Update: First 4 months in Turkey
(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.