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.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Tired Love From NYC

I'm in New York City! We are staying in a hotel by JFK airport, and we aren't go to leave until we fly out tomorrow night, so it doesn't really matter where we are because it doesn't look like much out of the windows.

But we made it safe and sound, I even met three other AFS students from the Seattle area, while I was on the flight, that are going to France and Spain!

Now I'm very exhausted because I was up late packing and trying to get my suitcase to the appropriate weight, but I just wanted to say HAPPY BIRTHDAY! to my mom. She was up until 2 am with me last night, helping me pack and telling me to go to bed, and then got up at 4 to take me to the airport on her birthday. I love her so much and she's probably missing me a lot right now (also we sent my brother off to college on the east coast just last week). I feel like I had so much more to say, but I have to go because we still have another meeting before bed, and I am soo tired, but thank you thank you to everyone who was so excited for me leaving and was so full of help and support along the way!

We fly to Istanbul tomorrow night!

Monday, September 3, 2012

T-minus 40 Hours

I am leaving in a little less than two days; my flight to NYC is at 6:30am on Wednesday. I am so excited, and feel good about having done everything I wanted to do in Seattle this summer. A few people have asked me if I'm scared to go, if I'll be really sad, or if I think that I'll miss everything once I get there. While I'm sure that adjusting will be difficult and of course it's scary to set of to live with a family that I've never met before, and be gone for so long, most of all right now I am feeling prepared.

I have been dreaming about going abroad for about a year, have been seriously considering it for about 9 months, and have known for sure that I was going for about 5. I've been to workshops, meetings and orientations about being an AFS exchange student, and have been so grateful and amazed with the number of resources that my community has dug up for me. It's incredible how many friends or friends-of-friends I've gotten to contact about Turkey- who knew there would be so many? So right now, I feel very ready to leave home, and have somewhat of an idea of what to expect when I arrive, as well as about a month's worth of Turkish language lessons in my head.

A note on packing-

AFS has given us guidelines on the amount of baggage that we are allowed to bring; 1 suitcase, 44 lbs (20 kilos), and one carry-on, 22 lbs (10 kilos). At first, this was a bit of a shocker. Everything I would need for an entire year, going into one suitcase and one backpack? No way!

But the more I thought about it, the more I warmed up to the idea. After all, it won't be EVERYTHING I need for 10 months, it will be just the essentials- what I need to get myself established. The point of an exchange isn't to go camping for a year, or even to 'go on a trip' for a year; the point is to up and move to somewhere new and different, and spend a year transforming until that place is a home. When I look at it like this, I don't really need to bring much. In fact, it has been recommended to me that I bring only enough clothes for about two weeks, and focus more on bringing gifts and things to represent my home city and where I come from. Also, I will be wearing a uniform to school, so I really only need weekend clothes. Turns out, all of the clothes I'm bringing don't even take up that much room.

Basically, everything that seemed absurd at first has had so much time to settle in that none of the craziness of being an exchange student seems the slightest bit strange anymore.