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