It’s been a little while since I updated (oops!), but it has been a very exciting past few weeks! Over the Thanksgiving Holiday, I was lucky enough to travel to Gaziantep, Turkey, a city near the eastern border of the country I am so lucky to now call home. It was an INCREDIBLE experience and filled with opportunities to try and see places and things that seem only to exist in books. The city is home to the world’s largest mosaic museum filled with artifacts from the Roman empire!
Upon our return, it was time to introduce my Turkish family to some American Christmas season traditions. In an attempt to get into the holiday spirit we took a crack at making my Grandpa Jake’s Million Dollar fudge — Turkey edition. Although it turned out more like goop than fudge, it sure was delicious and a great way to bring a little of my home to my new family! My heart is so full as I experience so many new things – I can’t wait to see what the rest of this year entails!
Let the tourist games begin! This weekend I got the opportunity to visit two of Istanbul’s most amazing historic sites. Our first stop was the Grand Bazaar followed by the Sultan Ahmet Mosque, both of which have played a grand part in various aspects of world history.
After a long, LONG, metro ride followed by a scenic walk (we may or may not have got lost), we arrived at arguably Istanbul’s most historic site. The large covered market contains almost 4,000 shops, each one with a long history. The Grand Bazaar was built about 1455 after the Ottoman’s conquered Constantinople (which later became Istanbul). This bazaar has always played a huge role in the textile and spice trade between Europe and Asia. The moment you walk inside it seems like a whole new world – think Aladdin in real life. Sellers fill every spare inch of the halls with goods from scarfs to ceramics, speaking just about every language in the world. Many sellers LOVED to guess where I was from and according to them, I must resemble German, Danish, French, English, and of course American.
Sultan Ahmet mosque also known as Blue Mosque was built over 300 years ago and is best known for the gorgeous tiles decorating the inside. I couldn’t believe my eyes when I first entered, while it may be cliché, I truly was speechless. This mosque didn’t seem like a tourist attraction, but more a monumental piece of history. Prior to entering the mosque, all women are required to cover their heads, shoulders, and knees, while men should make sure their pants cover their knees. Our of respect we were asked to remove our shoes (those who choose to pray in the mosque have the opportunity to wash their feet outside of the walls). We were lucky enough to watch the evening’s call to prayer from just outside the mosque at sunset before stumbling upon a small cafe that easily gave us the best view of Istanbul possible! Here’s a glimpse of our day!
Since I last posted I have been very busy . . . with my rotary family. For the past several weeks we have been hard at “work” representing RYE and exchange students from all around the world.
Firstly, we began our ventures at a Rotary event that included bowling, something most of us clearly were NOT cut out for! We were able to mingle with past and future exchange students from around Turkey and various Rotarians from our host clubs.
The following week we attended Marmara Koleji (5 of the exchange students attend school there regularly) to show the local students of this international school what it’s like to be living halfway around the world in a culture completely different from your own!
Although Halloween isn’t traditionally a Turkish celebration, we made a grand effort to show our holiday spirit at the Exchange Halloween Party hosted by our favorite Rotarians. Much to our surprise, finding a costume was next to impossible. In the 4th largest city in the world, we found a whopping ONE costume shop.
Pictures are worth a thousand words right? Perhaps these will give you a better idea of what I’ve been up to. All in all, I continue to live an incredible dream and words can only tell so much of this journey.
When you’re blessed enough to spend one year living in a city full of history, you can’t help but explore . . .
Today after my Turkish course 4 our my exchange friends and I set out for an adventure to see “the best view in Istanbul”. Built in 1348 during the ruling of the Byzantine Empire, Galata Tower is by far one of the most beautiful buildings I have ever seen. It is also the oldest tower in the world still open for visitations. After waiting in line for nearly 40 minutes (and a fresh turkish lollipop later) we finally made it to the stone entrance of the Tower. Seven grueling flights of stairs later we were at the top overlooking the most beautiful Istanbul landmarks such as the Sultan Ahmed, Aya Sophia, and the Bosphorus.
Side note – If you’re taller than about 5’4″ you are physically unable to make it down the staircases – we found out the hard way.
Enjoying a homemade lollipop during out wait to enter the tower
Hanging out with Ataturk while waiting in line.
My favorite German!
We had to make a pitstop and enjoy some dessert of Turkish churros. USA, you have no idea what you’re missing out on.
Well, it’s official, I have been in Turkey for one month and experienced SO much! This week we took a break from the craziness that accompanies Istanbul and headed off to Antalya (my second trip thus far) for some fun in the sun during the Kurban Bayram holiday. My family and two others took on an 8 hour drive to Kremlin Palace in Antalya to sit back and relax. I had so much fun sitting by the pool and visiting the sea as well as seeing some recreations of famous Turkish and Russian inspired architecture!
Let me be the first to say the Turkish language is without a doubt the most unbelievable thing I have ever heard, but with that being said is nowhere near easy. This week I attended my first week on intensive language courses with my other exchange friends in a part of Istanbul called Levent. Because I live very far away I wake up at about 6:30 to make it to my lessons at 10:30. Starting at about 7:15 I hop in the car with my host father to drive to the nearby metro station. Thanks to Istanbul’s traffic, we arrive at the station at about 7:45. From there I squish on to the busy metro with everyone heading to Istanbul’s busiest neighborhood to meet with the other “exchangers” around 8:10.
The metro is actually quite different from anywhere in the world (and much easier) as it connects continents. At 8:30 we catch a ferry to cross the Bosphorus and head to the European side of the city. This takes about 30 minutes and delivers us near Istanbul’s most well-known and busiest street in Taksim Square. With coffee in hand, we take the metro one last time and walk about a mile from our last stop to the school. This process takes SO long, but is nothing short of beautiful.
