacher at the bench. Evenutally I was left playing with only one other girl, one of my best friends, who was only still playing because she took pity on me. (a common theme it seems)

I may not have shocked my coach with amazing skills, but I think she noticed that I am willing to push myself and work hard. The meeting on Thursday was postponed, so maybe me playing volleyball wasn't meant to be.  On the other hand, I might end up being super preppy and loving volleyball. Hmmm..... I think I could use another pair of spandex shorts.....

In other news, in case you aren't a sports fan

1. I am recovering from a fever which, apparently, was caused by being bare foot in the house and not wearing my sweater. While I'm not convinced, I have promised my host mum to cover up from now on *looks down and realises she is barefoot and wearing shorts and a t-shirt* I'll start tomorrow :-)

2. Today I walked myself home from school for the second time, thus proving to the locals that I am mostly insane. On the way,  I met a fine young gentleman whose name I can't remember. He has consumed kangaroo before, though, so I think he's cool. (This sounds worse than it actually was, I knew him before from school and his dad is actually on the Rotary Youth exchange board and one of school principles)

3. I attended my first Turkish birthday party, and learned that no one finds it awkward when teachers join you at  a restaurant, even if everyone is drinking and legally underage to do so.

4. It should also be mentioned I have kept my room more-or-less clean the whole time I've been here. I know, I don't believe it either :-D

Saturday, October 1, 2011


setting and adjusting

A boy massages a girl's shoulders. They play with each other's hair, he puts his arm around her, she leans into him. They might sit on each other's laps and give each other complements, but they're just friends, in a few minutes they'll move on to another classmate and do the same things again.

As someone who usually cringed at hugs, it's taken me a while to get used to this level of intimacy.  in my pre- Turkey days, my hair was strictly off limits to any, stroking, fingering, styling etc. By the end of my first day at school, I had become more or less resigned to the fact that my hair was public property.  Eventually it became normal for the student sitting behind me to absent-mindedly start playing with it in class. I was still surprised, however, when the boy sitting next to me took my hair in his hands and started stroking it

"cok guzel" he said. I just looked at him,  trying to force something like a smile

"He says your hair is very beautiful" Another boy translates.  I had understood the first time, right now I needed a cultural translator, not a language translator

"tesekurederim" I managed. Soon he lost interest and I relaxed.

I would say I've come to a point where just about anything anyone does to me is normal. In my mind, I've replaced "this is awkward" with "I wonder if this is awkward" a reminder that my view of normal is a tool I use to navigate MY culture.  I'm learning to use my friends reactions as a gague of what is OK in Turkey, and when I need to draw the line. ( I've had to do that a few times too)

I'll admit this system isn't perfect.  One situation stands out particularly in my mind where the other people around weren't in a good condition to be judging what I should allow. Looking back, I think I handled it well, deciding for my self where my absolute boundaries lie. It was at that point when I realised there are some parts of my culture I will hold on to no matter where I go.

At school, I don't mind if someone is massaging my shoulders, or pinching my cheecks.  I'm used to the greeting kiss, hand holding, head patting, and all of those little "touches" that are so normal when conversing with a Turkish person.  I've even gotten to the point where I can awkwardly put my hand on someon's shoulder when speaking to them.  I probably will become more comfortable with all of this as time goes on, but there are some boundaries that I'll keep with me.

Monday, September 26, 2011


I have heard a from a few people that it is difficult to comment on this blog. I think I've fixed this now, so feel free to write comments! Let me know who is reading :-)

Saturday, September 24, 2011

First Week of School

Smiles and Difficulties

"Are you going to miss me this weekend?" Cansu asked me Friday just as we were about to leave for the weekend.

"Evet!" I reply, sticking to my policicy of using Turkish whenever possible.  And the truth is I would miss her. I would miss school too. Although it hasn't all been easy, it has been an overall positive experience.

I came to school Monday not even knowing what grade I would be in. I stood with my host sister's class (10th grade) for the first ceremony.  The ceremony consisted of a lot of Turkish I didn't understand, and at one point I was called forward to say something to the school.

"Merhaba" I announced confidently, followed by an apologetic look to the principle. I couldn't really say anything else.

After we sang the national anthem (they sang I just stood politely) We made our way to class.  The principle pulled me aside and asked me if I would mind being in the 11th grade class. I told him I was happy with that, so I was introduced to Burak, who showed me around school and introduced me to the rest of the class.

