Tuesday, December 25, 2012

A Sentimental Post for a Sentimental Day

Happy Holidays to those who are celebrating!

I found this piece describing an exchange year a month or so ago on a fellow YES student’s blog, and it does a far better job to explain what the year feels like than I would be able to do on my own.

I tried to google it to see if I could find the original source, but all I could find were reposts from other exchange students, and a mention that it was on a the Rotary International Facebook page. After a few clicks however, I decided to stop looking because I liked it far better not knowing where this person was from or where they went to. The diversity of people that reposted this is incredible- an Australian in Brazil, an Indonesian in the U.S., a Canadian in Australia, an American in Brazil, a Brazilian in Switzerland, and two of my fellow YES students came up, Katie in Bosnia (where I originally saw it), and Hannah in Malaysia.

The fact that this resonated with so many people coming from different cultures and living in different cultures blew my mind! It made me feel connected to exchange students all over the world, and this in a way was more powerful than the poem itself.

We’re not alone in feeling the insanity of an exchange year, and I’m also probably not as alone as I feel when I’m doing things like emotionally, (slightly obsessively), and singlehandedly baking trays upon trays of Christmas cookies as I try to personally explain and work all the magic of a holiday that is important to the place that I come from, but not celebrated in my host country.

What is exchange?

Exchange is change. Rapid, brutal, beautiful, hurtful, colourful, amazing, unexpected, overwhelming and most of all constant change. Change in lifestyle, country, language, friends, parents, houses, school, simply everything.

Exchange is realizing that everything they told you beforehand is wrong, but also right in a way.

Exchange is going from thinking you know who you are, to having no idea who you are anymore to being someone new. But not entirely new. You are still the person you were before but you jumped into that ice cold lake. You know how it feels like to be on your own. Away from home, with no one you really know. And you find out that you can actually do it.

Exchange is learning to trust. Trust people, who, at first, are only names on a piece of paper, trust that they want the best for you, that they care. Trust, that you have the strength to endure a year on your own, endure a year of being apart from everything that mattered to you before. Trust that you will have friends. Trust that everything’s going to be alright. And it is seeing this trust being justified.

Exchange is thinking. All the time. About everything. Thinking about those strange costumes, the strange food, the strange language. About why you’re here and not back home. About how it’s going to be like once you come back home. How that girl is going to react when you see her again. About who’s hanging out where this weekend. At first who’s inviting you at all. And in the end where you’re supposed to go, when you’re invited to ten different things. About how everybody at home is doing. About how stupid this whole time-zone thing is. Not only because of home, but also because the tv ads for shows keep confusing you. Thinking about what’s right and what’s wrong. About how stupid or rude you just were to someone without meaning to be. About the point of all this. About the sense of life. About who you want to be, what you want to do. And about when that English essay is due, even though your marks don’t count. About whether you should go home after school, or hang out at someone’s place until midnight. Someone you didn’t even know a few months ago. And about what the heck that guy just said.

Exchange is people. Those incredibly strange people, who look at you like you’re an alien. Those people who are too afraid to talk to you. And those people who actually talk to you. Those people who know your name, even though you have never met them. Those people, who tell you who to stay away from. Those people who talk about you behind your back, those people who make fun of your country. All those people, who aren’t worth your giving a second thought. Those people you ignore. And those people who invite you to their homes. Who keep you sane. Who become your friends.

Exchange is music. New music, weird music, cool music, music you will remember all your life as the soundtrack of your exchange. Music that will make you cry because all those lyrics express exactly how you feel, so far away. Music that will make you feel like you could take on the whole world. And it is music you make. With the most amazing musicians you’ve ever met. And it is site reading a thousand pages just to be part of the school band.

Exchange is uncomfortable. It’s feeling out of place, like a fifth wheel. It’s talking to people you don’t like. It’s trying to be nice all the time. It’s bugs... and bears. It’s cold, freezing cold. It’s homesickness, it’s awkward silence and its feeling guilty because you didn’t talk to someone at home. Or feeling guilty because you missed something because you were talking on Skype.

Exchange is great. It’s feeling the connection between you and your host parents grow. It’s hearing your little host brother asking where his big brother is. It’s knowing in which cupboard the peanut butter is. It’s meeting people from all over the world. It’s having a place to stay in almost every country of the world. It’s getting 5 new families. One of them being a huge group of the most awesome teenagers in the world.

It’s cooking food from your home country and not messing up. It’s seeing beautiful landscapes that you never knew existed.

Exchange is exchange students. The most amazing people in the whole wide world. Those people from everywhere who know exactly how you feel and those people who become your absolute best friends even though you only see most of them 3 or 4 times during your year. The people, who take almost an hour to say their final goodbyes to each other. Those people with the jackets full of pins. All over the world.

Exchange is falling in love. With this amazing, wild, beautiful country. And with your home country.

Exchange is frustrating. Things you can’t do, things you don’t understand. Things you say, that mean the exact opposite of what you meant to say. Or even worse…

Exchange is understanding.

Exchange is unbelievable.

Exchange is not a year in your life. It’s a life in one year.

Exchange is nothing like you expected it to be, and everything you wanted it to be.

Exchange is the best year of your life so far. Without a doubt. And it’s also the worst. Without a doubt.

Exchange is something you will never forget, something that will always be a part of you. It is something no one back at home will ever truly understand.

