[Posting this a bit late…this is becoming a habit] I can’t believe that it’s 2016 already! There has actually been a lot of snow here – and by “a lot” I mean “a lot for Istanbul.” A few inches of snow can create 7 hour traffic jams, close school, and make everything look beautiful. While I normally hate snow, it’s actually beautiful in Istanbul and I am always happy to see school closed. My Brazilian and Mexican friends had never seen snow before, so it was an absolute joy to see how happy they were seeing it for the first time. I started out 2016 in a great way – meeting two AFS exchange students at Büyük Valide Han, a place in Istanbul that with an incredible view of the city. Meeting them really reminded me of how many more amazing people I have yet to meet this year.
I’ve gotten more comfortable with Istanbul than I thought I ever would. It’s not a big deal for me to go to Asia after school and come back to Europe before dinner. If I have freetime, I can always go to neighborhoods like Taksim, Eminonu, or Galata (my favorite area in Istanbul). My turkish friends always joke that I know Istanbul better than them, which is actually probably true. I only have a year in this beautiful city, so I’m trying to see everything that I can in this short amount of time.
Every week I’m getting closer with all of my friends here. I’ve gotten to hang out with a lot of my Turkish friends by hanging out with them outside of school, in places like the Taksim, Grand Bazaar, cafes, etc. I really feel like I’ve been making some great close friends from school, which has been a pleasant surprise considering basically nobody talked to me for the first 2 weeks. Only having a few months to get to know them seems like such a short time since there’s so many of them that I want to know, so I hope that I can spend a lot of time with them outside of school in the next few months. (If you go to my school and you’re reading this, you’re more than welcome to send me a message if you ever want to hang out!)
A few other highlights of the month include seeing Sultan Ahmet with snow with my Romanian friend Roxy before she returned back home, getting horribly lost multiple times while touring Istanbul with Cefi, buying a ukulele and seeing Büyük Valide Han at night with Esra and Keeleigh, and seeing the view from Sapphire mall with a few exchange friends/my host brother.
I have to say – my 7 day tour across the Western Side of Turkey was easily one of the best weeks of my life. I never thought I’d get so close with the 15 exchange students on the tour, but they really all became my best friends. The tour itself was amazing too – we got to see lots of Roman ruins, stayed at 5 star hotels, ate incredible food and even got to see a belly dancing performance.
First we went to Pamukkale, where we saw famous hot springs and the Hieropolis. The travertines (also called the “cotton castle”) look like snow but are actually formations of calcium with natural hot water running through them. The Hieropolis was the ruins of an ancient Roman city, and the amphitheater there was absolutely breathtaking to see. Combined, this was actually my favorite stop on the tour – the warm water of the springs was perfect since it was a bit chilly, and the Hieropolis was the first Roman architecture we got to see on the tour. We ended the first day of tourism by walking around the city of Antalya and enjoying the buffet at the hotel.
The next day we got to see Perge (the equivalent of an ancient Roman Shopping mall, full of ancient columns) and another huge amphitheater at Aspendos. Perge was also one of my favorite places on the tour – the amount of Roman columns definitely rivaled the Roman Forum in Rome.
On the fifth day of the tour we went on a boat tour to see Daylan and drove to Bodrum to see the city and Bodrum Castle
The sixth day was probably my favorite day of the tour. The first stop was the house of Virgin Mary, where we we got to make a wish, and my brazilian friend Rafa actually saved the life of a wild boar. Next, we finally got to see the Library of Ephesus, one of the wonders of the world. When I found I was going to Turkey, I dreamed of seeing this, so it was so cool to finally see it in person. Next we went to Pergamon, the ruins of a roman city on a hill where we saw the ruins of what was one of the most important libraries of the ancient world. We ended the day by going to an ancient roman hospital before going to our hotel to celebrate our last night of the tour.
I still can’t get over how amazing the trip was. Of course, I was a bit sick of seeing roman columns and “old rocks” by the end of the tour, but I still couldn’t complain about how many amazing sights we saw. Even beyond the amazing sights, the sleep deprived comments at the back of the bus and the crazy stuff we did at the hotels were some of the most memorable moments of the tour.
I didn’t realize how much I had missed Istanbul when I was gone until I came back. I was happy to see the traffic again, passing my school made me smile, and seeing bus 48 pass our car on the way home made me think “that’s MY bus.” Istanbul is no longer a big city that I live in, it’s my home and I’ve fallen in love with the little things. I can’t imagine how much I’ll miss it when I come home to my small city of 50,000 people.
