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.