Monthly Archives: September 2015
(I apologize that I’ve been late to upload this entry – I’ll make a post about my first month in Turkey soon)
I’ve been in Turkey for a week and a half now and I’m constantly amazed by how incredible everything here is. The people are super friendly, the food is out of this world, and Istanbul is more amazing than I could have ever imagined. I’m extremely lucky to have my host brother Berkin who shows me around the city, and to have Kadir and Elif as my new Turkish friends. My host family, host city, host school, and host friends are all amazing, and I literally couldn’t have been luckier.
Even though I’ve been here only a week and a half, I’ve packed every day with sightseeing, meeting people, eating, and drinking tea. Here’s a few things that I’ve done since the last blog update:
- Climbed the aqueduct outside of my suburb with some friends
- Stayed in a 5 star hotel along the Mediterranean Sea
- Visited the Grand Bazaar, Sultan Ahmet Mosque, and Galata Tower
- Went on a boat tour of the Bosphorous Sea
- Went to the largest mall in all of Europe
- Tried AND LIKED Ayran
The first Rotary conference of the year was held at a 5 star hotel along the Mediterranean Sea in Antalya. This was our first time meeting all of the exchange students, so it was super fun to see all the people I’ve been talking with on Facebok and Whatsapp for the last few months! What really surprised me is how much the countries mingled – in Denmark we generally separated by english speaking, portuguese speaking, and spanish speaking. This year, there’s about 50 of us and we all hang out together, which I find extremely cool. There were so many people that I loved meeting – my American white girl twin Keeleigh, my tumblr-without-the-tumblr friend Amihan, my awesome Rotex Sim, a New Zealand oldie Ryan, my Brazilian oldie Maria, and so many more! One of the exchange students was actually the sister of my friend from my first exchange…crazy, right? I also got to see the District Chairman of my district in Denmark, Alex Vestergaard, who had attended the meeting. At the conference, we spent the majority of the time at the pool and swimming at the beach – the weather was perfect! We also got free food and ice cream wherever we went since the hotel price was all-inclusive…I definitely had more than my fair share at the buffets! I can already tell that I’m going to have amazing times with these people, and I’m excited to spend time with the other 15ish exchange students living in Istanbul.
I’ve gotten to see a lot of the main attractions in Istanbul – the Grand Bazaar, Galata Tower, and the Sultan Ahmed Mosque to name a few. All of these are incredibly beautiful and seeing them reminds me how lucky I am to be in the historically and culturally rich city. The mosques make the city skyline absolutely stunning, especially at sunset.
I haven’t started school yet, but I’ve visited many times and hopefully I’ll get my schedule soon. If the scheduling is ideal, I’ll be in the 12th grade in the class with some of my Turkish friends on the track of Turkish Math. (I also said I’d prefer to not have gym class, but I know that’s a longshot). Normally, I’d start school on Monday, but I’ll have a week of language courses with Rotary so I will be missing my first week. The school has a strong music and art department, so I think this school is a perfect match for me!
I think that basically sums up the time I’ve been here so far. I’m thouroughly looking forward to everything headed my way in the next year – if the rest of my hear goes as amazingly as this first week has, I’ll be the luckiest exchange student ever.
-Cameron, alternatively spelled Camayran.
My second day in Turkey gave me a preview of how amazing my life was going to be here. The day started with traditional Turkish breakfast, which usually consists of vegetables, a hard boiled egg, and cheese. Our daily routine is breakfast at 7, then going back to bed until lunch. We ate a food called “mantı” at a restaurant close to my school with two friends, Elif and Kadir. This food is kind of like tiny dumplings with a great sauce on them. I was only able to eat about 25% of it because of the huge portion sizes, but it was delicious!
Afterwards, my host brother showed me around the suburb of Göktürk that I live in. What separates the looks of Göktürk from the downtown of any other American city is that it’s more modern architecturally, has more cafés, and has lots of stray dogs in the streets. (I’ve heard that the government picks up the stray dogs from Istanbul and just dumps them in Göktürk. I’m starting to recognize each stray dog now, so I guess I’m becoming a local!) When I asked my host brother how many people live in the suburb, he said there were 35,000 people. Coming from a city of comparable size, I found it funny that this is only considered a suburb. I suppose this makes sense if you live next to a city of 15 million people.
Afterwards, we went to Starbucks to get out of the heat (It’s super hot here, and wearing pants to fit in makes it even hotter.) We went for chocolate brownies at a restaurant, moved to a different restaurant to play backgammon (which is popular here), and then got ready to take a bus to downtown Istanbul to go out to eat with my Rotary counselor. If you’ve been counting, that means that I went to 5 restaurants/coffee shops that day. After being in Denmark where I went to a restaurant once a month, it’s so different to be in a culture where it’s normal to go to 3 or more restaurants in a day to hang out.
The bus to Istanbul is safe and easy to use, but being in a bus during rush hour was something I should avoid next time. Traffic is absolutely insane here. Cars drive within a few inches of each other, they drive a lot faster than I’m used to, and there are people walking in between the cars. I have literally never J-walked so much in my life as I do every day here.
