Monday, October 14, 2013


Over the past three months since returning home from Turkey, my mind has periodically wandered to this blog that I left unfinished.

A fairly seamless return to a beautiful and busy Seattle summer of being out and about made things fade into the past as an experience that used to be the complete definition of my life turned into just one of the many experiences that defines me.

In Gaziantep, some Americans blend in better than others.
I don't mean to say that those ten months are turning into completely dim memories, that I've forgotten to speak Turkish* (although occasionally a vocabulary word will take a little longer than it probably should to call up), or that I'm not still invested in the people I left behind. I absolutely think about my adventures of the past year multiple times a day, but I can feel the distance, and how unsettlingly easy it is to slide back into the comfort of familiarity, avoiding the extreme effort it takes to remain a relationship with separate world and life that is 6,000 miles away. What hurts the most is not knowing when I will be able to return- I could often deal with homesickness by telling myself that it will only be a matter of time; this sort of longing is terribly inconclusive.

*one of the most common questions- Are you fluent? I hesitate to say fluent as I get lost at a certain level of intellectual or complicated conversation, though I can quite easily converse normally, watch movies, and totally rock anything that a tourist would have to do!

The last bits of the year before I left where some of the best- making sure that I made the most of my time and finished all of the things that I wanted to, as well as some the busiest as I was the most comfortable as I had been all year. I traveled to Gaziantep to see the rest of the YES students, where we even got to spend time with Anjali, a YES Abroad student from the year before us, who was back to visit her host family and friends. In late May, the violent protests in Istanbul that spread throughout the country resulted in us exchange students being confined to our homes for three days, and the cancellation of a small trip we were going to make to Istanbul. In June I went on a gorgeous bike ride with a school friend out into the countryside, and went to a music festival with my cousin to see a famous singer. At one point I also attempted to take the bus to Hana's art exhibition without knowing where I was going and relying only on asking people on the street for directions: it took asking at least six people on four different street corners until I finally caught the correct bus, missed the stop, went on a lovely tour of farmland countryside (in which we stopped for cows to cross the road) and arrived to the showing an hour and a half late. On the last day of school my friends brought me small parting gifts, and I hugged and kissed the cheeks of just about everyone I had ever talked to.

Everything felt like it had gone full circle when the weather was nice enough and the days long enough to go out in the evening with my host family to the same tea gardens we had gone to in the fall when I arrived, and the last few weeks are full of many fond memories of late nights.

On the day we left there wasn't a single dry eye at the Kayseri airport, and I was sobbing when Yasemin gave me a hug and said to keep them parts of our lives; they expect updates when we have big news like where we go to college and when we get married.

Ruby and I accidentally stumbled into
what we thought were office hours, but was
actually a breakfast for constituents
with Maria Cantwell.
The adventure didn't quite stop there though; we nearly missed our flight from Istanbul when someone couldn't find their residence permit -an extra document needed alongside the visa- and then our connecting flight from New York to DC was cancelled. After being up for over 24 hours, we got to lug all of our bags to Penn Station and take a late night Amtrak, sleeping just a couple hours before finding out that AFS had arranged for us to meet with our local senators to make them aware of our program and its government funding.
Afterwards we made small presentations to some state department employees, and honored Morgan Lide, who we all hold very dear in our hearts and memories.

And like a dream, it was all over.

In the scheme of things, the posts that I got to make on this blog can't even begin to do a justice to the experiences that really happened in the time that I lived in Kayseri. Quite honestly I am still trying to effectively communicate the things that I did learn while I was there. I'm still working on an answer to the single most frequently asked question of my life thus far So, how was Turkey?  I managed to condense the 40 weeks into a 200 photo album that is a fairly thorough representation, but it can easily turn into a four hour long conversation.

And without dissolving into clichés about the honest and real things to be gained and learned from traveling abroad or just pushing yourself out of your comfort zone (please do these things), I would like to pass the hat to the new 2013-2014 class of YES Abroad.

