Sunday, December 5, 2010

Kurban Bayramı, Thanksgiving, and the 3 month mark!

First, I want to apologize for not writing in so long. I was on a good streak with posting once a week, but actual life kicked in and everything is becoming habitual and normal since I now have a routine. I have been here for 3 months, tomorrow (!!), and that goes both ways. In some ways I think “wow, I have already been here for 3 months! That is so long!” but then I think “yes! I still have 7 months to go, but ugh! because I still have 7 more months to go.” It is a weird feeling, but I am really happy that I still have 7 more months because I am just starting to really understand the culture and the language, becoming closer to my Turkish friends, and really starting feeling like I belong here in Samsun. I realized a few days ago that now when I go into a supermarket or grocery store I know what to expect and I know where things are located. I have been here long enough that I know what I can and can’t buy, which seems insignificant, but in reality it means that I have been here for a good amount of time already! The only reason I think ugh! I have 7 more months to go is because I realize I wont be going home for 7 months, and back to everything that I know and feel really comfortable with.
In these past 3 months I have really come to realize that I shouldn’t take the little things for granted. On a daily basis, we take so many things for granted that all of the sudden disappear when you go to a foreign country when you speak the language. Have you ever thought about understanding signs, knowing what a menu says, being able to order food, ask for help in a store, knowing what to do when you greet someone on the street, or just being able to understand what people are saying around you when they say your name? When you can’t speak the language all of this is suddenly taken away. Now, I am able to have basic conversations and it is really beneficial. The one thing that I can’t understand though and is extremely frustrating is when people say my name in the middle of a sentence and just keep talking, and then tell you it doesn’t matter what they said because they don’t want to translate it. It is almost as if people are gossiping about you and you have no idea what they are saying; it could be good, but it could be bad, and you honestly have no idea what they are saying. Also, in class at my Turkish school I can’t follow along in classes and get really bored. I always try to pay attention, but at some point your brain just shuts off and everything starts going in one ear and out the other. It is really hard to describe if you haven’t experienced this before, but hopefully you can try to imagine what it is like. My Turkish classmates always say that they are bored and I always want to respond, “If you are bored, imagine how bored I must be! You can at least understand what is being said, because I get nothing!” I love life here though. At times I get really frustrated, but it isn’t anger or sadness, it is just frustration because learning a language takes time and I just want to learn it all right now and not wait!
My classmates 11E
my two homes :)
Now I will tell you about my week of vacation from school after I went to Cappadocia. It was Kurban Bayramı, the sacrificing festivals, in the Muslim religion, and since 97% of Turkey is Muslim we had the week off from school. During that week I spent a lot of time with my host family, and  went to a hamam (a Turkish bath), my host family’s village to visit relatives, a Turkish village wedding, and my Turkish classmate’s birthday party. On Tuesday, which is the main day of the holiday, at 7 am every single male old enough goes to the mosque to pray. Siyami went and when he came back we were all awake to have a large breakfast together. It was really cool to see the groups of men leave the mosque that is right by my house. For the next few days we spent time with Siyami’s family because they live in Samsun. When I first got here, I felt like a guest at my own home and wherever we went, which is completely normal. After a little while I started to feel like this is my home and not like a guest anymore, but when we went to a friend’s or family member’s house I still felt like a guest. Since I have gone to my host father’s family member’s houses a few times now and we always gather together I have started to feel like I belong there and that they are my family. During this week when Almila and Melis got little presents from their aunts and uncles, my host parents always said, “where is Abigail’s? There are 3 girls!” It didn’t bother me at all that I didn’t get little presents, but the important thing that I learned from that was that I really do belong here and everyone is happy to have me part of their family. I can’t really communicate with Siyami’s father because he is really old and doesn’t understand that I don’t know what he is saying, but Siyami’s siblings always try and have conversations with me. I really felt comfortable during that week because we were together a lot.
On Thursday, we went to Siyami’s family’s village to visit his mother’s grave, visit numerous relatives, and attend his cousin’s wedding. Cemeteries in Turkey are extremely different from those in the US that I have seen. They obviously aren’t behind churches, but they aren’t next to mosques either. They are just in little patches of fields, with unkempt grass and plants. There also isn’t much order in them and it seems as though they just dig the graves wherever there is space, not in rows or anything. After, we went to house after house of family members. The people in the village live very simple lives, haven’t traveled much even in within Turkey and don’t understand the concept of an exchange student. That day, I was Almila’s friend to everyone, which was fine with me because that was probably the only day that I will see those people. It was great seeing closer family members after and them truly welcoming me just like they would with Almila or Melis. That evening was the village wedding. The wedding ceremony itself takes place in the newlywed’s parents house, so we didn’t see that but we went to the party afterwards. I think there were about 250-300 people there of all ages; babies all the way to the oldest people in the village. The party was held in a big room with many tables. It was a village wedding so it was very relaxed compared to a big city wedding. We got little pieces of cake and juice boxes, while we chatted. We watched people dance and Melis and I finally joined in. This was interesting because they dance very different here compared to the US and my body just does not move in the way that Turkish people’s do. Luckily I didn’t know anyone and I will never see them again, but it was quite the experience.