My return date has really been looming over me recently as well. The past half of my exchange have gone by way faster than I ever thought it would, and I can’t believe I’ve been here 5 months. I actually have to book my flight home soon, and when I got the email I just closed it and pretended I didn’t read it. Yes, I’m excited to go to college and to start the next phase of my life, but I still don’t want this incredible year to end so fast. I know I’ll be absolutely devastated when I say goodbye to these amazing people.
I’ll update you all soon on the next few months of my exchange, probably late as always
-Cameron; alternatively spelled Camayran, or Cem if I’m in Starbucks because that’s easier to write on the cups
What I’ve figured out about Turkey so far
The difference between living in a foreign country and just visiting it is that you get the chance to delve into the culture instead of just scratching the surface. When surrounded by so much that’s different, it’s only natural to try to figure it out and make yourself aware of the cultural differences. After being here 5 months, I feel like I’ve realized a lot of these differences, and in this post I’ll highlight some that I’ve noticed. Sidenote: I’ve exaggerated these for your enjoyment, so remember I say everything here with love and sarcasm
- Turkish food itself is a good enough reason to come visit
- Baklava is the sweetest dessert I’ve ever had and that is why I love it
- Turkish yogurt isn’t just a snack, but also a drink, condiment, lifestyle, and topping for anything.
- Turks put yogurt on everything – beans, meat, their newborn children, their cars, etc.
- Turkish people drink an average of 7 cups of tea every day (Turkish çay is the best tea ever!)
- Their spoons are bigger than my face – there’s nothing in between a tea spoon and soup spoon
- I can get döner or kebab on the streets for about a dollar (And I haven’t gotten food poisoning!)
- If you turn over your turkish coffee cup, you can have your fortune read from the leftovers! I’ve even learned how to read people’s fortunes and I think it’s really cool. One time they told me I’d find love in 3 months…it’s been 4 months and I’m still single…
- Traditional Turkish food is incredible: Adana kebab, döner, mantı, pide….how have I not gained weight?
- Everything is accessible by public transportation – it’s easy to use and super efficient*
- Spending 2+ hours in traffic is completely normal.
- Busses are completely full with people, so much that my bus sometimes gets stuck going uphill
- (Sidenote: if you’ve ever wanted to see 50 aggressive animals push their way onto a bus, it’s called bus 48E during rush hour)
- The only way to cross the street in cases is to J-walk. Imagine a real life “Crossy Road.”
- If I had a dollar for every time I almost got hit by a car, I’d be able to pay for an American college education.
- The busses are so crowded and hot that you could take off the majority of your clothes and nobody would notice (I have yet to test this theory)
- Busses and metros are extremely cheap: around 60 cents usually. (Take that, Denmark!)
- Metrobus is magical – these are busses that have their own lane and can drive fast through traffic; these can also can be built anywhere a metro track can’t be built. Brilliant, right? (I can only assume Mrs. Frizzle’s Magic School Bus is also a Metrobus)
- There are 140 malls in Istanbul, many of which are 3-6 stories tall.
- I actually live close to Europe’s largest mall, Cevahir. It’s the 9th largest in the world, and the Mall of America is the 39th largest.
- If I showed my Turkish friends La Crosse’s “Valley View Mall” they would laugh all the way back to Istanbul.
- I recently visited one of the “small” malls in Istanbul…it was still 10 floors tall.
- You can get fake and cheap stuff at bazaars – watches, namebrand shoes, scarves, anything!
- Koton is like a Turkish H&M and it’s my favorite store…3 dollar shirts? Yes please.
- Everything is based off exams – no homework, just a lot of high-pressure exams
- We have an hour long break to eat lunch, but they normally get done eating in 5 minutes
- The amount of drama and gossip at my school makes Mean Girls seem like nothing. I’ve actually had scheduled gossip sessions with friends before, and I’ve had a fair share of rumors spread around the school about me
- If a Turk goes abroad for college, they have to go to one of the top 500 schools worldwide. Therefore all my friends are aiming for Harvard, Parsons, etc.
- You can buy toast “Karisik” at school. Take notes, Central High School
- Turks always cancel, so if you want to make a plan, you have to do it 2 days beforehand…not any later or sooner.
- If a turkish person is feeling too hot, instead of taking off their sweater they will open a window and make everyone else cold #Stopturks2k16
- Turks are extremely warm people, even to strangers. They always want to make you feel at home and will feed you the amount an elephant would eat in a month to make sure you feel welcome.
- The sellers in Grand Bazaar and on the streets are just annoying, I have to put in headphones to block out the buyurunbuyurunbuyurunbuyurun of the city
- Everyone helps each other out on the busses/public transportation (IE. letting old people and children sit, holding bags for other people if there’s no room, etc.)
