Sunday, July 22, 2012

Things Are Gettin' Real!

This week I booked my plane tickets, got an e-mail from my host family, started researching my host city of Kayseri, and realized that the next time I visit an airport, it will be to leave for 10 months! 

My Tickets
On the morning of September 5th, I will fly to New York City to meet up with the other Turkey YES Abroad girls for a gateway Orientation, and then fly from NYC to Istanbul on the night of September 6th. In Istanbul, we will have a few days for our Gateway Orientation, before we break off to our respective host cities. 

My Host Family
Two weeks ago, Rya and Hana (other YES Abroad girls) got their host family information, and found out that they would be living in Kayseri, making the rest of us anxious to hear! This week, I received news that my host family is also in Kayseri, and yesterday Bridget found out that she will be hosted in Gaziantep. We weren't sure how many of us would be together in a city, or how spread out we would be. So far, we have three in Kayseri, one in Gaziantep and three that have yet to hear. 

My family sounds very nice, and also very excited to host me! I have a mom and a dad, a sister that is nine, and a brother that is fourteen, they are not religious, and live in an apartment. My brother Onur e-mailed some pictures of their family, along with a friendly note about how much they are looking forward to having me. The note was in English, but very basic and short, and I've been informed that my host family may not speak any English, or only a small amount, but that I should absolutely try and communicate with them before I go. I've e-mailed him back, but not gotten a response yet. 

My Host City
I've started reading a little bit about Kayseri. It is located pretty much right in the center of the country, and Google says that by car, it is about 476 miles (766 km) from Istanbul (Turkey's largest city), and about 198 miles (319 km) from Ankara (Turkey's capitol, and second largest city). 

Kayseri itself has a population of 844,656 and a metropolitan area population of 977,240, making it Turkey's 9th largest city. I'm especially interested in learning about the history of Kayseri, because it has been continuously inhabited since 3,000 BCE! We sure don't have history like that in Seattle!

I've also been told that Kayseri is the birthplace of a food called pastirma, a kind of seasoned cured beef that is eaten with eggs, and is quite delicious.

In addition, Kayseri is not too far from a place called Cappadocia, where houses are carved into the sides of rock faces. I haven't had a chance to read up on it too much, but I'd really like to; it has a recorded history dating back to the 6th Century BCE, but people have been living there since the Bronze Age. Some family friends of mine that lived in Turkey for a few years and have traveled all throughout the country say that it is their all time favorite place in Turkey. Hopefully I will be able to visit it! 

My Last Plane Ride Before I Go
One thing I remember from my interview trip to Denver is that I was sitting next to Cara (another semi-finalist from Seattle), and as we were flying over Seattle about to land, she looked at me and said "What if this is the last time we fly into Seattle until we are returning from our exchange?" The thought scared me! I sort of brushed her off with an "Oh no no, even if we get the scholarship we will surely fly somewhere before then." It ended up not being the last flight home for either of us; Cara is in Oman right now for the summer with NSLI-Y instead of YES (see her blog here), and flew somewhere else on a school trip beforehand anyway, and I have already been to DC and back. However, this past week I was visiting my grandparents in Pennsylvania, and had a little cheesy sentimental moment this morning when I was flying over my city and realized it really would be my last time in an airport before I leave for a year.

Things are coming right up, and beginning to feel very, very real. This is happening! Only 45 days until departure!

Friday, July 20, 2012

Check out this article in our local paper!

The West Seattle Herald, the local newspaper for West Seattle and White Center, generously published this article about me and the YES Abroad program, to help spread the word! Check it out!

National Pre-Departure Orientation

At the end of last month (June 26-29th) all of the YES Abroad students were flown to Washington DC to attend a National Pre-Departure Orientation. We had workshops from early in the morning until late at night, and on one day went to the U.S. State Department building and the embassy of the country that we will be traveling to. After the orientation, students going abroad to Malaysia, India and Thailand went to an additional workshop in another DC hotel, before departing directly for their exchange.