The rest of the week consisted of a lot of smiling from me. I figured if I couldn't speak very much, I needed to get the point accross some other way that I was friendly and wanted to get to know everyone.

Sometimes, my smile convered up a lot of confusion and difficulty. I sat through many classes I didn't understand at all, I got lost more than once, and I felt homesick for the first time. But, usually I smiled because I was genuinely happy. People went out of there way to help me, especially the teachers. I enjoyed the other students.  I especially liked how all of them seemed to like each other.

This weekend, I'm enjoying the freedom from school, at home I don't worry so much about what others think of me or what I should be doing, but I can't wait for Monday. I miss school!

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Boş mu? 

A Small Breakthrough
"Boş mu?" a woman at the cafe asks me, gesturing to an empty seat at my table.

Immediately, my brain freezes. I stammer and try to say something, to explain why I don't understand
"Boş mu?" she repeats. Finally, Vahide notices my struggle and comes to my aid, answering the woman's question.

I'm left feeling frustrated. Despite the hours I spend every day studying from my book, the Turkish television progrmas I watch, and even the impromptu lessons Vahide gives me while we walk to the bus stop, I still can't understand.  Sometimes I pick out words in the conversation. Occasionally, I even pick out enough to figure out what the conversation is about.

The other day I was watching TV in the dining room.

"Is he asking to use his Father's car?" I asked Vahide

"Yes" she replied, obviously surprised at my comprehension.

But these moments of clarity are few and far between. So I'm left not undersatnding. I'm left struggling. Sometimes, if something is about me, Vahide will translate. Most of the people I'm around have a basic understanding of English, and will frequently attempt to use that to communicate with me.  There are still times, though, when I'm left quietly listening to the conversation, waiting for the day when I can join in.

These thoughts run through my head as I sit at the cafe, still frustrated. Then it hits me.

"Boş mu?"

I see the flashcard in my head: Bos- Free, Empty, Vacant. I remember Mu from one of my first lessons- use at the end of the statement to turn it into a question.

"She was asking wether the seat ws free!" I exclaim aloud.

Vahide looks at me, obviously confused at my sudden outburst.
"Boş mu" I repeat to myself "Is it free?"

It's not much, but it gives me a much-needed confidence boost.

The next day,  I'm waiting for someone outside the bathroom. The woman in charge of taking the money (yes, you have to pay to use the restroom) asks me a question I don't understand

"Tekrar lütfen?" I implore "again please?"

She repeats herself, and I realise I'm in over my head, but this time I don't freeze up.

"Turkce konusmuyorum. uzgunum" I say with confidence "I don't speak Turkish. sorry"

She nods. She understood me! It may not exactly be fluency, but it's a small breakthrough. Right now, that's all I need.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Defining Moments

If I could have taken a picture

I have a problem with remembering to take pictures. As you probably noticed, there are no pictures on this blog, and while I have some pictures on facebook, it was simply luck and excessive free time in the morning that allowed them to be there.  The problem is, the moments I take pictures of never seem to be the moment I really want to remember. As soon as I pull my camera out, poses are made, smiles are plastered on faces, and the "real" moment is over.  The moments that have defined my exchange so far are not moments I really could have taken pictures of, even if I had my camera with me. So, since none of you get to see pictures of my exchange, I will describe the moments I would have taken pictures of if I could have.

The first "defining" moment of my exchange was on the car ride from the airport to the bus station. If I had taken a picture, it would highlight the sweat beading on my forehead. The car was hot enough on its own, but I was feeling too uncomfortable to take off either the sweater nor the blazer I was wearing.  In this picture, you would see that I was the only one in the car wearing my seatbelt, and you would also  see my rotex counselor offering me a cigarette. On my face there would probably be a mixture of horror and shock from watching the two rules most ingraned into my consciousness being broken within my first hour of being in Turkey. This moment is defining because it would have been my last in Turkey had I known  enough Turkish to demand my immediate return home.

The next moment I would have liked to take a picture of happened at the mall with Vahide in my first few days in Turkey.  Now,  to understand this story you have to know that when two Turkish people meet, there is an inevitable European-style kiss on both cheeks, which can range from actual kisses to a sort of forhead bump possibly accompanied by kissing noises.  I had succesfully made it through several of these greetings purely by the grace of God, but, I wasn't to be so succesful this time around.