(You can basically wear whatever you want, so it’s hard for me to pin Turkish fashion)
Turkish men’s fashion comes in 3 different flavors:
- European Fashion Model
- Totally 2008 golfer ™
- “I only wear tight sweatpants because they’re trendy now”
There you go, my observations of Turkish culture! Hopefully you enjoyed reading it. Feel free to comment below if there’s any other things I’ve missed.
-Cameron (Alternatively spelled Camayran but never Kamuran)
(Yes, I’m still alive! I’m uploading this a bit late – this is a summary I wrote a month ago about my experiences in November and December here in Istanbul.)
Okay, let’s be honest…it’s been way too long since I’ve updated my blog and I need to get on that more often. No news is good news, right? Well basically everything has been beyond perfect so I haven’t felt the need to post much. Normally, the time period between November and December is considered the “low-point” of the year for an exchange student. (There’s books on this – people have it down to a science) But for me, my November and December have been my best months so far!
To start out with, I really have to give a huge shout out to all my amazing friends at school. I have to say, my first few days at Hisar school were a bit rough to say the least, but once I got to know people, it’s been wonderful being at school. Just walking around the school I always have people who stop me in the hallways to talk, and outside of school I have friends to hang out with. I haven’t even been to school for 3 months yet, and I really feel like I’m a part of Hisar. It’s definitely weird/cool that I’m graduating with them this year – I feel like I’ve missed a lot, since they’ve all been together for 13 years and I’ve just been here a few months, but it’s cool too to still feel like a part of their last year.
During this period, one of my exchange friends that I met in Denmark, Abi, visited Istanbul with her Dad. She actually lives in Minnesota, so it’s crazy it took us this long to meet up, on the other side of the world. It was super fun to show them around the city I’ve come to love, even if I almost got them lost a few times, and it was beyond wonderful to see her again.
I’ve really been enjoying exploring Istanbul, and crossing items off my bucket list for this year. One day, my exchange friends and I went to Grand Bazaar after language school, where I found a Danish person doing surveys of tourists(!!) FINALLY, I found 5 minutes worth of use for my Danish in Istanbul! Afterwards the exchange students and I found a cafe with an incredible view of Istanbul, where we could drink hot chocolate with Hagia Sofia on one side, Sultan Ahmet on one side, and the Bosphorus Strait on the other. That turned out to be one of the best days of my exchange so far! Another weekend, my exchange Kaya and I found this amazing place called “Büyük Valide Han” in Eminönü, and even though we thought a man in an alley saying “terrace, 1 lira, very beautiful” was very sketchy, the view turned out to be amazing! Another day, a few friends and I walked to Ortakoy mosque from Taksim, and coincidentally ran into one of my teachers from school on the way. In a city of almost 20 million people, I’m still always reminded that it’s not as big as I think.
Unfortunately I’m done with language school, and my turkish is still needs a lot of work. It really varies on the situation and day, but I can at least hold a basic conversation and understand what’s going on around me!
After my friend Eran’s insisting, I signed up to be one of the photographers at our school’s JMUN conference. I was really lucky to meet not only tons of people from my school, but people from around Turkey, Egypt, Britain, and more. The 4 days of the conference were my best days in Turkey so far – I really got to know some amazing people at my school, and I’m looking forward to getting to know the people I met this weekend more.
I also got to participate in the school’s Christmas Concert, which was a wonderful chance for me to perform and meet other people who are into music. I got to sing a duet of “Last Christmas” with the orchestra and choir backing, and perform “All of Me” with one of the school’s alumni playing piano. It was really fun, even though I was slightly confused about why we were doing a concert for a holiday that doesn’t actually exist in this country.
I think the most amazing moments for me were when I realized how much of a family I have here – both my host family and my exchange student family have done so much to make me happy here. For Thanksgiving, my host family made a Thanksgiving Dinner for me, complete with turkey, potatoes, and a turkish pumpkin dessert. (Before you make the joke, yes. I ate Turkey in Turkey) I got to share one of my favorite holidays with my host family, a friend from school, and two Brazilian exchange students. I can’t explain how happy it made me that everyone pitched in to give me an amazing day on a holiday that I would have otherwise missed.
It was also a bit odd to not have Christmas this year – Turkey is a muslim country and therefore celebrating Christmas isn’t common…just the superficial stuff like Christmas decorations in shopping malls. (Ironically, St. Nicholas is actually from Turkey) Throughout this time, I actually missed Denmark more than the US, since I spent the past 2 years in Denmark for Christmas. I missed pebernødder and ris a la mande and I was very tempted to just buy a plane ticket and go there for the 24th.