Exchange is growing up, realizing that everybody is the same, no matter where they’re from. That there are great people and horrible people everywhere. And that it only depends on you how good or bad your day is going to be. Or the whole year. And it is realizing that you can be on your own, that you are an independent person. Finally. And it’s trying to explain that to your parents.

Exchange is dancing in the rain for no reason, crying without a reason, laughing at the same time. It’s a turmoil of every emotion possible.

Exchange is everything. And exchange is something you can’t understand unless you’ve been through it. 

(My thanks go out to the author of this piece, whomever they may be.) 

Friday, December 21, 2012

Put That Pronunciation To Use!

Now that you know how to pronounce Turkish words, you can have a go at some Turkish tongue twisters! I’m still working on actually being able to say normal difficult Turkish words them, but people love to tell them to me and try and teach me them when they find out that I’m learning Turkish.

The following are some of the most popular ones, I snatched them from online, had them approved by my host brother, and made some minor corrections to the translations.

Bir berber bir berbere gel beraber Berberistanda bir berber dükkanı açalım demiş.

One barber said to another barber, "Come, let's go together and open a barber shop in barberland".

Kartal kalkar dal sarkar, dal sarkar kartal kalkar.

The eagle takes off, the branch bends; the branch bends, the eagle takes off.

Bu yoğurdu sarımsaklasak da mı saklasak, sarımsaklamasak da mı saklasak?

Should we put this yoghurt away after adding garlic to it, or before adding garlic to it?

Bu duvarı badanalamamı mı, badanamamalı mı?

Should we whitewash this wall or should we not whitewash it?

Şu köşe yaz köşesi, şu köşe kış köşesi, ortada su şişesi.

That side is summer side, that side is winter side, in the middle is a water bottle

Kırk küp, kırkınında kulpu kırık küp.

Forty cubes, all forty with a broken handle.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Herkes Öğrenibilir!

Everyone Can Learn:

Making the Title of This Article Not Scary

Unrelated Photo: Me at Kocatepe Mosque,
the largest in Ankara

As my Turkish is improving I’m feeling more inclined to throw in a few Turkish words here and there in my posts, and it dawned on me the other day that you may have been sitting at your computer on December 5th sadly thinking “Well it’s great that I can call my brother erkek kardeş or my husband’s sister görümce, if only I knew how to pronounce these words!”

Behold, Miranda’s Crash Course in Turkish Pronunciation
First, A Brief History Lesson:
For thousands of years the Turkish language was written in the Arabic script. In 1928, Mustafa Kemal Atatürk announced that the Turkish language would be changed to the Latin alphabet, as a means of making the new Republic of Turkey more Western oriented, and less tied to the Middle East. He appointed a Language Commission to create a script to accommodate the Turkish language, and they invented spellings to fit the actual sounds of Turkish words. Lucky for you and me, this means that once you know the way letters individually sound (each letter only represents one sound, none of this certain vs. curtain ridiculousness that goes on in English), you can easily sight read pretty much any Turkish word- though that doesn’t mean they aren’t tongue twisters!

~Fun fact: Wikipedia says that the Language Commission proposed allowing five years for the country to transition, but Atatürk thought this to be too long, he changed it to three months and then personally traveled throughout the country explaining the new system to the public.~

Below I’ve compiled a few Turkish learning books and websites that I had on hand to explain how each letter sounds in the best way that I can, but it’s not easy to teach sounds that we don’t have in English (I’ve italicized those that are different/unexpected), especially if I’m only typing them. I myself still struggle with the difference between o and ö or u and ü, and the pronunciation of ğ, as the vowels are the hardest part. While it is possible to extensively describe the way each vowel is said in terms of how to place your tongue and shape your lips, I find those explainations hard to follow if someone isn't there to show you and I consider these examples a pretty solid start. If you’re especially invested you can also always go to websites such as this one and press the speaker to hear the pronunciation.

a as in father, but shorter; as in car

b as in boy, bowl, bet

c as in jump, jade, gender

ç as in church, chin, chance

d as in debt, duty, dog

e as in best, less, fed

f as in felony, feeling, fling

g as in game, go, good

ğ unspoken but makes the preceding vowel longer; I’ve seen it described as a sort of soft y sound before, there is no comparable English word, sometimes you can get away with ignoring it...

h as in head, hello, half

ı as in the second vowel in halted, nation or portable

i as in bit, it or the first vowel in city

j as in the s in measure, leisure, treasure

k as in king, kiss, come

l as in look, lamb, listen

m as in man, money, mom

n as in neighbor, nice, nervous

o as in the o in falsetto, as in the French eau as in beau (to me it sounds the same as the normal o in bow, no or go, but I'm not sure why I’ve never seen it described that way)

ö as in the French deux or peu, I once saw it described as the u in urge

p as in pen, price, privilege

r as in rock, rent, rust

s as in sit, send, sun

ş as in shoe, shed, shine

t as in tea, tennis, tell

u as in pull or good

ü as in the French tu, or as in the German Müller, I once saw it described as the u in nude

v as in vent, verify, vanish

y as in yes, yellow, you

z as in zen, zebra, zest

For Further Reading:

Turkish Alphabet on Wikipedia

Atatürk’s Reforms on Wikipedia

Online Turkish Introductory Courses

Thursday, December 6, 2012

What a Day!

Wow, what is this? Miranda doesn't write on her blog for weeks, and then suddenly two days in a row? Let me tell you, I am just as surprised as you are.