Walking through Istanbul was incredible – the city was absolutely huge and the skyscrapers were beautiful, especially coming from a place like Wisconsin. I was completely stunned by the mall we went to to eat dinner with my Rotary counselor – it was easily more beautiful than any mall I’ve been in. My host brother laughed at my amazement, since this 3 floored mall is one of the smaller malls, and there were 3 bigger malls next door. Yes, there are 4 huge malls next door to each other. In fact, there’s about 140 malls in Istanbul. Considering the cheaply priced clothes, this city is paradise for me.
Everything about this day showed me how lucky I was to be living here. I have an absolutely amazing host family, a host brother who has become my best friend in Turkey, and I’m in one of the most beautiful cities in the world. I can’t wait to see what this year brings me.
Everybody has something that they simply can’t do – for me, it’s sleeping on a plane. Though I was thoroughly drugged, I barely could get 2 hours of sleep before arriving in Istanbul at 9:30 in the morning. By some strange miracle, the excitement of arriving in Turkey kept me awake for the next 13 hours.
The flights were nice overall. I even got to check off “getting stuck in an airport bathroom” on my bucket list. I think my initial culture shock hit me when it seemed I was the only person on the plane not wearing traditional clothes. I thought people were staring at me, but then again it was probably because my Rotary blazer was dropping pins everywhere and I was ringing when I walked from the cowbell pin on my shoulder. When I got off the plane, I was greeted with someone talking very fast in Turkish (I’ll assume she was complimenting my blazer) so I just answered with an enthusiastic “ahhh.”
After getting my checked bag, I was greeted by the friendly faces of my host mom and host brother, who were holding up a sign with my name. The car ride to the house was about 30 minutes, and I was surrounded by beautiful views of the buildings. Even the highways/bridges were decorated with lots of flowers, making it a beautiful ride.
After arriving home, my host brother Berkin wanted to show me around our suburb of Gokturk, which is a charming town that seems to have everything necessary (restaurants, supermarkets, stores, etc.) without having to go into the center of Istanbul. He started out by showing me my school, which was huge and very modern. I was particularly interested in the music building, which had a professional recording studio, an impressive auditorium, and many unlocked practice rooms with pianos. We’re not sure which grade or which class I’ll be in, but school starts around September 12.
Next we went to a traditional Turkish restaurant: Starbucks. Okay, maybe it wasn’t exactly traditional, but it is a popular hangout spot for the school’s students. (The coffee also helped me stay awake.) At Starbucks, Berkin and I met up with two of his best friends, Kadir and Elif. Both of them were super nice and generally spoke English to keep me in the conversation! By coincidence, the other Rotary exchange student in Gokturk, Lara, was a few tables down from us. She’s been here a few more days than me but it’ll be great to know her since she lives so close. (Sidenote: I used a public restroom close to Starbucks and I was pleasantly surprised with how sanitary it was. Unlike most of Europe, it was also free! Nice job, Turkey.)
Kadir, Elif, Berkin, and I toured Gokturk, visiting two supermarkets and a music/book store. I have to say – I felt right at home walking around Gokturk and I know I’ll get used to it fast. My host mom picked me and Berkin up to take us home, where we ate a delicious supper, drank lots of tea, and went over Rotary’s list of “first night questions.” Somehow I managed to stay up an extra 30 minutes to write this blog post…I knew I’d forget a lot.
Here are some first impressions that I observed:
- When you see someone you know, you greet them with a kiss on both cheeks. I like this gesture, though it does make me feel like I’m being eliminated from Project Runway.
- I rarely saw guys wearing shorts, even though it was above 80º outside. However, my host brother assures me that I can wear whatever I want and still fit in. (However, Kadir says I shouldn’t wear socks with crocs. Nice to know that these are still a fashion sin on the other side of the world.)
- Turkish people drink lots of tea – I’ve been told the average person drinks about 7 cups every day!
- Turkish families are pretty close. The roles of a parent and a child stay the same even past adulthood; a child will always be the child. This is very different from the US, where moving out of the house for college basically gives free reign to the kids.
- American culture is definitely evident in Turkey – my suburb has a Starbucks, KFC, McDonalds, etc.
- From what I’ve seen so far, Turkey is a lot more similar to the US than I had originally thought. While the culture, history, religion, and language are far different, it isn’t immediately evident when walking the streets of Gokturk
I really think I am going to love it here. My family is incredibly nice and friendly, my suburb makes me feel at home, the friends I’ve met so far are really great, and I’m only a little public transportation away from the center of Istanbul. Even my host dog is wonderful. Never have I had so many new things happen to me in one day. Considering I was running on 2 hours of sleep, was constantly learning new Turkish words, and was combating jet lag, I think I did a pretty great job surviving my first day in Turkey.
I’ll meet with my Rotary advisor tomorrow, and I’ll meet all the exchange students at a meeting on September 3rd in Antalya. More posts to come!
-Cameron; Turkish nickname still undecided