Look HERE to read about some new amazing high-schoolers who are out there this year. Two of them are even going to the high school I went to in Kayseri!

As always, you can read here about the specific scholarship I was on (with a brand-new website!), or here about AFS, my hosting organization. I really can't give enough thanks to the State Department for providing this program to me for free, AFS and the people who work/volunteer there for taking such good care of us, (shout outs to Samet, Can, Yasemin and Cemre), the Genç family for inviting me to stay in their home (and including me into their family and every aspect of their lives) for ten whole months with my love being their only reimbursement for everything they gave me, everyone who was kind and helpful to me at school, the friends I made there that I plan on keeping forever and am still in touch with, and really everyone in general that helped me in not just the big ways, but little ones too, plus everyone back in the states who made an effort to keep in touch, send me snail mail, love, and be a friendly face/voice when I needed it.

Yolların açık olsun- May your roads be open.

Friday, May 31, 2013


Way back in Şubat, I drafted a blog post celebrating and lamenting the passing of the January semester holiday which signified the halfway point of not only the school year, but also the exchange year.

Then I blinked and it was April.

AND THEN, before I even had a chance to come up with another expression to try and convey to you just how quickly time is passing, I was hanging an Easter Card next to my Valentine’s and Christmas cards on the wall of interesting things I got in the mail and thinking about my poor blog maintenance.

(It took me another few days to realize that neither of those statements actually convey the fact that it is now the last day of May, you could say that these weeks have passed so quickly that I forgot what month Easter was in and took over a month to hang up my card).

Now here we are, with only a handful of weeks left, and I’m attemping to break the vicious cycle of avoiding a blog post because too much has happened, only to want to write even less because even more has happened…

The winter passed pleasantly, after the volleyball season ended with the loss of our second game, I stayed busy with an afterschool Turkish class and Ebru (Turkish Paper Marbling) and Çini (hand painted tiles) class.
Çini done by Rya
Professional Çini in an Ottoman Palace in Istanbul

Although there were only just a couple scattered weeks with snow on the ground (I had been hoping for more; last year it is said that the ground was covered for two months straight), we made it the 20 some minute drive to Erciyes Mountain quite a few times, and I even got to take a downhill skiing class with my host sister.

Over semester break me and my host family visited family in Kirrikale, and then had the misfortune of being in Ankara when a suicide bomb was set off outside of the U.S. Embassy, winning us lots of (rightful) concern and attention from AFS as they made the rounds to make sure all the students were okay mentally and physically (we were).

In February, Bridget, a fellow YES student in Gaziantep decided it would be best if she returned to her home in Vermont, making us only number 5 total when we got to show the Gaziantep girls around Kayseri, when we too visited an abandoned church and the Talas underground for the first time. After that we all together went to Kapadokya for our mid-year AFS camp and stayed in a very nice hotel that made us pay extra to use the swimming pool, but it was all worth it when a poorly translated sign (whose true meaning I’m not even sure of) prohibited you from swimming if you weren’t inspired. After our camp we toured Kapadokya, seeing some sights again, but also many new ones- including the churches of the Göreme Open Air Museum and added our locks of hair to Chez’ collection of over 16,000 (unfortunately photography is not allowed in either of those places). We got to run around strange shaped rock formations and be crazed tourists, taking way too many photos, and eavesdrop on what Turkish tourists had to say about the foreign ones.
Long abandoned Armenian church

Talas underground

Entrance to the Talas underground

In April the host moms of our three Kayseri host families traveled to Belgium for a week on a mini mom exchange program, leaving Hana, Rya and I with a few extra responsibilities around our respective houses as the oldest females, and lots of family nights out to dinner (Turkish moms do a lot, and all of ours stay at home-something more common in Turkey- doing lots of cooking, cleaning, shopping, laundry, and looking after the house. Culturally, it is not at all common for a mom to go on a solo vacation like this, so family and friends in our apartment pitched in to make sure we were fed and our house was vacuumed). I made chicken soup and macaroni and cheese for my family, the soup was fairly well-liked after an addition of hot pepper and lemon juice, and the mac’n’cheese was a big hit.