There were three people I was meeting, The first two  I managed to kiss succesfully.  I silently congratulated myself as I reached for kiss number three and -- went for the wrong cheeck! If I had my camera, the picture would be taken as we looked at each other, our hands still in "greeting kiss" position, and my mouth open as I explained that my inability to kiss her wasn't personal. You would see on her face a mix of confusion (why is this girl talking to me in English? I don't know English!) and disgust (She must hate me! I am the only one she won't kiss!).

Just for the record, this album would also have to include the oly other time I managed to botch the greeting kiss. This picture would be taken just outside the door of my apartment as I, again, go for the wrong cheeck, this time with my host mom. In the picture you would see that Esra  (the girl I messed up the kiss with the first time) also got to witness failed attempt number two. On Esra's face you would see forgiveness (Oh she really is just a stupid American! She doesn't hate me!) and possibly some sympathy (That's kinda cute!)

Although I don't think a picture could explain this properly, I would like to say that Esra and I are pretty good friends now, (It's amazing, really since we can't even speak to each other) and since that day I never again went for the wrong cheeck.

It would be nice to have pictures of these moments to look back on, but, unfortunately the logistics of catching them on film are too dificult. A picture may be worth a thousand words, but for now, I hope these few words suffice in defining the moment.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Learning English


"What is the english word for my skin color?" Vahide asked me the other day.

"Hmmm...."  I reply,  "Maybe olive?" but I think it's  darker than olive, "I don't know." I finally admit

This week I have been learning a lot of Turkish. The words swirl around my head trying to attatch themselves to objects in my memory. But that's not the extent of my language learning. I have also been rediscovering English.

Sometimes, after Vahide teaches me a word in Turkish, she'll want to know what it is in English. Such was the case yesterday when she was teaching me parts of the body. "What is this in English?" she asks, pointing to her middle

I'm not sure what to call it, there seem to be all sorts of words describing that region of the body, none of which I've ever been totally comfortable using.

Like most small children, I called it "my tummy" when I was young. As I got older, I got into the habit of calling it "my stomagh" feeling rather smart and grown up doing so. That is, until my mother pointed out that "stomagh" should actually only be used for the organ that digests food. Since then, I have alternated between calling it my abdomen (If I'm feeling smart), my stomagh (for when I really don't care), and occasionally my tummy (Okay, I'll admit, I still say this if I' trying to be cute). Of course we can't ignore "belly" although I could never get used to saying this.

I suppose I could have tried explaining this whole tummy/ stomagh/ abdomen/ belly thing, but instead I tell her that it's called the stomagh or abdomen. Why must English be so confusing?

And then there is the issue of American vs. Brittish English. Vahide learned Brittish English in school, and I speak American.  I can only be greatful that I read enough Brittish books to know what "trainers", "trousers", and "the chemist" are . Unfortunately, I still haven't figured out this whole "way" thing.  Vahide asked me if that is how you say road in English. I've never even heard that word used for road, not even in Harry Potter. Does anyone feel like enlightening me?

Monday, September 5, 2011

School Rules

"We have you in the science program. Is that OK? Are you good at science?" The principle of my school asks.
"Well, science isn't my best subject," I try to explain
"You can't avoid science and math here," He tells me "No matter where you go you will have to do science and math"
"Ok," I hear myself say "I'm alright at science, I'll do the science program"
And that's how I managed to get myself signed up for four hours of chemistry, biology, and physics each week on top of english, turkish, german, social studies, math...... the list goes on.
Nontheless, I'm looking forward to school. I've oohed and aahed over Vahide's uniform; I can't wait to have one of my own. I also agreed to do model United Nations, and after school Turkish lessons (The principal is very persuasive).
Yesterday, I was at an outdoor cafe with Vahide, when the topic of school rules came up.
"At school you have to wear uniform, no gum, no makeup, you have to do your homework, and no talking, only school work," she explains "What are the rules at your school?"
I feel like I'm describing a completely different world. After touring Beykent college (My school in Turkey) I realize just how starkly it contrast to the sprawling maze of hallways and bright banners that makes up Chugiak High, the school I attended for little more than a year. "We don't have uniforms at my school, girls wear a lot of makeup, and we are allowed to chew gum..." I begin
Vahide is shocked by how "relaxed" my American school is. She is especially surprised when I tell her that boys and girls frequently make out in the hallways.
"I think you'll like my school." She says "People don't kiss on the mouth here"
I think I'll like her school too. That is, if I survive chemistry....