We have only had one week of lessons, and will continue them every weekend now through November. Our little exchange student family agrees that we are already feeling more comfortable with the language, and even sometimes pick up simple words in conversations happening around us. We all have hopes and dreams that in just a few short months we will be somewhere near fluent, or at least carrying on more than a “Hello, how are you” conversation!
The day has finally come that I attended my last first day of high school . . . again. After uniform shopping the other day it was time to become a private high school student for the first time in my life.
I woke up bright and early (about 6:30 a.m.) to prepare for the school bus that arrives around 7:15 and as some of the younger students found out it leaves no more than one minute later. After fighting traffic to go only a couple kilometers, nearly 50 minutes we and about 30 other buses arrived at school. After finalizing my schedule with my school counselor I began my day. Each day the courses vary. I am in an IB program for science so my classes include Mathematik (math), Kimya (chemistry), Fizik (physics), Fransiz (French), as well as volleyball (volleyball), and a few periods a week spent helping the pre-schoolers learn some English. As if culture isn’t different enough, the differences in the classroom are prevalent as well. My classmates and I spend all day in the same classroom as the teachers come to us. As the teacher enters the room the entire class rises. We spend 45 minutes in each class block with about a 10-minute break between. In total there are 10 class blocks in the day so sometimes we take the same class multiple times per day.
My school is primarily English based so all of my classmates are fluent. There is a huge push for all students in Turkey to be bilingual, if not trilingual. Also, the likelihood of the soon to be college students to attend a university in Turkey is very low as they all seem to apply to schools in countries such as the U.K., the U.S.A., Australia, etc.
Being in school today has taught more about culture in one day than I ever sought possible. The excitement I have for the next year with my classmates is beyond words. Viva Türkiye!!!
In case anyone was wondering what heaven looked like, this just might be this. For my second weekend in Turkey, I traveled 10 hours by bus to Antalya, a city on the southern coast meeting with the Mediterranean Sea. I along with about 30 other exchange students got the opportunity to attend the EEMA Rotary Conference at the Titanic Hotel spending most of our days relaxing on the beach. The beauty is beyond words and cannot be captured in any photo. We’ve indulged in many Turkish foods and most importantly established connections with people around the world, (I even saw two of my American trainers from Outbound Camp).
The weather was hot and humid – unlike anything in Nebraska. The sand was a deep color almost a chocolate brown and the water was unbelievably salty. The pictures do not do this amazing vacation spot justice, but just to give you an idea . . .
It has been a very busy weekend of me here in Istanbul. I’ve met many different people (Aunts, Uncles, Cousins) and many many friends who live only steps away from my new home.
In my housing complex, there are numerous buildings, 11 pools (only one is indoor), and a small cafe. My part of Istanbul is on the Anatolian side of the city known as Ataşehir. Around here there are always little kids the age of my sister, Ekin, running around and enjoying life with their friends. Turkish people are VERY social! Since I arrived on Thursday, I have already attended a wedding and birthday party! In Istanbul, it is more likely that you will be close friends with the people your age that live near you, not that attend the same school due to the difficulty of getting to one another because of traffic.
So far I have met lots and lots of guys and girls my age who all attend different schools. First I met Alihan, the best friend of my host brother (who is on exchange in France). He attends an American school and loves to play guitar. He has taught me many Turkish card games and introduced me to lots of his friends from around the city.
Next was Melisa. She attends an Italian school and speaks only a little English so it is very hard to communicate, but she always wants to teach me new Turkish words!
And lastly, I have met Elif (who speaks Turkish, English, and French) and Latisya (Turkish and Italian). The girls love to spend time out walking and sitting by the pool! Hopefully, some of these pictures will help you feel as if you were here!! I haven’t got any pictures with the people my age yet, but I will upload some soon!
After a 10 hour flight from NYC, I finally arrived in my new home — Istanbul. It’s nearly impossible to believe I’m actually here; there’s no looking back now! From the moment I got in the car, my Turkish lessons began! My 10-year-old host sister, Ekin, has taken on the daunting task of teaching me numbers and some basic words.
The drive home was nearly an hour long back across the Bosphorus and two continents before we arrived in Atasehir my new neighborhood. The streets are something like a kamikaze which is compromised of traffic, unlike anything I’ve ever seen before — you could say it’s a nightmare. Blinkers only occur sometimes and lanes are more like suggestions (to which are not followed). The app Yandex shows where traffic is the least heavy throughout the city.
Upon our arrival, with the help of Ekin my little sister, I unpacked my life for the next year as my Host Parents headed off to work. Because life can’t be all work and no play, we decided to have some fun and take a dip in one of our housing complex’s 9 pools (tough life I know). While it was tons of fun, this was rather short-lived due to some pretty windy weather, so next up was a tour of our complex via Ekin’s Razor scooter. This complex is beautiful . . . and spotless. We spent hours on the winding sidewalks and arrived home just in time to catch some cartoons before dinner (; .
For dinner, we ate Soup, Salad (with a tangy dressing), steamed rice, and chicken with peppers . . . DELICIOUS! After a quick Skype call home to my parents, I got the opportunity to hang out with some of the other teenagers in my area. A house full of about 15 seventeen-year-olds listening to American music composed my night. Not only did I get to ask and learn a lot about life as a Turkish teen and learn a few more Turkish words, but I also got to give them the same introduction about the U.S. Much to my surprise, many of them hope to attend one of our Universities. It was a long day, with little sleep – so at that my first day is complete! This year is going to be a wild ride and I am so ecstatic to experience all of the ups and downs.