At school we are just finishing the final round of testing for all of our classes- I take English, Turkish Literature, Psychology, Project, Geography, Religion, Language Arts, German, Math, History, P.E., Art and Computers. I still don’t understand my lessons to the extent of a Turkish student, and people think its funny that I still come to all of the tests, even though my grades are far from great. I do best in geography (because it is very map based and country names are usually pretty similar except for the occasional Greece=Yunanıstan), math (because it is sometimes things I already know, or otherwise straightforward), language arts (because they actually teach Turkish grammar in a very similar format to the way I learn the tenses as a foreign language), art (because I like to draw), computers (because I know how to use powerpoint and excel), and P.E. (because I am susceptible to learning how to march in rows, pass a baton in a running race and throw metal balls into a sand pit).

After seven months of the program, AFS allows students to travel independently, provided that they get permission from both natural and host family, aren’t missing too much school, and are staying with a responsible adult. In mid April I got to make one of my biggest fantasies of the year come true, by flying by myself to Istanbul to meet up and sightsee for five days with Ruby, another YES student living in Gaziantep. We had full full full days and managed to visit almost all of the major sights of a city that Turks claim you couldn’t fully discover if you were to stay a month. Being able to speak the language of the over 14 million person city made a world of difference, and the trip left me with more fond memories and photos than I am prepared to tackle just yet... Here's a sample-
Inside the Aya Sofya (Haghia Sophia) a 5th century church later converted to a mosque,
now a museum and one of Istanbul's most famous landmarks

Fish restaurants under the Galata Bridge

Sultan Ahmet Camii (The Blue Mosque)

Old Greek Orthodox School

Spice Bazaar

A few weeks later I traveled with my host family to Mersin for the weekend, where I got to eat delicious strawberries and take a dip in the Mediterranean, following by a weekend of my solo traveling to Gaziantep to visit Ruby, where we saw one of Turkey’s most famous mosaics, got scrubbed/washed/massaged in a hamam (Turkish bath) for about $10, ate liver kebab, and basically invented baconless bacon by frying pastırma (thinly sliced spice-cured beef; pork is not eaten in Turkey), and met up with a girl who lived in Gaziantep last year with the YES program and happened to be back visiting. It was so interesting to hear about how much the students, experiences and program can change from year to year!

Now we have less than three weeks left in Kayseri, and I’ve started trying to imagine packing (still haven’t started yet, I’ve merely started to imagine), made lists of the things I still want to do before I leave, the people I want to be sure and visit and thank, the food I need to frantically learn to how to make and collect ingredients for, and the five minute presentation I need to make about the program’s impact to the Department of State upon our jet-lagged and bittersweet arrival to Washington DC on June 19th.

And I found a turtle in a cemetary on Mother's Day

There is also this new smattering of photos from throughout the year through the beginning of March that I just got around to posting!

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Ebru: Turkish Paper Marbling

For March and April I am taking classes in Ebru, which is the ancient art of Turkish Paper Marbling!

Completely natural, Ebru has been around for hundreds of years and is traditionally made in the shape of flowers, especially tulips. The paints are plant derived and thinned with cow intestine juice and then splattered with horse hair brushes onto kitre, water thickened by deniz kayıfı, a powder extracted from the sea that has proved difficult to translate. The thin paint sits on the surface of the thick kitre, and can be twirled to make patters. The patterns themselves can be a finished piece, or paler colors (as seen here in the first thirty or so seconds) can be used as a background for a central design. To create a flower, carefully placed drops of paint are pulled across the surface of the kitre with a small metal rod tool called a bız. When the shapes are complete, paper is laid across the surface and then slowly pulled off, picking up the paint.