However, my exchange friends made a sort of Christmas for ourselves, and it was at this moment we realized that we’re a family too. At the beginning of the month, the exchange students made ourselves a Christmas party, where we traded “Santa Santa” gifts. On Christmas Eve we went to a neighborhood famous for its Christmas Decorations and then found a church that was singing Christmas carols. On Christmas Day, we went to a cafe to drink Salep (A turkish winter drink that tastes like Christmas) and ate chestnuts roasted on an open fire. Rotary also organized a few Christmas and New Years parties for the exchange students as well, which were also really fun! Thanksgiving, Christmas Eve and Christmas Day turned out to be some of my best days so far, because I spent them with people I loved.
There’s the summary of my first 4 months! It’s crazy that 4 months have already passed by – not does this mean my apple music free trial is almost over but also that my exchange is close to being half-way done. I love everyone here so much and I really don’t want this year to end! I’m excited for the upcoming tour across Turkey and I’m excited to see everything this year brings me.
I can’t even believe that I’ve been here for 2 months now. I think it’s time to answer the question everyone has: How’s life in Turkey?
It’s freaking incredible, that’s what it is.
I can’t even put into words how incredible the city of Istanbul is…I can honestly say that it is the most amazing city I’ve ever been to in my life (which is saying a lot considering the cities I’ve been to in the past few years!) Being able to meet up with friends at 5 story malls, bazaars or stunning mosques is unbelievable. Nothing is cooler than texting your friend asking which continent we should hang out in today.
I still can’t believe how lucky I’ve been. I have an amazing host family, am making great school friends, and I’ve become extremely close with the other 18 exchange students. I know that every day I’m making incredible memories and making lifelong friendships.
My Turkish language is coming along well for being here 2 months. I can now get around the city and take a taxi while using Turkish. In fact, a taxi driver thought I had been in Turkey for a year because of my Turkish. Is Turkish harder than Danish? Definitely, but I’m working hard to study it. Being on a second exchange has made me more motivated and more capable of learning Turkish, and I can easily say that I’m better at Turkish in 2 months than I was at Danish. I have language school twice every week, so I’m definitely improving. As of recently, I’m actually starting to understand what people around me are saying (so by the end of November I wouldn’t recommend talking about me in Turkish in front of me!)
School has made a 360 for me and it has been going great! I’m getting the chance to talk to more and more people in my school, and I really appreciate when they invite me out to lunch or hang out. I got to give a presentation in front of my class fully in Turkish, which was very out of my comfort zone but was great to do! I have just been cast as the lead male role in our school musical – I’ll be playing the Captain (father) in The Sound of Music!! I’ve been attending drama club and I’m enjoying getting back into acting, which is something I haven’t done much of since middle/elementary school.
It is definitely an interesting time to be living in Turkey to say the least. The bombing in Ankara was an absolute tragedy and it definitely shook up a lot of things having to do with my exchange. Much of Istanbul was worried about the possibility of a bombing in Istanbul, so to be cautious I was advised to stay away from crowded areas in the center of Istanbul. Rotary postponed our events and our language classes until after elections. In fact, Turkey even postponed Daylight Savings until after elections which actually makes no sense at all.
In the past few weeks I’ve been staying at home more, but now that the elections are over it definitely feels safe to go into the city. Rotary has kept me busy with the events Rotary planned for us, such as our bowling night, Istanbul historical tour, Halloween Party, etc. Last week I went to a walk/parade around my city of Göktürk for Turkey’s Republic Day. Walking with hundreds of people with Turkish flags really made me feel pride for my host country. As much as the US and Denmark, Turkey is becoming my home too.
-Cameron, alternatively spelled Camayran
P.S. I’d love to hear about what questions you guys have for me and would love to do a Q and A post. You can ask me questions anonymously about Turkey and my exchange on ask.fm/camayran
I really enjoyed having 4 and a half months between my American High School graduation and the first day of school – I think that’s the longest I’ve went without being in school since before pre-school.
Since I’m on exchange with Rotary, it’s technically a “high school” exchange even though I’m doing it as a gap year. This means I’ll be spending the rest of the year at a high school, getting to have a second senior year. (Luckily, grades don’t matter since I’ve already graduated, but I’ll still study while I’m here.) It’s crazy for me to be going to high school in a third country, after spending 3 years in the US, 1 year in Denmark, and now a year in Turkey. I’m attending a private school called “Hisar Okullari” which actually is an Elementary School, Middle School, and a High school combined. The students of the elementary and middle school have to wear uniforms, but luckily I don’t have to.
