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