I was going to wait and update things in an orderly fashion so that my life seems like series of events instead of a series of out of order messy blog posts, but I've decided that more important than either of these things is that events did happen, and they are dying to be told about. Something messy is better than nothing at all, and let me tell you that boy was I inspired today, despite having not written about my glorious November. Today was a day of all days and here is how it went.

 The day started with the absence of my English teacher, leaving me and my class with essentially four hours of free time. After spending the first period sitting around chatting and studying, we looked out the window to see that snow was falling, for the second day this year (its snowed early yesterday morning, but was all gone by the afternoon).

This is me and one of my classmates, we were so excited we ran outside to be in the snow, a friend took this out the window of our classroom.

This is us getting yelled at by a teacher leaning out of the window one floor above our classroom.

Later we all went outside and had a snowball fight, and basically the whole school joined in at break time. The snow was the ideal consistency, you barely had to touch it and it stuck together in perfectly throw-able clumps that also perfectly dispersed upon hitting the target.

The rest of the day I spent asking people what they thought about school uniforms, because two days ago the Turkish Ministry of Education decided to change the dress code for schools across the nation, allowing students to dress freely (with some restrictions) instead of having obligatory uniforms. This is kind of a big deal because school uniforms have been around for longer than anyone can remember. Even though the new rules don't officially go into effect until the coming school year, many students showed up to school today wearing jeans instead of skirts or slacks and the teachers held a meeting after school to decide if they will enforce uniforms for the rest of the year (we find out tomorrow). This decision from the ministry brings up other issues too; religious headscarves have been banned in grade schools for some time, for teachers and students alike (many of my classmates wear one to school in the morning, and put it back on in the bathroom after school)- will free dress allow them again? Don't uniforms serve an important purpose of covering up economic differences between students' families? Does it really matter what students wear or look like, aren't they only coming to school to learn? Isn't it just easier and quicker to roll out of bed and sleepily pull on the same thing everyday?

After school I had volleyball practice for my school's team, something I'm pretty proud of. I've never seriously played volleyball in my life, but I wanted to get involved with something after school, so I jumped at the opportunity when I saw a poster for tryouts. Having only the most basic understanding of the sport, I attribute my making the team solely to the fact that I read this article while brushing my teeth the morning of trying out:


Just kidding! (kind of... I really didn't know how to set a volleyball without jamming my fingers) I actually made the team because only six other girls showed up so they didn't have to cut anyone! I’m not very good (yet, heh heh heh), but it feels really good to be active and making friends outside of my class. We have our first match next week!

When I got home, two boxes were waiting for me, one from my dad and one from my grandmother, and few things are more exciting than getting mail.

Inside were candy canes and cookie sprinkles (per my request for the holiday season), as well as other excellent candies and sweets, and a plastic tub specially for making snow cubes, sand castle fill -and-dump style, to make the process of building igloos easier. I've been jealous for years since my dad mailed one to my cousins, but didn't get us one because we don't get enough snow in Seattle. I have got some big plans for this winter.

After dinner I got a call from my friend Ruby staying in Gaziantep, and between bursts of laughter she urged me to check Facebook. Not only was I tagged in a photo standing next to the American Ambassador to Turkey, I was also tagged in a video clip from NTV, a Turkish national television station, brokenly attempting to talk about a service project we did two weeks ago.

Here’s a quick low-down: December 3rd was UN International Day of Persons with Disabilities. Two weeks ago we took the five hour bus ride to Ankara and had an excellent Thanksgiving dinner at Stefanie’s house, the same cultural attache that we visited before, and looks after the YES students. The following weekend we took photos all around Ankara with disabled students in conjunction with a photography studio. They collected our photos (all of us YES Turkey students and the students we met in Ankara), chose the best ones and put up an exhibit in a fancy mall in Ankara for the third. This past weekend we returned to Ankara, met with our AFS liaisons over the weekend, and attended the opening of the exhibit, to which many American foreign service members attended, including the ambassador, as well as some important Turkish figures. Many news crews came, and someone tipped a reporter that Ruby and I had the best Turkish of our group, so we were interviewed about the project. Absolutely regardless of whether or not our Turkish is the best in the group or not, getting interviewed is not easy, getting interviewed with a video camera and spotlight is even less so, and after getting interviewed with a camera, spotlight, and in a language I have three months of experience in, I’m pretty much just glad I got the gist of her questions and that words actually came out of my mouth.

In the clip I managed to say ‘We watched in Ankara and now this is very nice we are very excited.’ (I was trying to say I was glad we visited Ankara, but I had a minor verb mix up, though hey, I’m pretty sure I correctly conjugated everything). Ruby basically says that she has never worked with disabled students but that it was really very nice. I think Ruby has down one of the most fundamental steps in sounding like you know a language (or even just know what you’re talking about ever); you plan what you’re going to say and then you spit it out. Even if it isn't completely right, if you say it quickly and with confidence and conviction, it sounds like a million bucks.

At 0:17 you can see Ambassador Ricciardone giving pins to a few of the students we worked with.
At 1:03 you can see Şafak Pavey, a member of the Turkish Grand National Assembly on the left asking a question to a student. If you know what I look like really well you can see my face hovering in the background.
At 1:33 we are posing for this photo:

From left to right: back row: a woman that helped us with the photography project, a woman from the Embassy, Hana, Bridget, myself, Ambassador Ricciardone, Rya, Linnie, Şafak Pavey, Samet our AFS liaison, Stefanie who organized the project, Suderin who ran the photography part of the project. Front row: Ruby, Onur an AFS volunteer, Can our AFS liaison, Fatma the head of AFS in Turkey, the AFS coordinator at the Ankara offıce.
(Apologies to those whose names I am drawing blanks on)

At the very end, you can hear the beautiful voices of Ruby and I.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

How To Refer To Your Family Members: A Brief Guide

In Turkish, there are specific names for people that are related to you, going beyond the simple aunt, uncle, grandmother, sister-in-law, etc. that I am used to in English.

