Thursday, August 14, 2014

Here's Where the Story Ends

Well, I figure I should give a conclusion to my incredibly up-to-date top-of-the-line blog. 

This year, has been a year unlike any other, and as cheesy and obvious as that sounds I really can't reiterate enough how true it is. Never again in my life will I have a year surrounded by the unknown, a new language, a new family, a new culture, a new country. There wasn't a single thing I knew about the year before it happened, and you simply can't replicate that in any other setting. I had a year without things that I considered to be a part of me, and I had to find out who I was without them. It was the one opportunity in my life where I was given a completely blank slate and could make out of it what I wanted. Sure there were parts I could've done better, but there were definitely parts I could've done worse, and if you don't make any mistakes in life you never get a chance to learn. 

It's really hard to sum up a year in one blog post, so I'm keeping this one short, but thank you to all of you who continued to check up on this blog months after I stopped posting anything and supporting me throughout my entire time in Turkey. I have so many people to thank for being where I'm at today and having the opportunities I've had in my incredibly short lifetime so far. I'm anxious to see where life takes me, but I want to make sure that I never focus so much on the future that I forget what's right in front of me.

Thanks for everything Turkey. I love you and I will miss you dearly.

Her şey için teşekkurler Türkiye. Seni seviyorum ve seni çok ozleceğim.

Sunday, February 2, 2014

Fix You

Still no luck with fixing the computer, so to start off, sorry about the pictures folks.

January was a pretty chill month.  The kids in my class were studying very hard for their exams at the end of the semester, but since they were all in Turkish I was allowed to be excused during exam week at school.  Luckily, my friend Quinn was excused as well so we were able to take the week off.  Our initial plan to set up a daily tour for ourselves to see more of the city failed miserably, and we basically ended up doing the same old things we usually do.  Though we did find an incredibly delicious restaurant.  

After a rotary meeting that week where I gave my presentation about the US, we noticed hockey players in the lobby.  It turns out there was a conference in Izmir that week that high school age students from around the world were playing hockey against each other. There were teams from New Zealand, South Africa, Mexico, Belgium, and many more.  Since Quinn is about as Canadian as you can get, she was practically jumping off the wall at an opportunity to actually watch hockey in Izmir.  The game was actually really fun to watch, and being some of the only girls (and along with that being blonde) in the stadium, we were kind of the stars of the jumbo-tron that day.

After that weekend I switched families and now live in an area of Izmir called Guzelbahce which is in a land far far away from the main part of Izmir.  This means that when I want to meet up with people, I'll have to take a hour and a half long bus ride, but that's a very small cost for the amazing family that I've been put in.  I have a sister named Egemen who went on exchange to the US in Washington state last year and a younger 12 yr. old brother named Baris.  The whole family is very nice and active, and I also find my Turkish is improving because my parents don't know as much English as my last family, and Egemen's always helpful with teaching me Turkish and insisting to other people that I'll understand if they speak slowly, since most people want to give up the second I have difficulties, which is often.

During the semester break my family is going on a trip outside of Izmir.  We left this past Saturday and went to Kutahya, where my host dad's parents live.  It's famous for it's porcelain plates and designs, so I simply had to get a few souvenirs from there.  The next day we all left for Eskisehir, which is about 40 minutes from Kutahya to stay with my host dad's brother.  I've been having a great time seeing more of Turkey with my family.
Some Turkish candy that was very good (I should really be better about remembering the names of Turkish food)

A new miniature disneyland in the making at Eskisehir
We were able to see some really neat art exhibitions
During the rest of our trip we'll be going to Istanbul, then skiing in Bulgaria! I'm so excited and grateful to have an opportunity to go to a new country during my exchange.

I also have recently heard about the new outbounds from my home district getting their country assignments, and it brought back such flashbacks! Waiting all day for that call, where would I go, I don't care, I just want to know, then being so excited that it was Turkey! Then realizing crap, what do I know about Turkey? I literally don't know how to say anything in Turkish. Then to have come to hear, where I'm almost half way through my exchange. at a slow conversational level of Turkish. I can't even begin to describe how fast time flies.

*On a side note, my cello, FINALLY came in the mail, 2 days before we left for a trip, but I'm glad that it won't be a literal year long break from my instrument.

*On a more depressing side note my magical number is 5, the amount of kilos I've gained since coming here. Yikes. Hopefully everybody back home is right about how they'll simply fall off as soon as you come back home. That would be very helpful.

Sunday, January 5, 2014

Home for the Holidays

Hello fellow readers!

I'm sorry about the wait I've been putting you through in the way of blog posts.  In the first two weeks of December my computer stopped working, and then by the time it did start working again, I thought it'd be easiest to do just one big holiday post.