the 4 of us in the back of the car...
Bride and Groom dancing
Melis and Me with the bride and groom
dancing... :)
Thanksgiving: This year, my Thanksgiving was unlike any other Thanksgiving I have ever had. On the Thursday of Thankgiving, I had school and ate tomato soup for lunch… I also had a test at TÖMER, so it wasn’t really Thanksgiving. I did make hand Turkeys for the other Americans because I felt like I had to do something. That next Saturday we met up at Lucas’ house to really celebrate Thanksgiving. I made mashed potatoes, Sam made a pumpkin and apple dish that was actually supposed to be sweet potato but tasted fantastic, Lena made an apple pie and a pumpkin pie, and Lucas made the bird and a potato and carrot dish. We ended up having chicken because we were only 7 people with some host siblings, and a turkey was going to be a really big task. It ended up being the perfect amount of food and it was a great meal. We all gave thanks (in Turkish!!) for what we are thankful for and ate almost all the food! It was a great meal because we were together, which is what counts, and because we made all of the food ourselves… that always makes it taste better! Of course the foods had a Turkish twist because of the lack of some ingredients, but it still tasted great!
hand turkeys!!!!
Thanksgiving Dinner :)
attempting to cut the chicken... much harder than it looks!!!

Thanksgiving Deserts
For Christmas we are going to celebrate it together again for 2 reasons: we want to be together, and because only a few people in this country celebrate it. It is a really different experience not being in a country where you get the day off or where the holiday is celebrated, and this goes for Thanksgiving, Halloween, Christmas and other holidays that I can’t think of right now. I have never been happier that Christmas is on a Saturday, but if it wasn’t we would have school… therefore, I am really happy that it falls on the weekend, but at the same time I will have school on Christmas eve. It is a great experience though, especially because I get to celebrate all of the holidays I celebrate in the US the same year that I get to celebrate Muslim holidays, such as Ramadan and Kurban Bayramı. I love it!

Friday, November 19, 2010

Cappadocia/AFS Camp

Last week I spent 5 days at AFS Camp with the other NSLIYers in Turkey. Normally all of the AFS kids in Turkey from all around the world get together, but since I am on a scholarship and some things ate different for me, I had camp with only the year students in Samsun who I see everyday and the semester students in Trabzon who see each other each other every day too. Normal AFSers just see each other at camps if they are in different cities or maybe more often if they are in the same city, but we see each other every day for language class. It was great to see the Trabzoners because although we are two small groups, together we feel like one group. It will be weird when they leave in February and I have AFS Camp with just the Samsuners since I see them a lot anyway. 

As usual, we took the midnight bus from Samsun to Ankara and arrived around 6:15am. From the bus station we got on a minibus, which is a little shuttle bus, with one of our AFS leaders and waited in a parking lot for about an hour outside the airport for the Trabzoners' flight to arrive. Actually, I'm not exactly sure where we waited since I was sleeping and so were Lena, Lucas, and Sam. After they came on the bus, we drove between 4-5 hours to Cappadocia, stopping only once for a bathroom break. On the way there we all chatted and caught up since it had been a while since we had really talked. 