Some are more commonly used than others, and the terms abi and amca (a man slightly older than you, a man quite a bit older than you) or abla and teyze (a woman slightly older than you, a woman quite a bit older than you) are respectful terms that can be used for anyone, not just a relative.

Often times the letter m is added to the end of a name to make it possessive, I refer to my host mom and dad as 'Annem' and 'Babam', meaning 'my mom' and 'my dad'.

Similarly to English, you can tack the whole word onto someone's name; I call my mom's sister 'Aunt Renee', or 'My Aunt Renee', in Turkish I would call her 'Renee Teyzem'.

Also a fair amount of these overlap; in the same way your brother's wife is also your sister-in-law. Which names are used casually or commonly probably varies from family to family, and in what context you are referring to the person. My cousin helped me come up with this list and had trouble thinking of some of the more obscure ones, he doesn't use or hear them too often.

Your mom is... anne
Your dad is... baba

Your sibling is... kardeş
Your younger brother is... erkek kardeş
Your younger sister is... kiz kardeş

Your older brother is... abi
Your older sister is... abla

Your mom's sister is... teyze
Your mom's brother is... dayı

Your dad's sister is... hala
Your dad's brother is... amca

A man related to you by marriage is... enişte
A woman related to you by marriage is... yenge

Any cousin is... kuzen

Your sister's husband is... bacanak
Your brother's wife is... elti
Your spouse's brother is... kayın

Your husband's sister is... görümce
Your wife's sister is... baldız

Your spouse's mom is... kayın anne (kayınanne)
Your spouse's dad is... kayın baba (kayınbaba)

On a side note,
Your best friend can be... kanka

Monday, November 26, 2012

Kurban Bayram: Eating Fresh Meat and Meeting New People

October 25th to 28th was Kurban Bayram, the Feast of the Sacrifices, an Islamic holiday which honor's Abraham's willingness to sacrifice his only son to prove his faith. You can read more about the history and religious side of the holiday here*.
A classmate of mine wrote this handy guide to how it is celebrated in Kayseri, homework for my English class was to explain Kurban Bayram to me:


On the first day off of school, which was the day before the holiday started, we went to visit the cemetery where Babaannem (my host dad's mom) is buried. Even though it was raining, the cemetery was full of people making visits and paying respects. On the way there we bought a tub of little hard candies and gave them out and greeted people as we walked to her grave. Other people also brought sweets and we were wished a Happy Bayram and handed chocolates, candies and Turkish delight by strangers as we walked.

On the first day of the holiday we drove out of the city to buy our cow. We crawled along in some of the worst traffic I have ever seen, until arriving in a farm and village area where we pushed down a dirt road barely wide enough for two lanes of traffic but full of cars, trucks, tractors, cows, people walking, people leading cows, cows tied to the back of slow moving trucks, cows in the back of slow moving trucks, little kids, and stray cats and dogs. I’m really not sure how everyone emerged in one piece, with cars passing one another where there clearly wasn’t room, and vehicles stopped in inconvenient locations. I could tell we were getting close when the fields near the road were filled with women and children sitting on tarps picking apart and sorting piles of beef. We eventually parked and walked to a dirt area in between buildings where we sat on concrete steps leading to a second floor balcony and watched the sacrifice of about a half dozen cows.

I’ll spare going into detail, as it was a little challenging to watch at times, but here is a brief overview. First the cow was led into the clearing, usually with a bag on its head, and then laid down by five or six men (these cows were big). It was then tied by its back leg to a little tractor crane which lifted it off the ground, and the men gathered around, removed the bag, and recited an Arabic saying before cutting it at the throat. It was lowered back onto the ground before being swiftly cleaned and butchered until it was slabs of raw beef given to the families that had bought it, and the unwanted bits were in piles off to the side.

Our cow

The place was busy and crowded with people, we stuck around for a few hours waiting for the cow that we had purchased to be cut, but there were so many to do that ours specifically wasn’t going to be done until much later. We got to see the cow, but we picked up our thirty-some kilos of meat later that night (cows are so large that the meat from a single one is split by about six families, and our personal meat was given out to multiple friends).

Tray of Baklava we bought to give to our Bayram visitors

That afternoon we returned home and got dressed up to go visiting family and friends. We spent that afternoon and the next morning driving to different parts of the city visiting all different types of people. At the door we were greeted with kisses on the cheeks (a normal Turkish hello), and given slippers before being led into the living room (in an attempt to avoid being given the inevitably too small slippers, I wore thick wool socks, hoping people would realize my feet weren't going to be cold. About half the time it worked, half the time it backfired as I had an even harder time getting my feet into the little sandals; they can be really difficult to refuse). We would stay for about half an hour and chat while eating yaprak, börek and baklava with black tea or fruit juice, usually followed by chocolates or Turkish delight. By the end of the day we were gorged and a few times we had to insist on not being fed full meals, or given more and more food and tea. I struggled to make small talk with my baby two month old Turkish, and though I couldn't get all too far, everyone seemed to love that I was trying. I met probably around 40 new people and went to a dozen houses, not always understanding how the people were related, and rarely catching names- but it was so fun! I got to see and brand new apartment building and the family we visited hadn't even finished moving in, I met a boy who couldn't speak any English but could play the guitar and sing a song in English, I got to hold an 8 day old baby, I met a man who had been to the U.S. 35 times as an army pilot and knew of Seattle because of the Joint base Lewis-McChord not far from the city, and I met a Turkish woman who spoke English because she'd been living in Australia for the the past 20 years and was back visiting for the holiday.


