(prior to my departure)
The Kennedy-Lugar YES Abroad program is the American sending portion of the Kennedy-Lugar YES program. YES stands for Youth Exchange and Study, a scholarship program that was founded in 2002 to bring students from countries with significant Muslim populations to live with host families in the United States to promote intercultural learning and understanding. In 2007, the YES program expanded to not only receiving students, but also sending American students to countries with significant Muslim populations.
You can read about both programs here.
So is the program focused entirely around learning about religion?
Nope. While it is very possible that host families who take in students are practicing Muslims, it is also possible that they aren't. The focus of the program is to learn about the overall culture of the host country.
When are you leaving?
On September 5th, 2012, I depart for New York City, and then Istanbul on the 6th.
When are you returning?
I'm pretty sure my return ticket doesn't get booked until after I've arrived in Turkey. Sometime between May and July of 2013.
Where are you going exactly?
I will be living in Kayseri, a city in central Turkey that has a metropolitan area of about 1 million people, and has been continuously inhabited since 3,000 BCE.
Where will you be living?
I will be living with a host family! I have a mom, dad, 14 year old host brother, and 9 year old host sister. I have some pictures of them, but I want to check in with them before I put any of their information out on the internet.
Turkey is in a an excellent location- will you be going to Greece or traveling at all?
This all depends on my host family, and it as been stressed to us that the point of this program is not to travel. If my host family likes to travel and they want to take me, then excellent. If they don't, so be it.
What will you be doing there?
Being a cultural ambassador. I will go to school as a Turkish teenager would, and learn about daily life and Turkish culture. At the same time, I will be teaching others what my life in the USA is like, and about my culture back home.
How much does the exchange cost?
For me, nothing. The program is entirely sponsored by the U.S. Department of State, all I have to do is pay for gas to get myself to SeaTac airport.
Is a Turkish student going to be taking your place in your home and school?
Nope. While it is called an exchange program, it is not a direct exchange. Students come and go from all countries, but my family isn't actually exchanging me for a foreign student. It makes more sense to call it an Abroad Program rather than an Exchange Program.
Why did you choose Turkey?
When filling out the application, I had to list the 11 YES Abroad countries in order of preference. My preference would be taken into account, but wouldn't necessarily be my placement if I won the scholarship. I've always heard wonderful things from people who have traveled to Turkey, so I filled out the countries on a whim and put Turkey first. It turned out that I got my first choice, and the more I read and learn about Turkey, the happier I am that I put it first.
What language do they speak in Turkey?
Do you speak Turkish?
Biraz türkçe biliyorum. I am taking lessons and studying hard this summer!
Are you good with languages?
People keep asking me this when I tell them I am trying to get a grasp on Turkish in the two months before I go, but I really don't know the answer. Is this something you are expected to know about yourself? I guess I'll find out soon enough! In the meantime, are you good with languages?
I'm your family/I'm your best friend, can I come visit you while you're abroad?
Being away from home for a year is tough. I've been told extensively that no matter how much I think I won't get homesick, I probably will. They say that the worst thing to do when you are homesick is to call/skype/message/text/facebook your friends and family back home, and seeing your family or having them visit is the most disruptive thing you can do if you are trying to settle into a new culture and way of life. Thus, no one from Seattle will be visiting me, and I won't be home for the holidays (or your birthday, sorry). But the good news is, once I return to Seattle, I'll probably be dying to go back! We should take a trip together!
So, are you gonna blog like, all the time?
I'm not sure how much internet/computer access I will have while I'm in Turkey, and everyone tells me that I shouldn't make promises to myself of how often I will update. However, I love the idea that I can keep one blog updated and anyone I know can check it out instead of me having to individually e-mail everyone that I think would want to know what I'm up to!
Should I apply for the YES Abroad program?
YES YES YES you should! (there are tons of bad puns about this at the various get-togethers ~~say YES to YES~~). Seriously though, if you are an American high school student (or a student in one of the YES countries that sends to the U.S., but I don't as much about their application process) and are considering being an exchange student, which you should be, then you should apply apply apply! They are really trying to get the word out about the program- so tell anyone you know that might be interested. Also, if you'd like to go to Germany, or go on exchange to learn a foreign language on scholarship, check out CBYX and NSLI-Y, two other programs sponsored by the U.S. Department of State.
Are you going to graduate from American High School?
Not on time. Because I have chosen to do this year abroad as my senior year, I will not be able to graduate with my class in June of 2013, as I will not have all of my credits required for a diploma. My high school however, has a program called 'running start' that allows high school students to take community college classes. When I return from Turkey, I will re-enroll for a fifth year in my high school, but attend community college instead in order to graduate. I think that doing it this way works out for the better; I considered attempting to graduate early before I leave, but I would rather not go through the disruption of applying for college while abroad.