Once we arrived at our destination, the 5 star hotel that we were staying at for the week, we ate a large lunch and were able to rest a little before our first "session." For the next 2.5 days we mostly stayed in the hotel and had many sessions jn the conference room with breaks in between. Since we are only 8 people and we are all native English speakers, the sessions go by much faster and we were always ahead f schedule. When AFS does camps they are held in English because everyone speaks it. Therefore, for our AFS leader he loved having all Americans because it was much easier and he didn't need to explain things such as "stereotyping" which can be very hard if you don't already know what it is. When I say "sessions" it sounds like therapy, but in a way I guess it is a little like it because we felt so refreshed with no pressure at the end of the week. We talked about our childhood, our families (both host families and natural families), culture differences, differences in schools, any problems we have had, along with many other subject along these lines. It was basically about our lives, adjusting, and solving any problems we encounter while in Turkey. In our free time for the fist few days, we chatted a LOT, played soccer, took naps, and just rested. We went into town on Wednesday afternoon since we were ahead of schedule and explored some rock formations and the town. We also went to the hamam (Turkish Bath) at our hotel one night. There were two packages to purchase, and we got the cheaper one. In a normal hamam there are men or women to scrub you and give you a massage, but since the “hamam” at the hotel wasn’t a real hamam and we had bought the cheaper package, we didn’t have anyone to scrub us… so we did it ourselves! There weren’t many people in the hotel hamam so we had the bath part to ourselves, and it was a lot of fun!

The NSLI-Y Group in a Cave
Thursday was our touristy day. We had a tour guide with us all day and we saw all of the sites. There were a ton of tourists everywhere we went, but that was normal because we were tourists too. There are some amazing rock formations and sites to see. I went there last summer and we went to some of the same plats this year, but it was even better the second time around. Look at pictures below:

Danielle, Sam, Lena, and Me
Fairy Chimneys

On Friday, we got up early and left the hotel. Our first stop was to a supermarket where to buy food for the trip, but since AFS was paying we completely filled up on junk food! I mean, it was vacation :). We drove between 4 and 5 hours to Ankara where we had a meeting at the US Embassy again. One of the women who talked with us last time and I guess is in charge of NSLI-Y in Turkey a little met with us again to see how our Turkish had improved, and to see how we were all doing. The best part of the meeting was when she brought in Milky Ways, Starbursts, and Skittles as Halloween candy. Even though in the US I don’t eat much candy, it is weird how much you miss things when they don’t surround you all the time. After the meeting, we took a quick bathroom stop at the AFS Office, and got dinner to eat in the bus. Then we drove to the airport to drop off the Trabzoners before continuing onto Samsun. It took about 6 hours, but it was much better than taking the public coach bus. If we needed to stop to go to the bathroom we were able to and there were so many seats that we were all able to lay down. We also could talk as loud as we wanted, and talk we did for a while. You would think that we have run out of topics to talk about, but surprisingly we always come up with more. Much of it consists of venting, but we are also very positive. If someone were to listen to us they would think that we are very unhappy and are always complaining about our lives here, but we do need to get it out and we are the only ones who truly understand what each other is going though. It is a good method, and it works out really well that not many people can understand us fully. 

Saturday, November 6, 2010

AAL – Atatürk Anadolu Lisesi = my new favorite place

School logo

my class! left to right: our English Teacher, Me, Çağla, Ezgi, Selen, Cansın, ourLiterature Teacher, Methmet, Taha, Erdem, Talha, Taner (hidden), and Umut
I absolutely love going to school because it gives me something to do, I get to practice my Turkish and I get to see my friends! Everyday something new happens and feel as if I am still surprised by so many situations and things that happen! Here are a few of the most interesting:
Every Monday morning the whole school gathers outside and lines up by class. The columns of classes all start on the same line on the ground in the front and are all of different lengths based on how many students are in each class. My class is one of the smallest, and the lines next to us are much longer than mine. I find this quite entertaining. We stand with “at ease” and they we stand straight up with our legs together when the teacher in charge for the morning yells for us to. Then we all state “Sağol!” which means Thank you! After, we all sing the national anthem. I haven’t sang it yet because I don’t know it so I just stand there. I printed the lyrics out though and put them in my backpack so I will be ready for the next time we sing!
getting ready to sing the national anthem
For Cumhuriet Bayramı, the national republic holiday, there was a lot of preparation before hand several of my classmates participated in running the school gatherings. Monday morning before lunch we all stood outside lined up by classes while Selen, Erdem, and two other students from another class read from papers about the holiday. I’m still not quite sure what they did there. Then we sang the national anthem and listened to some other historical Turkish songs such as “Onuncu Yil Marşı” the Ten-year march, which was composed 10 years after Turkey became a republic. After lunch we went to the “Conference Room” to listen to a panel of students discuss the history of Turkey and how Atatürk changed the country. As I have said before my class is one of the smallest, but we ruled the activities that day. Erdem and Ezgi were on the panel, Selen read a poem, Talha was the announcer, and Taha did tech. The rest of us in class got to watch this panel speak twice, once for the 9th graders and once for the 11th graders. For me it was good because I understood more of what was said the second time I heard it.
the panel of students for Cumhuriyet Bayramı
There is a basketball tournament going on that started during my first week of classes. The first round finished and right now we are on the second round. Each class has the option of playing, but classes can’t mix. This is unfortunate for my class because there aren’t enough players, but some of the boys love basketball! The boy who is pretty much in charge of the tournament, has refereed some of the games, and keeps track of all the scores and who is playing is in my class. Some classes have more energy over this than others, but it is really interesting to see how the crowd reacts. There are cheers that everyone knows and they scream them at the top of their lungs. During free throws, the girls from the opposing class shriek really loudly and high pitched in hopes that it will mess up the other team. I always enjoy watching the crowd because some classes have a lot of spirit! Also, many of the boys wear American basketball players’ jerseys, many of them Boston Celtics so I always smile at that. The Celtics are huge here and people have sneakers for them along with sweatshirts, and of course jerseys.
the crowd watching the basketball game during lunch