Here is a video I made at my last class!

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Finishing the Photo Collection

Here are the 175 photos that are the last piece in the collection of early November Kayseri adventures. They contain a day in the Kapadokya region, followed by a day hiking the 'mountain' in the middle of Kayseri, an evening barbecue, and a final fancy dinner and party at Eras Hotel, the only four star hotel in Kayseri.
Climbing Ali Dağı Farewell Party
[You can get to them via the photos above, the individual set names here (Day 6 - Day 7 - Day 8) or the scattered blue words below that link to relevant to specific photos!]

Some words and stories to go along with the pictures-

Kapadokya Tourism: In addition to the facts that the Kapadokya region has an incredible ancient history, is absolutely gorgeous, and was a chance to get out of the city for a day, I was also excited because it is a major international tourist destination. I vowed that I would drag Hana and Rya along to approach the first English speaking tourists that we encountered. As we were walking up to the entrance of the underground city, it so happened that the first two men walking by were chatting in English. I stopped them and asked where they were from, and we struck up a small conversation (probably due to my over-zealous approach a questioning). Turns out they were from San Francisco, and when I told them I was from Seattle, the one man said his son lived in my neighborhood. When I asked him whereabouts, he named the street my house is on. In a minute I went from on the lookout for interesting American tourists, to describing local landmarks of the neighborhood I grew up in, coming to the conclusion that this man's son was living less than a mile away from, and on the same street as, where my mother is living!
They had heard of and were supporters of AFS, and their tour guide chimed in that he was a Turk who spoke excellent English as a result of a student exchange. They were traveling with a tour company based on the West Coast of the U.S., and invited us to come by their bus, which was full of people mostly from Seattle and San Francisco. We couldn't since we were holding up our group at eh entrance, and they were holding up theirs at the exit, but it was such a crazy coincidence!

Our hike up Ali Dağı (dağ means mountain, it's a small one: to the top and back takes around three hours) was led by a tour guide of sorts, a friend of Rya's host dad. He led us up the steep, narrow, and switch-back filled path, insisting that it was about to get easier when we were convinced it was only getting steeper and switch-backier. He led us in an awesome stretch circle, and then scolded us for drinking water as we hiked, saying it would make us unable to walk (we weren't sure if he was questioning our ability to multi-task, or meant there would be actual physical consequences, I'm fairly certain he for some reason believed the latter) (he didn't speak any English). Instead he picked little wild mountain berries for us to eat as we walked, and gave us chewing gum, saying it would help us breathe.
When we got to the top, the path met a wide road that wound around the mountain, which we used to descend. As we started walking, our guide asked Rya, Hana and I if we wanted to run and some other things that we didn't really understand. Before we knew it we were bounding through a grassy valley that paralleled the road, jumping over holes, branches and avoiding spiky plants. We laughed as he led us in a yelling/grunting/breathing pattern of 'Huh! Huh! Huh huh huh!' and stumbled to keep up with him: it looked he was moving at a slow jog but whenever we looked down at our feet to avoid tripping, when we looked up again he would be magically way far ahead and cheering us on to catch up. When we again joined the road, he told us about how he was in his sixties, and climbed the mountain at least five times every day, starting at sunrise (he also let us punch his impressive flexed stomach muscles).

As some closure for the EVA program, Luce wrote this poem about their time in Kayseri. It was originally written in Dutch, and then translated by one if her kids into English. It was also translated into Turkish by a Turkish student in Antwerp on an AFS exchange. (It appears to me that the Dutch one rhymed!)