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Call to Prayer

perceptions of religion

It is probably about four in the morning as I am writing this.   I should be in bed, but I can't sleep. A few minutes ago, the call to prayer sounded. Let's just say, it is very effective.
Yesterday, I also woke up for the first call at sunrise, but, not having a watch, I didn't realise how early it was. I went downstairs, waking up the entire family, who immediatley started attempting to figure out what was wrong, despite my limited language skills. Once I figured out it was 3:30 in the morning, I  sheepishly went back to sleep, realising that the first call to prayer does not necessarily mean that it is time to wake up.
The call to prayer sounds throughout Erdine five times a day. For muslims, it is a reminder to pray. For exchange students, it is a great way to get people talking about religion.
Most locals seem to not notice the call to prayer. they continue with what they are doing uninterupted, or might make small observances such as turning off other music. I, on the other hand, turn around looking for the source of the noise, and, invariably, someone notices and explains the call to prayer,  which can lead to explanations of other parts of Islam, or questions about my faith.
My first night in Erdine, I was at a cafe with Vahide and some of her friends when the call to prayer sounded.  As if I hadn't already heard it already twice that day, I jump and look around.
"That's the call to prayer." Someone explains (again) "It's part of our religion."
"Five pillars." Someone else chimes in. Immediately the whole table attempts to list off the five pillars of Islam. Eventually, I think I have a good idea of them.
"What is your religion?"  a boy sitting across from me asks, in Turkish . After Vahide translates, I tell him that I'm Christian. Everyone tries to decide what that is exactly. Finally Vahide asks me if I believe in God, and another boy makes a cross with his fingers.
"evet" I reply to both of them. meaning yes, I believe in God, and yes, the sign of the cross is part of my religion.
At home, if a relative stranger asked me such straightforward questions about my religion, I would certainly be surprised, if not shocked and perhaps offended; but here it seems very natural.
Everyone is very open about religion, and Vahide is always willing to explain how something I see fits into being muslim.
"Headscarves are part of our religion" Vahide explained yesteday, gesturing to the women around us who were wearign them. She continued to point out that not everyone wears one (in fact in Turkey it seems most people don't).  Although Vahide does not wear a headscarf she seems to respect the women who do.  She is certainly very pround of her religion, as is everyone I've interacted with here.
Last night, I was, yet again, at a cafe with Vahide and her friends when the call to prayer sounded. Somewehre nearby, the other music that was playing was turned off.
"They turn off the music for the call to prayer," Vahide explains
"I think the call to prayer is more beautiful," says a boy sitting next to me
Although I can't fully understand it's significance, I have to agree with him.  After all, you don't have to be muslim to appreciate the chant "Allah-u-Akbar" (God is great).

First Impressions

Are you hungry?
   "Son Mu?" I ask the women besides me on the bus, "Is this the last?"
she replies in the affirmative so I take my bag and make my way down the aisle to get off. A few hours ealier it had been made very clear that it was important that I get off at the last stop.
   "You have to remember to get off at the last stop," a young man in charge of getting me safely on the bus had said.   " I think you're going to forget, don't forget" He had reason to doubt my ability to remember, just a few minutes earlier I had caused quite a panic when I had forgotten where I had put my passport (in my pocket). But, to be fair, I was very tired and confused at that time.
My first impression of Turkey was that it was very big, very brown, very warm,  and smelled a little like tobacco. From what I've seen so far my perceptions still seem to hold true.  A little later my first impression of the people was made.
"Are you hungry?" was  the first thing anyone asked me, I would be asked the same question many more times that day.
When my family picked me up from the bus stop, they drove me to their home. "Are you hungry?" My host mother asked. Vahide had already asked me in the car.
"No," I replied both times. "I just ate on the plane."
but a little while later it was time for dinner. "Are you hungry?" I'm asked, and this time I say yes.  I am served soup, bread, chicken, rice, salad, and yogurt. I try to work through all the food. It is very good, but I eat a lot slower than everyone else. "Are you hungry?" my host mother asks again, this time in a concerned tone of voice as she  compares my plate of food to my nine-year-old host brother's, who has already finished eating.
"when you meet a Turk." Vahide's cousin explains, "first he says hello, then he says 'are you hungry?'" That sounds about right