Only boys play because girls don’t play sports here. I wish I was really, really good at basketball and could play with my class so that we could play. I think it would be interesting to see how the students would react if I was as good or better than many of the boys that play. The fact that only boys play sports here is a little frustrating for me. I am not very talented in athletics, but I do enjoy playing sports for fun, but none of my female classmates do anything athletic. During gym class we are allowed to play any sport that we want or do whatever we want. Therefore, half of the students just sit on the side and talk. Last week we played badmintonin gym class and apparently I am super good at badminton, because I was actually trying! This week I was determined to sweat during gym class because it is the only time during the week that I have to exercise. I got a basketball and started shooting by myself in hopes to improve my skills. Then the “basketball fanatic” from my class came and joined me. I was hoping his skills would rub off on me, but I wasn’t that lucky. After a little while the other girls in my class came to join us. They needed one girl to go play and then they would join. Later we ended up playing a really small and quick match, just the girls. I scored one basket and another girl scored one basket, and that was it, but it was a lot of fun and we were running around. After the girls decided to quit because they were so tired, I joined the boys in soccer shooting on the net. Yes, I wasn’t on target, but hey I was still playing! My classmates got a kick out of the fact that I actually wanted to move during gym class. I was determined to not sit down, and I didn’t so walking to TÖMER that afternoon I was really happy as I felt tired! I am going to do this every gym class because I am not going to just sit and chat during a “class” that I actually understand and can participate in. :)

Tests. This is always interesting to witness in different schools, let alone different countries! My classmates have 1-4 exams per subject depending on how important it is and how often we have it. For example, the only have 1 for Religion, but at 4 for Math since it is much more important and often. These exams run from now until mid January. They have about 3 a week and they are just scattered randomly throughout the classes. This is very interesting for me seeing as I only had 5 or 6 classes in high school per semester and just 1 exam per class. When I told this method to my classmates here, they were all very surprised and agreed that the method in the US was better because after the exam you were done. They still have class after they take the exams, so I’m still confused about why they do it the way they do it here. I am exempt from taking exams because the teachers know that I can’t read the questions, let alone answer the questions. Teachers are allowed to make simpler exams for us foreigners, but since I am the only one at my school, they don’t seem to want to. Also I don’t know that they know they can do this. While my classmates take their exams I read, study Turkish or go over vocab. It is a good deal for me. The other students always tell me that I am so lucky because I don’t have to take the tests or do projects, but I always want to respond saying “I already finished my 4 years of high school, and I worked hard then. If you do a fifth year of high school in another country it will be the same for you.” 

My class all gathered around our Turkish Language and Expression teacher for a discussion

Friday, November 5, 2010

The Adventures of Sam and Abigail! … and Miss America (aka Lena)