English Translation:

In the land yogurt and honey
Situated in the central Turkish plateau
We got a receipt of high level
Four families had been looking out for this day
We arrived on their national holiday
Kayseri, an old but fast rising city
Provides home to a million Turkish people
In this land of yogurt and honey
Ataturk is hailed as a king
Two years ago it started with the AFS program
Now four EVAs discovered the region and its families
The Turkish cuisine, their culture and their language
Were an experience to us all
Look: That large school with swimming pool! Just six years old!
Sports stadium, museum, hospital,… newly built.
Even an old castle, a jumble sale, a mosque,…
The Turkish dances, we did them!
Carpet weaving, decorated ceramics,…
Tour of a new sugar refinery
Coffee grounds divination, do we believe this?
And yet,… our neighbor was very witty
In the Hammam being scrubbed from head to toe
Climbing mount Ali?... Yes please!
Without food or drinks on the mountain
But we, sporty gals, did not give up
Hours of preparing köfte and manti
Fortunately they didn’t allowed us to crochet and to knit
Cappadocia, visiting an underground city.
Family picnic in the van,… What a day!
Handicrafts and scarves, buried under gifts
We will remember our hostesses for a long time
It was an intense visit
Still glad that the host students were good interpreters
They’re smoking Turks, but little knowledge of the English language.
Maybe … when they get in Antwerp around Easter.
Goodbye wonderful land of extinct volcanoes!
Goodbye dear people, so hospitable together!
Another travel tip for Yildiz, Yasemin, Nasibe and Betül:
Your plane doesn’t wait for you in Istanbul! Be there on time
Three big kisses of four AFS EFTA sisters:

Leen – Linda – Rita - Luce

AFS-ZAN 29/10/2012-06/11/2012

Original Dutch version:

In het land van yoghurt en honing
Midden in het Centraal Turks hoogplateau
kregen we een ontvangst van hoog niveau.
Vier gezinnen hadden naar ons uitgekeken.
Op hun nationale feestdag kwamen we neergestreken.
Kayseri, een oude maar ook snel -'rijzende' stad
biedt voor één miljoen Turken een flat.
In dit land van yoghurt en honing
wordt Atatürk geprezen als een koning.
Twee jaar geleden ging men er met AFS beginnen.
Nu ontdekten vier EVA's de streek en hun gezinnen.
De Turkse keuken, hun cultuur en hun taal
waren een belevenis voor ons allemaal.
Kijk: die ruime school met zwembad, amper zes jaar oud!
Sportstadion, museum, hospitaal, ... pas gebouwd.
Ook een oude burcht, bazaars, een moskee, ...
De Turkse dansen, we deden ze mee!
Tapijtweverij, versierd keramiek, ...
rondleiding in een nieuwe suikerfabriek.
Koffiedras-waarzegging, geloven we dat?
En toch, ... onze buurvrouw was erg gevat.
In de Hammam afgeschrobd worden van kop tot teen.
Mount-Ali beklimmen? ... Ja! Allen daarheen!
Zonder eten of drank de berg op.
Maar wij, sportieve madammen, gaven niet op.
Urenlang köfte en manti bereiden.
Gelukkig liet men ons niet haken en breien.
Cappadocië, met bezoek aan een ondergrondse stad.
Gezinspicknick in 't busje, ... 't Is me wat!
Handwerk en sjaaltjes, bedolven onder geschenken.
We zullen nog lang aan onze gastvrouwen denken.
't Was een krachtig bezoek, we zijn in de wolken.
Toch blij dat de gaststudenten voor ons konden tolken.
't Zijn wel rokende Turken, maar van Engels weinig sprake.
Misschien wel ... als ze rond Pasen in Antwerpen geraken.
Dag prachtig land van uitgedoofde vulkanen!
Tot ziens lieve mensen, zo gastvrij tezamen!
Nog één reistip voor Yildiz, Yasemin, Nasibe en Betül:
jullie vliegtuig wàcht niet in Istanbul!
Drie dikke kussen
van vier AFS-EVA-zussen.

