Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Türkiye'ye Hoşgeldiniz!

I can't believe we've already been here for over a month! After an overnight orientation in New York, we arrived in Turkey on September 7th. We then had an orientation in Istanbul, followed by a short visit to Ankara, and now we're in our host cities!


This is the orientation held for all AFS students immediately prior to departure. Not all the orienations are at the same time (some year programs leave in July, some leave in September) so the only other YES Abroad students at this orientation were the five going to Ghana. It was great getting to see them one more time before we left, especially since the rest of the orientation wasn't the most exciting. At the gateway you basically have a few hours of sessions about culture shock, safety, etc. and then the next day you get on your flight to your host country. The best part of the orientation was the cultural resource session. Each country group got together with a returnee from that country to ask questions and talk about daily life, cultural differences, and any other questions or concerns we might have. Our "cultural resource" was Amber, a YES Abroad returnee from the first year of the program ('09-'10). It was really helpful to be able to ask any questions that we had last minute, especially so we could still remember them once we got to Turkey. (It was a good way to reinforce anything we might have forgotten from the PDO in June) The only downside to any cultural resource like this, however, is that it can only be so accurate. Amber's experience was from her year with two different families in the western coastal city of Çanakkale, which we have found to be slightly different from Kayseri and our families. Most differences are small and haven't actually affected our overall experience, but it just proves that you should try not to have too many expectations (good or bad) when you go on an exchange.

Sarah and Emily (Ghana), me, Lydia (Ghana), and Hana
Sarah and Emily (Ghana), me, Lydia (Ghana), and Hana

Miranda was super excited to check in for our flight at JFK.

Once we got to Istanbul we had another week of orientation. This time it was much more laid back and fun, and it was a good way to adjust to being in Turkey before going to our cities. Upon arrival at the airport, we had to say goodbye to Ian, Alec, and Jonathan (the other AFSers from the US going to Turkey) and we were taken in a minibus to our hotel.
Ruby and Linnie at baggage claim in Istanbul
The first night there, the hotel AFS normally uses was full, so we stayed in one a few minutes away and moved to the other hotel the next morning. The second hotel was really interesting- the architecture was a strange mix of a retro main building with some traditional Turkish accents, modern American-looking additions, and log cabin guest houses, and the grounds were expansive enough that they also functioned as a farm. There were at least five llamas, two or three peacocks, twenty peahens, one rooster, two ponies, and about fifty rabbits running around outside.
My balcony was the choice nighttime roosting spot for the peackocks.

During the week we spent here, we did all sorts of different activities. There was the intensive language course that we had for six hours a day, taught by the head of the Turkish department at TÖMER, the best language school in the country.

Olivia and Ruby doing a dialogue exercise in class.
Then there were the occasional AFS sessions, where we would talk about Turkish culture, daily life, safety and program rules, and whatever else we needed to discuss. And when we weren't in class or a group meeting, at a meal, or sleeping, we could hang out around the hotel (in our rooms, in the pool, on huge beanbag cushions in the garden) follow the animals around trying to feed the ponies and llamas pears that had fallen off on of the trees, study Turkish, or whatever else we felt like doing (within reason, of course).

Playing pool (I discovered a hidden talent of mine).
Playing on the swings.
Group photo! (Top row l-r: Hana, Deniz, Samet, Miranda,
Ruby, Bridget; Middle: Linne, Olivia; Bottom: me)


On our final day in İstanbul, we had to get up at around 4:30 to catch a bus to Ankara. Once we arrived in Ankara we had a little down time at the hotel, got our cellphones, and then went to the US Embassy for a short visit. There we met Duke from the security team, Deniz, and Stephanie, the deputy cultural attaché at the embassy. Our conversation with them consisted of some safety/security tips from Duke, information about the embassy's role in our program, and asking any questions we may have had for them.
After leaving the embassy we headed to Ataturk's mausoleum. Here we got to see a museum containing artifacts from Ataturk's entire life, as well as his tomb (or rather, the memorial above where he is buried; his actual tomb is in a secured room that you can only see on a video screen in the museum).

Later that evening we saw Stephanie again when she hosted us for dinner at her house. We got to try some more Turkish food, and we met our Foreign Service mentors for this year. Each one of us has been matched with a Foreign Service officer who is there to answer any questions we might have about the Foreign Service and what it's like living and working in Turkey, and for have as a minor support thought the year (in addition to AFS staff, volunteers, and other US Embassy officials). It was great that this had been arranged for us as it's not a part of the YES Abroad program, and I had been considering joining the Foreign Service at some point. I got to talk with my mentor about preparation before joining (e.g. the exam and the school of foreign service at Georgetown) and what it's like once you are accepted (training and postings).
The next day we visited the Turkish parliament and got to see the general assembly chamber. After this we said goodbye to the Antep group as they left for the airport, and the three of us went with a couple AFS volunteers to two museums and Ankara castle since our flight was later in the evening.
Turkish parliament
Ankara castle

We arrived in the Kayseri airport after our short flight and took a taxi straight to the hotel where we would meet our families for the first time. When they all arrived, we had dinner at the hotel's restaurant. After dinner, Hana, Miranda, and I hugged for what we thought would be the last time for a while (turns out our families are friends and get together fairly regularly) and said goodbye as we all headed to our new homes.
Getting on the flight to Kayseri!
Meeting our families for the first time!

The first week was incredible, fantastic, amazing, wonderful ( get the picture) and so much fun, and since then my time here has only gotten better. I am absolutely loving my life here- school is fairly enjoyable (yet tiring) even though it's in a language I don't fully understand yet, I love my family, my friends are great, I'm learning so much about everything, and my Turkish is improving every day.