It's been quite odd going through the holiday's with nowhere near the amount of festivities as back home, but it's been quite an enjoyable holiday season.  I'm also sad to say that this blog post will be lacking in pictures because for some reason my computer won't let me add pictures and while I'm hoping to fix it in the near future I think my mother will murder me if I put off this post for any longer.  

So now it's time to present;
(no drum roll is necessary, but it might add more dramatic effect)

My week of Christmas!

December 22nd

In the morning all the exchange students went to have breakfast at one of the exchange student's (Quinn) friend's (Kaan's) apartment.  We were able to have waffles, pancakes, and fruit with the roquettes Christmas Album playing in the background.  During the breakfast the Canadians and I had a bit of a maple syrup war.  We did a blind test with Canadian maple syrup and Wisconsin maple syrup.  So far it's a tie, but we only had two participants, so that contest will be continued later.. After breakfast we had a bit of a game day including BS, Egyptian Ratscrew, and then we taught everyone how to play spoons. We're hoping to have more game days in the future.

December 23rd

All of the exchange students were invited to a rotary event in Alsancak.  We had absolutely no idea what this event would be like, but when we entered and saw how much food there was, we knew it would be ok.  I also ran into a girl from school who I met at my hiking club. We were snacking and talking and then an hour later they started playing some music and opened up the dance floor.  For the rest of the night all of us were dancing and having an awesome time.  It was our first chance to actually dance in Turkey so I enjoyed it very much.  Because of how late the even went I was able to have Mallory sleepover and it was nice to have my first sleepover in Turkey as well!  (All photos in this post are thanks to other people's facebook accounts.)

Us trying to do a Turkish dance (that's my schoolfriend on the left and Mallory on the right)

December 24th

In the morning I was allowed to stay home and Mallory and I went to meet Benjamin (he came from Bodrum for Christmas) at Ege Park.  We were able to talk which was nice since we never get to see him, and then met up with Elizabeth who came back to my house to get ready for our Christmas dinner.  We went out to Guzelbahce which is an area in the far outskirts of Izmir where I'll be staying next semester.  We were all invited to a Rotarian's house and we were able to have a very nice dinner with Turkey and everything!  We met a lot of nice people that we'll hopefully get to see again.  My voice was absolutely awful as well, (that morning I had to write notes to Banu to try and talk to her) but I took comfort in the fact that when you sound like a dying donkey people are much more likely to laugh at your jokes.

December 25th

Banu told me I should invite some of my friends over for a Christmas Brunch.  They came over at around 11 and we had Christmas music playing in the background.  Throughout the dinner, we made a little video for Emily, the only exchange student who wasn't in Izmir for Christmas, and decided that we'll be doing an exchange version of the Dundees.  It was a very nice and relaxing meal, and after we were done and relaxing on the patio Banu gave us all little gifts, which was so sweet.  We all got New Year's socks and underwear (yes dad, I got my Christmas underwear!) and little accessories.  She gave me a nice gray shirt as well.  We then made a video for Eda (my host sister currently in Portland) taken by Elizabeth who's from Portland, and gave all our advice and talked about what to expect if you're coming to Turkey.  It was really nice to just let out everything we've been thinking.  I really hope those who watch it enjoy it.

December 26th

After school my class had a dinner at a restaurant in Konak.  It was nice to have a dinner as a class and in the middle my teacher said "Sarah, give a speech!"  I must've looked surprised, then she added "All you do is sit in class you can at least give a little speech!"  the accuracy of this statement made me laugh and then I got up to the head of the room and gave a surprisingly successful impromptu.  After I sat down a girl in my class named Berfin stood up and gave a little speech saying how she how there have been many exchange students in the past but by far she thought I was one of the nicest.  This was followed by unanimous "yes" by the rest of the class.  She then went on to say many more nice things and I was simply so grateful and happy to be put in a class with such amazing people.  

One of the hardest things about going to a new school is the fact that you're literally going somewhere where everybody has had the same friends for years and here you are just getting thrown in the middle of all of it, and yet somehow they're willing to open up their groups and make you feel like you've always been a part of them.  I've met people here that I hope I'll be able to stay in contact with long after I leave and I couldn't be more thankful.

December 27th

After school I went home with Egemen (my second host sister) and made Christmas cookies.

Aren't they beautiful?
December 28th

We went to language courses as usual and then afterwards we did an audition for a dance they want the exchange students to do.  The Rotarians wished that all the students could be part of it, but apparently it'd be way too expensive.  We didn't actually realize that these were auditions until the end when they called eight of us up and said "You are the qualified ones" (and yes that is how they said it.)  I was very happy I got in.  When it comes to dancing to actual dance/party music, I'm still one of the most awkward ones you can get, but if you tell me exactly what you want me to do and on what beat, I'm alright!  

The dancers!
After we were all aware that there was a concert we were supposed to go to, but where it was, how we were getting there, when it started, was unknown amongst all of us.  So we had a bit of a frantic experience trying to figure that all out, but in the end all was well and it was a very nice piano performance.