Turkish Translation:

Yoğurt ve bal diyarında
Anadolu'nun ortasında bir ovada,
karşılandık en güzel ağırlanmayla.
Dört aile bize bakar oldu.
Ulusal bayramları hikaye oldu.
Kayseri, eski ama en çabuk 'kabaran' şehir
İçinde bir milyon insan gezinir.
Meşhurdur bu memlekette yoğurt ve bal.
Selamlanır Atatürk sanki bir kral.
İki yıl önce herşey AFS ile başladı.
Sonra dört EVA bu bölge ve aileleri yakaladı.
Türk mutfağı, kültürleri ve dilleri
Hepimiz için büyük bir deneyim olduverdi.
Bak: O koca yüzme havuzlu okul basmış sadece 6 yaşına!
Stadyumu, müzesi, hastanesi, ... yeni bitmiş inşaası da.
Hatta eski bir kale, kapalı çarşı, cami, ...
Türk dansları, biz de katılalım hadi!
Halı, süslü seramik dokuma ve daha neler?
Yeni bir şeker rafinerisinde gezmeler.
Biz de inanıyoruz ne var? Sonuçta kahve falı.
Herşeye rağmen komşu teyzemiz çok esprili çıktı.
Hamama gittik tepeden tırnağa temizlendik.
Ali Dağı mı? ... Evet biz de gittik!
Olmadan dağda yiyecek veya içecek.
Ama sportif kızlarız biz, var mı bizde göz pes edecek?
Mantı, köfte, bunları hazırlamak bütün gün sürdü.
Neyse ki uğraşmadık hiç ne tığ ne örgü.
Kapadokya'da bir yeraltı şehri, harika bir ziyaret.
Otobüste ailecek piknik, ... Çektik nasıl bir ziyafet!
Gömüldük altında hediyelerin, el işleri, atkılar ve eşarplar.
Unutmayacak asla ev sahibelerini bizim hafızalar.
Harika bir ziyaret oldu, ama şimdi göklerdeyiz.
Neyse ki çevirmenlik etti konuk öğrenciler, çok teşekkür ederiz.
Türklerde sigara çok ama yok çok fazla bilen İngilizce.
Ama belli mi olur, gelsinler hele Paskalya'da bir Antwerp'e.
Güle güle, sönmüş volkanlar ve o güzel ana kara!
Sevgi dolu, misafirperver insanlar bizden sizlere veda!
Yıldız, Yasemin, Nasibe, Betül size ipucu, olursa ileride bir gezi:
Beklemez İstanbul'dan kalkan bu uçaklar hiçbirimizi!
Dört AFS EVA kızkardeşinden üçü kocaman öpücük.

Monday, January 21, 2013

Photos Again!

Come, Follow Us on an Adenvture!
Happy Exchange StudentsBelgian GuestsSweets in a BakerySweets in a BakeryDinnerDinner
Erciyes MountainSugar FactorySugar FactoryJob Safety FirstFreshly Produced SugarSugar Production
Sugar LaboratorySugar LaboratorySugar LaboratoryLaboratuar!View from the Sugar FactoryShredded Sugar Beets
Host MomsSugar FactorySugar FactorySo Many Sugar Beets! pt. 4So Many Sugar Beets! pt. 3So Many Sugar Beets! pt. 2
Friday BazaarFriday BazaarCome, Follow Us on an Adenvture!Simit SellerNuts and Dried Fruit SellerGözleme
Atatürk's HouseAtatürk's HouseAtatürk's HouseAtatürk's HouseAtatürk's HouseAtatürk's House
Kayseri Castleİskender Kebapİskender Kebap LunchHamam (Turkish Bath)Hamam (Turkish Bath)Hamam (Turkish Bath)
Group PhotoRya, Hana and BurakCostumesCostumesOnur and KuzeyLiving Room Dancing
I added 70 more photos to Flickr, under sets called Day 4 and Day 5. You can get there by clicking on the above photos, or the link I've added on the right side bar. To read the explanation of why these photo sets exist again, you can go here.