To be honest, my first two days of school were a bit shocking to me. The school was Hogwarts and I was Harry Potter, the chosen one! Under the invisibility cloak. Seriously, it was like my class couldn’t see me. Aside from the friends I already had made before school, basically nobody talked to me, looked at me, or acknowledged my existence. I was really caught off guard because Turkish people are usually extremely friendly people, and I expected people to at least ask my name or say hello. My exchange friends reassured me that this was normal and that it would get better with time. Luckily, since then it has gotten 10000x better, and now I’m making friends with some really great people in my class and grade! I now understand that these people have went to school with each other for 10 or more years, so it’s natural that they wouldn’t let me in right away. I really think this is going to be a great school year and I think there’s a potential for me to make some life-long friends.
As for my courses, I’m in the Turkish-Math track, which means I have a lot of math classes and Turkish literature. Half of my classes are in Turkish and the other half are in English (since many students plan on going to University in an English speaking country). In the classes I don’t understand, I spend time studying Turkish. We have a different schedule for each weekday, consisting of 4-5 classes. I even get to go home early on Wednesdays and Fridays! For my electives I’m taking drawing and music (we’re learning Bohemian Rhapsody!) They also scheduled 70 minutes into my Tuesday schedule for me to just play piano in a practice room, which is wonderful since I don’t have a piano at home. I really like my schedule (apart from sports class of course) and I think it is a perfect fit for me!
Also school lunch is delicious…we get döner and other great turkish foods in the cafeteria. We even get ice cream sandwiches on Thursdays – Michelle Obama may not approve, but I certainly do!
I also tried out for the school musical, The Sound of Music and they want to give me the part of Rolf (!!) so I’ll have to see if it fits into my schedule.
Anyways, that’s my update on my first week of school. I’m really excited for everything coming up this year and I’ll make sure to keep updating my blog.
(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
As I sit here packing (Okay, let’s be honest…as I sit here thinking “wow, I probably should start packing now”) I can’t help think about how crazy this is and how crazy I must be. If you would have told me 3 years ago that I would be going on not only one exchange to Denmark, but a second exchange to Turkey, I would have thought you were crazy.
Yes, you heard me right – I’ve been lucky enough to be a Rotary Youth Exchange student a second time and go on a year-long exchange to Istanbul, Turkey. In the Rotary world, I’m the rarity they call a “yo-yo” because I went out on exchange to Denmark, came back to the US, and am going out on exchange again. If you can’t picture that, just think of a rapper saying “yo” a few times and that’ll make me sound cooler.
After lots of waiting, more waiting, and a lack of patience on my part (sorry, parents!) I have finally received my flight information. I’ll be leaving out of Minneapolis on Sunday, August 30th.
I’ll be living in Göktürk, a suburb of Istanbul – I’ve heard it isn’t too far away from the center of the city by bus. Istanbul has a population of 15 million people…this is slightly bigger than my Danish city of Ryslinge, which has under 1,500 people. I’ll be living with one host family for the whole year. I’ve talked with them on Skype and Whatsapp and they seem fantastic! I’ll be living with two host parents and a host brother who is the same age as me. I also have a host sister who will be in Taiwan while I’m at her house. I’m very excited to live with them and experience culture through their lifestyle. I’ll be attending a bilingual school taught in half English and half Turkish that’s actually based off American curriculum…luckily my classmates will speak English, so I’ll be able to get by before I’m fluent in the language.
For those of you who don’t know much about Turkey, here’s a bit of information:
- Turkey is partly in Europe and partly in Asia (Istanbul straddles the Bosporus Strait)
- 82 Million people live in Turkey
- They speak Turkish, which used to be written in Arabic script 100 years ago but is now written in Latin alphabet
- 99.8% of the country’s population is Muslim
- Istanbul is Turkey’s largest city, with 15 million people
- The capital of Turkey is Ankara, not Istanbul
- Turkey borders Bulgaria, Greece, Syria, Iraq, Iran, Armenia, and Georgia
- Turkish food is supposedly amazing (I.E. kebab, baklava, döner, etc.)
I can’t even begin to explain how excited I am to arrive – I’m so ready to live in the country I’ve only dreamed of visiting. I can’t decide what I’m most excited for: meeting my host family, seeing the architecture, or eating the food It almost doesn’t seem real…I leave the country in 5 days and it still feels no different than planning to go to a movie or to the grocery store. I’m sure it’ll hit me eventually, in the form of sending lots of panicked Snapchats. Until then, I suppose it’s time to start packing!