The workshops were super interesting and informative, we learned more about culture shock and how to deal with it, (it's not good, its not bad, it's just different), how to communicate about our own culture and dispel stereotypes of Americans, how to effectively communicate about the YES Abroad Program, and what it means to be an ambassador. We had a brief history and outline of Islam and Muslim Faith Cultures, learned what things will get you sent home from the program (drugs/driving/hitchhiking/pregnancies being the main ones) and the common stages of ups and downs that go along with homesickness and being an exchange student (showed graphically on "Allen's chart of sadness", a sine wave). We learned about the importance of documenting your exchange and journaling for growth, health and safety while abroad, and the support and organizational structures of AFS. Afterwards, I felt boatloads more prepared on all sorts of levels.

On Thursday, we had a morning workshop, before taking buses to the State Department. There we met with AFS and YES Inbound students from Turkey (students from abroad who were on their tail end of an exchange in the states), and got on a bus with them to the Turkish embassy. It was really fun because there are only seven of us YES Abroaders going to Turkey, but there were over 30 Turkish students. They were all SO excited for us! We walked through the embassy and briefly sat chatting with the students in a conference room. I was asking different people where they were hosted, and what things they were most surprised to find out about the United States. They were hosted all over, from Juneau, Alaska to rural Vermont, and I even found one girl who lived just across the Puget Sound from me, on Bainbridge Island! One main difference between cultures that a lot of the students brought up was being affectionate with friends: in Turkey I heard, it is much more common to hold hands, link arms, and kiss cheeks in greeting. Also you have to pay for public restrooms, and most people think that the U.S. is all like New York City, or that is the only fun place to go (which they found to be not true on both accounts). I would have loved to stay and talk for hours with the students about their exchanges, but we were on a tight schedule to go back to the U.S. State Department.

At the State Department, we met back up with the other YES Abroad 2012-2013 students and received a congratulatory speech from Tara D. Soneshine, the Under Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs. We then got to ask her questions about citizen diplomacy and international relations. Afterwards, we asked more extensive questions to a panel of five experts that focused on East Asian and Pacific Affairs, African Affairs, Near East Affairs, South and Central Asian Affairs, and the Affairs in the Balkan Region (covering all of the regions that YES Abroad students are traveling to). There was supposed to be an additional person focusing on Southern European Affairs, but they weren’t there, so questions concerning Turkey were shared between the Balkans and Near Eastern specialists. We discussed relations between the U.S. and Turkey, as well as Turkey’s responses to the situation in Syria, and specifically the plane that was shot down a few days before the orientation.
 Afterwards, we all made a brief tourist stop at the Lincoln Memorial, before heading back to the hotel.

We had needed our passports to get into the State Department Building, so AFS gave us these fancy name tag necklaces with a passport sized pouch in them. They worked great for storing passports and hotel room keys until nearly all 53 of us couldn’t unlock our rooms because we wiped our keys by walking through a metal detector… Oops.

Our YES Abroad Turkey 2012-2013 crew. From left to right: Ruby from Seattle, WA., Rya from Baltimore, MD., Linnie from Bowling Green, KY., Can from Ankara, Türkiye, Hana from Henderson, NV., Bridget from Montpelier, VT., Olivia from Englewood, CO., and myself.

Can was our group leader who came for the orientation from college in Ankara, to tell us about his home country. Three years ago he was part of the YES Inbound Program, and spent a year in Austin, Texas. He is now an AFS Turkey volunteer. He was so patient with all of our incessant questions about all things Turkish!

As a result overall, I am feeling much more prepared, and know far more of what to expect on my exchange. I also really got to know my fellow YES Abroad students traveling to Turkey, and many more specifics about Turkish culture from Can. Some honey is so strong it can kill you! Your host mom will probably read your diary! Your host family probably won’t speak very much English! People don’t have dryers, they just hang their clothes! Everyone drinks lots and lots of black tea! Don’t put the Turkish flag on the ground! One of the longest Turkish words is Çekoslovakyalılaştıramadıklarımızdansınız! There are lots of dramatic Turkish soap operas!

See you later in Turkish is görüşürüz!