Our meat
As we toured the city, I saw that it was full of meat. It seemed so funny to me that chunks of beef were casually carried simply in overflowing grocery bags, but that is apparently the way to do it. People were walking down the street or visiting relatives just as we were, bearing bags of meat. People were on their lawns or street corners cleaning it or dividing it up, or trucks would drive by with uncovered racks of ribs in the back. There were also sheep and cows being sold and herded in fields in the city, something else that is not common daily. On the news they showed cows that had gotten loose in other cities, with videos somewhat akin to what you might see on America’s Funniest Home Videos as they confusedly ran into coffeeshops or refused to get out of the road. Onur told me that this happens every year, and responded to my laughter at a video of two men riding a motorcycle through Istanbul holding a sheep with ‘Turkish people do this all the time.’



Kirrikale from the balcony
Usually during Bayram my host family goes to the city of Kirrikale, where Anneannem and Teyzem live (maternal grandmother and aunt), as well as where family from Ankara and Aksaray meet up. This year my family originally decided not to go, but made a spur of the moment decision that we would go and surprise everyone by showing up on the night of the 26th. Only my aunt knew we were coming, so we surprised my mom's mom and dad, her sister and son, her other sister's husband and two kids, and her brother; with the addition of us five, it was one full apartment!

We ate soup, mantı, cooked the fresh beef from our cow, and stayed up late into the night chatting, laughing and watching soccer and ridiculous game shows on TV. In the morning we went to my grandmother's house and had a huge breakfast before making spur of the moment decision #2, which was to drive another few hours to Ankara with everyone to see the Body Worlds exhibit.

The Body Worlds exhibit series originated from a German scientist who created a way of preserving human muscles and organs so that real human bodies can be displayed in science exhibits (you can visit their website here to read more). It was incredibly interesting, and only slightly unnerving to see preserved fetuses and cross sections of different organs, and it was certainly a thought provoking follow up to the Kurban Bayram. What different contexts of viewing mammal’s insides!

My cousin Mustafa outside of Body Worlds
(no photos were allowed inside the exhibit)
The exhibit was in Turkish and English, but it seemed as though they weren't expecting many tourists to visit the exhibit (it does travel around the world), because the English was often around the other side of the cases or on the back of the stand alone explanation boards. I tried to be quiet and discreet as I climbed around display items a slid along walls trying to get a better look at the sometimes well hidden descriptions, but I sometime just gave up and had to make my own stories for the muscular systems posed for yoga. While my Turkish is improving and I worked through some of the descriptions when they were side by side with English, scientific terms and obscure body part names and functions are a whole different boat from knowing daily conversation.

After the exhibit we went out for lunch, and then drove the four hours home to Kayseri, and spent the last day of Bayram resting, though we did get a few Bayram visitors ourselves. Our neighbors across the hall got quite a few at once.

*In elementary school they taught us to never use wikipedia as a source, and it still makes me a little uncomfortable to reference it. However I have always found it to be quite accurate and that comparably thorough and largely unbiased articles can be hard to come by.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Frequently Asked

A look into the things my school mates are curious about. Very roughly in order of frequency, but I've been asked them all more than once.

Where are you from?
What is your name?
Which city are you from?
Do you like Kayseri?
Do you like Turkey?
Which do you like better, America or Turkey/ Seattle or Kayseri?
Have you eaten Mantı/ Pastırma/ Sucuk? (Foods that Kayseri is known for: a handmade ravioli-like dumpling, a cured beef, and a type of sausage)
When did you get here?
How long are you here for?
How long did it take to fly here? (People really like asking this, I'm not sure why, I guess it gives an idea of the distance)
Why did you come to Turkey?
Why did you come to Kayseri?
Why aren't you in Istanbul?
Did you choose to come?
How old are you?
Do you have any brothers or sisters?
-How old is he?
-Which university is he in?
-What is he studying?
What are your mother and father's jobs?
Where are your mother and father?
-Do you miss them?
-Do they miss you?
-Do you call them?
Do you miss your friends?
Do you like our school?
How is our school different from your school in America?
-Do you have uniforms at your school in America?
What is your religion?
What is your host family like?
-Do you have any host siblings?
-What are your host parents' jobs?
-Where do you live (in which district of the city)?
Do you know about L.A./ Miami/ Las Vegas/ New York/ Chicago? I want to go there someday; it is a very beautiful city/ my favorite NBA team is there/ I saw a movie about it.
What other language did you study in school?
Why is your hair short?
What Turkish music do you know?
Who is your favorite singer/ what kind of music do you like?
Do you watch tv with your family/ which Turkish soap operas do you watch?
Do you like Justin Bieber/ One Direction/ Rihanna/ Taylor Swift?
Do you know _______ NBA player/ team?
Is German class easy for you? German is very similar to English.

The most frequently asked question, and not just at school: Aren't you cold?

