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.