Since I have been in Turkey, I have had some crazy/interesting experiences with Sam, Lena, and Lucas, but the weirdest ones are always with Sam, and many times with Lena.
At first Sam and I were joking about writing a book titled “The Adventures of Abigail and Sam,” and this book would include many activites; our trip to finding a public library in Samsun that holds the tourism center, which turned out to be much farther away from TÖMER than we thought; making and forcing ourselves to drink instant coffee because Sam’s host mom thought that we liked it while at her house; sitting in a park next to a school eating an entire pack of cookies because we were homesick and eating our frustrations (really not as bad at is sounds), then having to rescue a soccerball for the boys who were at recess at the time; uniform shopping and going out to lunch; trying to think of and put together Lena’s birthday present and celebration with only a little Turkish under our belts and no idea what to find in stores; and many other activities that were really wild and hilarious that unfortunately I don’t remember right now.
Now however, I think the book’s title needs to be changed to “The adventures of Sam, Abigail, and Lena aka Miss America.” Something that you hear about from friends of friends or in the movies happened while we were at MADO, a high-end ice cream parlor and café, on Thursday after a half-day of school. It was Cumhuriet Bayrami, which means Republic Holiday as it is the holiday where Turkey became a republic.
I know there was some celebration on the seaside where some classes walked down carrying the country's flag, but I stayed home with my family and rested. Anyway, we were chatting as our hot chocolates, coffee, and cake came. We weren't really paying attention to the other tables, except for noticing the fact that many people were looking at us since we were speaking English, but this is not out of the ordinary for us because people love to stare at us and we are used to it by now. I'm not really sure how, but the man at the table next to us started talking to us, asking us where we were from since we didn't speak Turkish. When we said we were from the US he suddenly switched to English, and for an man in his 80's he spoke very well. When we asked him why he spoke English so well he pointed to a poster on the street and said that he owned the "Miss Civilization" pageant that is being held in Samsun in two weeks. He started to take an interest in Lena an had her stand up to see how tall she was. Another younger man at his table took pictures. The old man told Lena that she should come to the pageant next week to check it out. Then he sat gave Lena his card with his name, Suha Özgermi, and sat down at our table since there was an empty seat. Suha told us he used to own Galataseray (one of the best and most popular soccer teams in Turkey), and we really started to doubt who he was. I mean for all we knew he could have been a random old guy trying to get Lena. He asked for her telephone number, and thinking on my feet I switched a few numbers when I read it from my phone so that she didn't give her real phone number. Even if he was who he said he was she wasn't going to be in a beauty pageant and there is no way that her host family would let her anyway. He kept telling her to come to the fitting next week and he would buy her the appropriate clothing needed for the pageant including a ball-gown, a bikini, high heels, and a wedding dress. We decided to get going so we asked for the check. When it came, the man paid for us, and let me tell you we were really excited since our drinks were expensive. We got out of the cafe and burst out laughing. We couldn't believe what just happened. Lena has just been recruited for a beauty pageant, while Sam and I decided that we were too short anyway. When we got to Lena's house, our final destination, we looked up the man on the Internet from his business card and it turns out that the man had been the real deal, and he was pretty much the playboy equivilent in Turkey. This caused even more clamor because he had kept telling her to be the next Miss America! This story seemed to outrageous to be true, but it actually happened! I am so glad that I got pictures because we are still trying to get over it! :)

Lena standing up for the men
The men taking pictures of Lena and Sam laughing :)
Getting Suha's card
The weekend was low-key and relaxing, but Sunday was Halloween. Halloween is not celebrated in Turkey, at all! My Halloween in Turkey = a true adventure an experience, but was a lot of fun. So I had planned that the Americans were going to come to my house to dress up, eat candy and desserts, hang out, and celebrate Halloween in our own way. Melis, my 10-year-old host sister was very excited because it was going to be her first Halloween. She had a difficult time deciding whether to be a princess, a cowgirl, a dancer, or anything else she came up with at the time. We spent a while on Saturday afternoon preparing our costumes and making lots of paper pumpkins and signs that said Halloween to put all around the house.
Our Halloween candy!! 