According to my classmates, friends, my host mom's friends, people that come over for dinner, and people whose houses we go to for dinner, being cold equates to getting sick. I'm often being asked where my slippers or sweater are, if I need to blow dry my hair, or if my toes will be okay in sandals on a sunny day in late September. If its brisk in the morning (I admit some mornings have been quite cold, but some I would only classify as 'slightly chilly') people break out thick sweaters and windbreakers.

On days that I didn't consider to be sweater worthy, classmates that I was barely acquainted with would come up to me as I stood in the school courtyard before school started, and ask me if I was cold, followed by questions about Seattle's presumably arctic weather that has made me so cold-loving.
Now, the past few days have been rather cold, but I've taken to wearing a sweater everyday because people get downright worried about me!

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Doğum Günün Kutlu Olsun Babam!

Today was my dad's birthday, and I talked to him for the first time since the day I left! Happy Birthday Dad!

This marked the 7th native English speaker I've vocally conversed with in the last month (I've started keeping track, hehe). Rya and Hana, the two girls I came here with, being the only ones in person. Suffice it to say we have become very close out of necessity.

How many native English speakers have you talked to within in the last month? Makes communicating pretty easy doesn't it?

Friday, October 5, 2012

One Month

To say that it is hard to believe that I left Seattle one month ago today would be an understatement: Rya and I actually had to take time this afternoon to convince Hana that we have in fact been in school for three, not two, weeks. It dawned on me yesterday that this is actually the longest I have ever been away from home, and that I just set a new personal life record of Days Without Seeing My Mother.

When we first met our host families by going out for dinner at a fancy hotel, Rya, Hana and I sat next to each other rigidly and awkwardly in our chairs trying to figure out the right things to say as we introduced ourselves and answered their questions about our time in Istanbul and Ankara. Though daunting at first as we grappled to get to know them (and them us), we were soon all joking and laughing (adorable little kids are universally good at joy-making) and at ease by the time that we split up and went home. The first few days are supposed to be some of the hardest an uncomfortable, but for me and my family, they were a breeze. I was worried we would be tiptoeing around one another trying not to offend, but not at all! My dad and I went over the AFS questionnaire we were given, that asked about daily routines, if its okay to snack between meals, if there are preferred times for showering, if there are appliances I need to ask about before using etc., to which his answers were usually 'Yes, okay, no problem!' They are incredibly friendly and open, and I pretty much immediately felt comfortable and right at home (haha, figuratively and literally, this is my home now...)
Just after meeting our families, right before going home.
Communication with my family usually consists of their broken English mixed with my broken Turkish (sentences that are usually something to the effect of 'Me now shower. Okay?') and hilariously fun over-exaggerated pantomimes. Because of this, and the whirlwind of school starting just two days after our arrival, it took me a few days to realize that host mom actually doesn't speak any English! She's quite good at gestures. She must be well practiced, because last year they hosted a Malaysian student for two months, and they tell me she barely learned any Turkish (how did they manage?). Because of this limited ability to communicate, life is pretty spur of the moment. My family likes to go to friend's or relative's houses for tea in the evening, or to tea gardens after dinner, and sometimes we make foods like mantı or börek in the afternoon. At this point I'm not really sure if we do things spontaneously or if they plan things in advance and I just couldn't understand their previous conversations (I think it's a bit of both). One minute it will be 8 o'clock and I'm already in my pajamas and considering going to bed after an exhausting day of stuffing my head with Turkish vocab, and my host dad tells us we should all get dressed to go to a tea garden- next thing I know, I'm piloting a pedal boat in the pool surrounding a fountain at the local college (true story- there's a çay bahçesi on campus, next to a fountain and when Onur and Fatma saw that you could rent a boat to dink around in, we of course had to try it).

Or last weekend, we went to visit my host mom's sister in the nearby city of Aksaray. After going shopping in the morning with my mom and aunt they told me in Turkish what I understood to be 'Now we are going home to eat fish'. Instead, we went home, filled water bottles and grabbed cameras and got in the car.

We drove for almost an hour, stopping to take photos here:

Go wading in a thermal pool here:

Go for a brief hike here:

Sit on cushions under these shelters over a river here:

And eat fish:

Some things are, and always will be hilarious...
Don't get me wrong, it's not like my family and I can't understand each other! My father, brother and sister do speak some English, and a dictionary or iPhone is never out if reach. In addition, I've found that the amount you can get to know someone even if they don't speak the same language as you is quite surprising- body language goes a long way! My family (and I think Turkish people in general) are super loving and touch each other a lot, making it easy to fit in and feel at home (if, like me, you don't mind having your cheeks pinched and arms linked with). Annem and Babam love to wink at me from across the room and Fatma Ceren (my nine year old sister) likes to hug me and kiss my cheeks. Also, apparently slapping your brother on the back/arm/leg/head with the false pretense of 'mosquito!' is cross culturally acceptable! (We have a lot of fun together)

School is quite fun, I don't think that the concept of an exchange student really reached Kayseri. No one really understood what I was at first, especially because barely any of the teachers speak English (except the English teachers, but not even all of them are exactly fluent) . I was put in a tenth grade class that is an English learning track, so we all can have some basic conversations and with the the aid of my ever-present pocket dictionary, understand each other pretty well.