In conclusion,

Even though this wasn't one of my most festive Christmas experiences, it was honestly one of my best weeks of exchange yet.  The longer I stay here the more and more I feel like this is home, and already I'm dreading that day when I'll have to leave, but I try not to think about it too much.

I'll try and be better about blogging more often, and as soon as I can figure out the issue with pictures I'll make sure to put a post with some of my pictures from the past month. Hope you all had a lovely holiday and a happy new year!  

May you be one of the 8% who actually continue with their resolutions.

Until next time! 

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Istanbul not Constantinople

You simply don't get too many opportunities in your lifetime to be in two continents at the same time.  It's a shame, but luckily I got the chance to do just that this last weekend.  Our trip started on a Friday, and the wonderful time of 1:30 a.m.  I stayed up planning to get sleep on the bus, but then ended up not sleeping on the bus either.  I really should have known myself better than that.  We started the trip off singing random songs "Sweet Dreams are Made of This" "Bohemian Rhapsody" and all those other goodies.  I should clarify that "we" was about six or seven of us in the back of the bus that were probably ticking off every other person who wasn't singing at the time.  But that's what car trips are all about right?  Singing and annoying people?  Maybe I've been raised wrong.  After about a half hour of that we settled down and divvied up into our sections of the bus.  We finally arrived to Istanbul at about 11:00 in the morning and started sight-seeing immediately.  You really couldn't have asked us to look more touristy than we did at that moment.  We were all in slouchy bus clothes because we thought we were going to stop at the hotel before seeing everything, and we were a huge pack of foreigners, most of us carrying backpacks.  The only thing that could have made it worse would be a fanny pack.

I'm really not going to try and describe the sights we saw, they were just too incredible for words.  Over the course of the weekend I also had the delight of meeting up with a friend I made from the Central States rotary conference who is on exchange currently in Istanbul. We went for waffles and had a chance to talk about how each of our exchanges is going. Hopefully we'll be able to meet again when the kids from Istanbul come to Izmir to visit Ephesus and the Virgin Mary.

We had a great time in Istanbul, and I really hope I get another chance to go there throughout the course of my year.
Our first view of Istanbul

The Hagia Sophia

The Harem at Topkapi Palace, in which the Sultan's wives, concubines, and Eunichs were kept

The Harem was built of at least 400 rooms and the wall work was simply stunning

The Biscilica Cistern, and yes, that's water not a shiny floor

Medusa being cursed for having been more beautiful than the gods

The Blue Mosque

The Grand Bazaar! filled with over 4,000 shops and many people who call any group of foreigners walking by "Spice girls"

Beautiful Istanbul

It's been pretty low-key since I arrived back in Izmir, but I feel as if I'm starting to become more of a person of Izmir than just a visitor.  On Thursday I hung out with my Turkish friends for the first time outside of school.  It was my friend Ceren's birthday, so we went to a nice restaurant and then watched "The Ender's Game" (which wasn't all that great, but still fun to make fun of with friends!)  On Saturday I was invited to two more birthday parties after my language courses, sadly, I could only make one.

I've been asked by some if I'm learning the language at a slower rate because of the multitude of people who speak perfect English at my school.  To answer that, I've been learning Turkish just as well as all the other exchange students, but it is true that if I went to a different school I might be better at the language at this point.  However, I've come to realize that I'm willing to make the sacrifice of learning the language at a bit slower rate if that means I can make better friends in the long run because we can actually understand one another.  I am still working very hard and diligently to learn the language though.

Yesterday and today I had dinner with some of the other exchange students.  I love getting together with other exchange students because 1) they understand more than anyone what you're going through during this whole process and 2) they're way more open to intellectual and meaningful conversations than most people I know.  

At the moment I'm feeling incredibly content.  I'm finally finding a balance between my Turkish and exchange friends, and the amount of time I should spend at home compared to going out.  I'm learning the language more and more every day, and I'm really starting to believe I'll get to a fairly conversational point within the next few months.  I'm also hoping I'll be getting a musical gift in the mail sometime soon, so I may finally be able to play the cello again!

Monday, November 4, 2013

What Does the Fox Say?

Cumhuriyet Bayrami Kutlu Olsun! is Happy Independence Day!  This year was the 90th anniversary of Turkey's "Cumhuriyet."  Last Saturday we all had our first official Turkish class. It was a bit of a downer for me because I basically already knew everything we learned in our first lesson.  It's still good to review, but I'm looking forward to the next classes in which I know I'll learn more.  However, we have to wait a while, because the next weekend we had a conference, the weekend after that (this weekend!) we're going to Istanbul, and the weekend after that, we're going to Bodrum, and then we'll have our next Turkish lesson.