While the majority of my classmates have dark hair and pretty tanned skin, being blonde, fair, or even red headed isn't that strange. Apparently I fit in: constantly during the first week of school the teacher would be giving a lesson and turn to me, asking something that was probably quite normal and simple (I was sitting in the front row) and all I could do was sit there with my eyes bulging out of my head and stutter, in Turkish, 'Pardon, I'm learning Turkish'. A classmate would chime in with a brief explanation of me, at which point the teacher would chuckle upon realizing that they had been lecturing for maybe half an hour and I hadn't understood any of it. They would then ask all kinds of questions and someone would have to translate for me or I would be able to get enough of the gist of it to say in Turkish 'I came from Seattle' 'Washington but that's different from Washington DC' 'I came one week ago' 'Turkey is very beautiful', 'Yes, I love this school' 'I have eaten mantı one time, yes it was delicious'. This happened all week with varying levels of curiousity and interrogation, since there are about 14 different classes, each with a different teacher, and they don't all happen everyday.

I often get bombarded with questions, by teachers and students alike, the main ones being, 'Did you choose to come here?' 'Where are your parents?' 'Why did you come here?' I've taken to saying that I came because I wanted to learn Turkish (which is true, but there is much more to it than that, it's sometimes hard to explain in English even what exactly propelled me to go abroad). It seems that most people love Turkey and Kayseri and think that it is wonderful that I decided to come and stay for a whole year with the intent of learning Turkish. However I'm sure that find it quite funny and a little strange that my method of learning Turkish was to just be plopped into a one million population city in the dead center if the country, into a high school where I just sit and smile and barely understand a word of my classes... But then again, it is pretty darn funny, isn't it?

Monday, September 24, 2012


We had a very busy almost two days in Turkey's capital city! We went to the American Embassy, Atatürk's Mausoleum, were introduced to our Foreign Service Mentors, went to the Turkish Parliament Building, and then visited some museums and the Ankara Castle before flying to Kayseri.

U.S. Embassy

At the embassy we received a brief presentation of the citizen services that they have, and more cultural advice from diplomats that work there, then a security briefing from the Assistant Regional Security Officer. In November or December Deniz (who i believe works in Youth and Civil Services) and Stephanie (who is the Deputy Cultural Attachè) are going to visit us in Kayseri and Gaziantep to meet our families, come to our schools, and see how our lives are going. The security briefing is usually for diplomats who have just moved to Turkey, so most of the usual advice didn't really apply seeing a we would neither be in Ankara, working in the embassy, nor living by ourselves. Mostly, we were reminded that getting by in English wouldn't be easy in smaller cities like Kayseri and Antep and that we will stand out by nature and have to work to blend in.

Visit to the Anıtkabir

After the embassy we went to the Anıtkabir, the masoleum if Mustafa Kemal Atatürk. I don't feel informed enough to give an actual overview of Atatürk's accomplishments (there are monster bibliographies) but he was the leader of the Turkish War of Independence and the founder of the Republic of Turkey in 1923, and is greatly respected throughout Turkey. Hence, the Anıtkabir is an incredibly important and beautiful place. Walking up to it, the stones on the path are all rectangular, but slightly raised and different widths and lengths. Can said this is supposed to make you have to walk carefully and look at the ground as you approach, a gesture of respect.
Around the structure are uniformed guards, the kind that don't move a hair while posted. It is said that on some days when tons of people visit the Anıtkabir, like holidays that honor Atatürk, it can be so emotional that the guards cry. Because they don't move, people come with tissues and wipe their tears for them.
Inside the museum portion of the monument was breathtaking. I only have a basic understanding of Atatürk's achievements, but there were cases and cases of the most gorgeous and luxurious things that were presented to him as gifts by a wide assortment of world leaders. Swords and cigarette cases, tea sets and walking sticks made of gold and silver, inlaid with precious stones- from Shahs and Prime Ministers. We didn't get to spend all too much time in it since it was closing soon, but we got to have a quick walk through an exhibit of his wardrobe, books, some personal items, paintings of the Turkish War for Independence, and a very thorough history of his life (there is even a small piece of concrete from his elementary school). Go read a bit about Atatürk, seriously. I don't remember ever hearing about him in American school, but Turkey is full of statues and photos of him, and I think it's a rule that every classroom has to have his portrait.

Foreign Service Mentors

After the Anıtkabir we went to Stephanie's house where we had a delicious home-made Turkish dinner and saw a little into the life of a foreign service member (she moved from the states last year with her husband and two small children, and after moving back to the East coast for a bit next year, I think she said they are hoping her next post will be in Cambodia). We were also each given a foreign service mentor, an American working at the embassy that we can contact with questions about the foreign service or embassy/consolate, that might visit us during the year, and can send us care packages (apparently they stock American things that you can't buy in Turkey, like peanut butter, in the embassy...?). My mentor is Ms. Tedde Thompson, who is the Deputy Press Attaché. She went to school for journalism, and now coordinates the details when an important American diplomat visits Turkey. Not only do the American and Turkish press have to be contacted and organized, every detail of the visit has to be completely planned, and all people accounted for (tons of assistants and whatnot always accompany important people). She also told me about the difference between an embassy as a consulate: a consulate takes care of citizens abroad and handles things like issuing visas, while an embassy more represents a country's government abroad.

Turkish Parliament Visit

We also had a chance to visit the Turkish Parliament Building, where the Grand National Assembly of Turkey meets. We had a lecture on how it functions and, as expected, the procedures sound rather complicated. Here is a brief overview of the highlights:
-there are 550 deputies elected on four year terms, that represent the 81 administrative provinces if Turkey
-the assembly has been meeting for 92 years
- they meet 3 times a week for 4 hours, each deputy is allowed to miss 5 meetings a month
-there are 90 female deputies
-there are multiple stenographers (professional note takers) always present, they record everything word for word and rotate every three minutes to immediately publish their notes
-it takes 120 deputies to make a law and 365 to alter the constitution
-they vote on things by scanning their fingerprint at the computer on each desk
-they are seated right to left by party, the most are from the Prime Minister's party, but the four main parties are represented
-all of the chairs are orange, the Speaker of the Parliament has the darkest chair, and they get lighter as the importance level goes down; the public gallery has pale orange seating

The man giving the tour kept comparing certain aspects to the functions of other country's legislative bodies, 'You know, this is like how they do it in Britain' as though we would be informed. Do Turkish students learn about other country's governments? I haven't really, these comparisons were mostly lost on me.

Goodbye Gaziantep Girls, Hello Kayseri!

After the parliament visit we split with Ruby, Linnie, Olivia, and Bridget who flew to Gaziantep with Can, while Hana, Rya and I stayed with Cemre (the most organized and also most demanded AFS employee I have ever seen, she does so much, and her phone is constantly ringing, I thank her dearly for doing such a large part to make this all possible). We remained in Ankara for a few more hours, visiting a technology museum, a history museum, and the Anakara Castle. The Ankara castle is a ruin on the top of a hill in the center of the city and has the most incredible view of all of Ankara.

That night, we flew to Kayseri, which is surrounded by mountains. Rya and Hana say that beyond the mountains there is desert, dunes and all, but I was sleeping...

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Sorry for the Eyesore!

I'm currently blogging from my iPod touch and sometimes it's hard to tell how things are going to turn out! I can't figure out how to place the pictures where I want them, I wish they could have been dispersed throughout the previous post so it wasn't just a big block of text!

Here's what they are though:

1. The peacock
2. The view from the roof
3. Our wonderful wonderful AFS volunteers Deniz and Samet, who both went on exchanges to the states. They did an excellent job looking after us, making sure we had everything we needed and telling us what to expect from Turkish culture. They have now left, and Can, our group leader from DC, is here to chaperone us.
4. A view out of the bus window
5. Our Turkish teacher, Mesut.

Hoş Geldin Türkiye'ye!

We're here! On the evening of the 6th we flew direct from NYC to Istanbul, and arrived the next morning, exhausted because we watched Battleship and The Avengers, couldn't stop chatting with each other, sharing music, looking up words in Turkish, and talking about all of the things that we were excited for. The good news was that after having barely slept all night, we had no problem adjusting to the time change because we were so discombobulated by the time we did get to sleep the next night.

Sitting together on the flight were us seven YES Abroaders, and three AFS tuition students headed to spend their school years in Istanbul, Adana and Zonguldak. When we arrived in Istanbul we took dorky pictures with the 'welcome to Istanbul sign' in the airport, and then the seven of us parted ways with our AFS USA chaperone and the three other students, and were picked up by AFS Turkey volunteers. We went to lunch at the AFS Istanbul Office and met some of the people who organize our year abroad, then went to our hotel in a nearby town called Polonezköy. What I hadn't realized, and that I think is totally awesome, is that when you cross the Boğaz (the Bosphorus; the channel of water that Istanbul is based around) you are crossing continents: one side of the bridge is Europe, and the other Asia.

At our hotel, we have been having Turkish language lessons for six hours a day, just the seven of us in a hotel conference room with a single teacher. Our teacher is actually the head of the Turkish language teaching department in a university in Anakara that is known for their language program. He told us that he teaches huge classes of students that speak all different languages, but he speaks only Turkish (and Ottoman Turkish, which I think is the mostly same but uses the Arabic alphabet) and a very small amount of German. At first, we were really surprised that he was going to be teaching us and didn't speak any English, but he turned out to be an incredible teacher. It's not like we all became magically fluent in just a few days, but the amount that we learned, remembered and understood from just four days of classes, I think is astounding. In addition, not only was he good at acting out and drawing things to explain them, he could also always understand our poorly formulated questions in broken Turkish. I was quite impressed. Many of the things we learned I had already studied this summer, but we also did some new and different things, so I feel like I've totally solidified what I previously worked on, and expanded my vocabulary quite a bit.

What is so funny is that we had a debate as to whether or not he could actually speak English, and had just told us he couldn't so we would make an effort to speak to him in Turkish. He knew some English words that were language teaching specific like 'present tense' and 'verb' but occasionally he would say something like 'nuance', 'monotone', 'dentist' or 'manicure pedicure' and it made us suspicious. Ultimately Deniz asked him and he said he truly does not speak English, but his students always think he is lying for the exact reason we did.

Similarly to our time in Washington DC and New York, we aren't allowed to leave the hotel grounds. Unlike Washington DC and New York, this hotel is in the countryside, and there are sheep, llamas, ponies, ducks, geese, a swan, and tons and tons of bunnies that just wander around the huge field that belongs to the hotel. Also, we can step out the windows of our hotel rooms onto the flat roof and walk around a corner to have an incredible view of the surrounding hillsides (and get better internet connections).

This morning, we took a bus the 450 km from Istanbul to Ankara. The route was gorgeous, but the bus ride was about five hours and we had to get up at 4 am to catch it, so I slept for most of it. I did wake up long enough to snap some pictures though!

So far I've been absolutely loving Turkey, the scenery, the food, the people, and the language (I can't wait until I can speak it)! I also am so excited to meet my host family and see Kayseri!

Oh, and sometimes there are peacocks in the trees.