Afterwards, all of us went to a random cafe, and I had what was definitely the worst milkshake of my entire life.  Some of us then went with Quinn and met some of her friends, and went to this little diner.  I split what was Quinn's first waffle with her, and it was quite the delight.  I'm sure when I measure my exchange weight gain, half of it will be in Turkish waffles.  

On Monday, the day before Independence Day, we had a half day at school that was full of celebrations and ceremonies (and one English test), but after the test we went to the Amphitheater where there was a professional band playing many traditional Turkish songs.  Everybody was singing at the top of their lungs, clapping, waving flags, and hitting balloons.  Even though I didn't know any of the songs, I still had a blast clapping along and trying to catch on to what I could. 

I met back up with Quinn and her friends after school and we went to Forum Bornova (a shopping center nearby).  Quinn and I have long been on the quest to find a purse, because we're both quite sick of looking like the obvious tourist walking around with the bulky backpack.  However, I think because I don't like wearing purses, I have a predisposition to not like any of them, which is not good.

The next day was Independence Day.  All of the exchange students in the near area joined a parade in Alsancak where we walked, waved our flags, dressed full out, and randomly sang the Turkish national anthem (just the melody, of course).  It felt like one of the most "exchange" days to me yet. 
After the parade was over I walked around with some friends, and then at 4 p.m. we met back up with the other exchange students.  We went to the center of Alsancak where thousands of people were meeting and saying a pledge that was banned years ago to make a point against the current government.  In general, most people are not a fan of the current government (at least in the western area) and those who don't like the current government love Ataturk.  Ataturk is adored by everyone here.  You cannot walk five minutes without seeing some poster or statue of him, and I don't think we have any equivalent to that in the U.S.  Ataturk was the man who helped westernize Turkey and separate it's religion from state. 
Zoe and I

This dog was following the soldiers around all day

We stuck around with the other exchange students for a while and took selfies with strangers kind of mocking the fact of how many random people had been taking pictures of us all day.  Everybody took it well and humorously.  

Afterwards we took the ferry back home and Elizabeth, Zoe and I ate at Deniz Park and had what I thought was one of the best pieces of chocolate cake I've ever had.

Wednesday was another half day for me because many student were taking the PSAT during the afternoon.  Because of this I was able to attend a Rotary meeting right after school was over.  After the meeting, I went with Elizabeth to the Bostanli Pazaar (she needed some fruit) and we then met up with Zoe to get some ice cream.  After this Zoe and I walked home (we live very close to each other).  The walk was about a half hour which was very relaxing.  She also had to buy a newspaper because one of the random pictures taken of her on Independence Day was actually in the paper, which we all found quite hilarious.

The next day was Halloween!  It was quite odd not seeing a ton of little children in town dressed up and begging for candy, but some of the girls nearby threw our own little Halloween night where we watched "Hocus Pocus" and ate lots of candy.  We tried taking a country test together as well to see how many countries in the world we could write in 10 minutes and it is a lot harder than you'd expect!  I was so surprised by how little of the African countries we could come up with especially.

On Saturday we finally had our conference in Kusadasi!  It's always so fun when we're able to get together with all of the exchange students.  We first went over all the rules again, nothing much changed there, and then about 6 or 7 of us went swimming.  The water was definitely chilly (yes, even for a Wisconsinite) but that's what made it fun.  We stayed out in the water for a while and then went in to have our "Halloween Dance" I dressed up as "Sarah Bond" a very creative costume in which I did nothing but put on a black coat and sunglasses that I was wearing that day anyway.  The only difference was when people asked who I was I responded "That's classified" (credit to Emily Reid).

The next day we were able to go to Ephesus and The House of the Virgin Mary.  This was our first major trip and I think it was a great way to start off.  We first went to The House of the Virgin Mary, which was quite incredible.  After you exit the house, you're allowed to exit the house and make a prayer with the candle, light it, and put it with all the other candles there have been prayers made upon.  You then proceed to this huge wall of wishes/prayers.  Supposedly when they burn down the papers on the wall all of those wishes/prayers come true.

After this we went to Ephesus.  I think the pictures can be explanation enough.

Because back then it was normal for men to socialize while taking a crap

This was definitely the funnest weekend of my exchange so far.  I'm so excited for the future trips to come!  Here's some more pictures from the weekend for your entertainment. (and for reference if I'm ever listing names it's from left to right)
The Mexicans! Daniela, Pedro A. and Fernanda

My roomates! Mallory (from Canada) and Emily (from U.S.)
Lee! from South Korea

The Americans! Maddie (Missouri), Emily (New York), and Elizabeth (Oregon)
The Brazilians! (top row then bottom) Junior, Mavi, Camille, Bruno, Pedro P., Heloisa, Julia, and Nicolas
The French Man Benjamin!

The whole group!

Quinn showing off her Mexican side

We all decided that this boy is going to become a model