The original plan was that I was going to pick up Sam at one of the few churches after the service and we would both ride the bus to my house together. she had never rode the bus here so it seemed like a good plan, especially since the church is praise of the city, closer to my house. Lena would catch the bus from downtown Samsun with her host sister, who was also invited. In preparation, I looked on Google Maps to see where Sam's church was since I didn't know where to go and I would be picking her up, and I called Lena to explain how to catch the bus. This seemed like a solid plan where not much would go wrong. Little did we know out day would get extremely more complicated and nothing would turn out the way we expected. 
The first mishap was when daylight savings took place in Turkey and we got an extra hour of sleep before or festivities. I called Sam to make sure that she knew so that I would pick her up at the right time. Luckily she knew and that was all solved. I assumed that Lena knew about the change, especially since her host sister would be coming with her to my house, so I wasn't worried. That morning my host mom, Melis, and I went to the bazaar an the supermarket to buy ingredients for food that we would cook and desserts we would make for our little Halloween get-together. I was going to catch the bus at 12:50 to be at the church around 1-1:30 to pick up Sam. I was still helping my host mom bake when around 12:25 Lena called me to say that she was waiting for the bus and it was number 19, right? Her host sister hadn't come because she had sometime else to do. I then told her it wasn't 1:30 when she was supposed tk catch the bus, but an hour earlier because the time had changed. We didn't know what to do, but we figured
That it would be best if she just came to my house and stayed with my host mom and sister while I went to get Sam, since Lena was so early. My bus came late and only after 5 min on my bus I saw Lena's bus go by and I knew she would get to my house only 10 min after I left. It was unfortunate that I wasn't there, but I knew she would be okay especially since there was water, food, a bathroom, heat, and a family. She was fine.
To get to Sam's church I had drawn myself a map and I knew where I was going. My host mom had looked at the map on Google and knew where it was, so we had it all worked out. I got there a little early so I waited outside. Sam said it wasn't a real church, but more like a pink house, and this was where I was. At 1:30 Sam called me and said she was outside. It turns out we were in two completely different places, and after a few minutes of talking I finally figured out where she was, but it was really far from where I was and there was no way I could get to her. I called my host mom in desperation on what to do because I was really stressed and didn't know what to do. Luckily, my host mom was able to jump in her car and come get me and then pick up Sam. She was much closer to the city than I was and I honestly don't know what we would have done if my host mom hadn't come to get us. I was finally able to relax once Sam was in the car because I knew where everyone was an I knew we would finally be able to celebrate Halloween soon. Lucas didn't know if he should come or not since he was busy until the early afternoon, and decided that he would come another time, which turned out to be the best decision for everyone. While we were eating and talking Lena realized that because of the time change, she was going to miss skyping with her family as thy didn't know about the time change. I decided to accompany them back into the city so they wouldn't get lost and knew where to get off in the future. We caught the next bus into Samsun so that Lena would still make here skype date with het family and just be a little late. The bus was really slow, but luckily her mom texted her saying that she knew about the time change and they would go on at the right time for her.
Melis (Cowgirl), Sam (herself), Me (Flower), and Lena (Ninja)
the Flower and the Cowgirl
Before Lena and Sam got off the bus we decided that I should just ride the bus around and see the loop that it does, and just sit until I got back to my house. I mean it had to go back to my house at some point, right? Therefore after they got off I jus sat and rode. As we started to get really out of the city in the opposite direction of my house, the bus started to empty out until it was just the bus driver and me. He didn't say anything to me and he knew I was there so I wasn't as worried as I should have been... until we pulled into the parking lot where the buses stay overnight. I walked to the front of the bus and asked the bus driver if the bus was going back to Pelitköy, the district of the city where I live, and he said no. Then he said that there were no more busses that night going there. I was shocked and didn’t know what to do. Thankfully up ahead, pulling out of the parking lot was a bus that said 19 on it (my bus!). The bus driver and I ran to the exit of the parking lot after the bus. It had to turn around on the street and I crossed the street sprinting, screaming DUR! (stop!) and waving my hands in the air. I must have looked crazy, but I didn’t care because I NEEDED to get on that bus. The bus driver slowed down and let me on. If there hadn’t been a bus that left at that exact time I honestly don’t know what I would have done. About 40 min later I made it back to my house safe and sound. (My bus trip is always about an hour into the city and about 40 min back home. It is really long, but I have gotten used to it now and I listen to books on tape or music and watch podcasts of the news so I don’t get bored.)

Friday, October 29, 2010

school photos

Here are some picture of my classroom and classmates!

Umut, Erdem, Taha and Selen at lunch this week

Çağla, Cansın, me and Talha at lunch

Our coat hanger in class
Atatürk is in every classroom!
My classroom, it is VERY small because there are only 11 of us!
The teacher's desk in the front of the class. My desk is the one with the pink notebook and pencil case
Classroom in action!

Sunday, October 24, 2010

First full week of school!

I had my first real week in my new Turkish life, which I should have been having for a few weeks now, but I had the longest summer ever. I took the school bus to school in the morning, a full day of classes, language classes every afternoon, and did homework, ate dinner, showered, talked with my family and relaxed for a little in the evenings. Most evenings I tried to get to bed as early as possible because I was so exhausted. But it was a very good week overall because I realized that this is what I will be doing for the next 8 months... I've got a long way to go... This week was also the first time when I felt homesick and started to miss my family, friends, and the US itself. Fortunately I have Sam, Lena, and Lucas who are going through this too! 

School was interesting. I absolutely love my classmates, but I am not so fond of some of my teachers. I have three types of teachers: type 1) ones that care that I am there and try and involve me, type 2) the ones that don't seem to quite understand that I have no idea what they are saying and try explain one word every 5-10 min thinking that I will somehow know what is going on if they do that, and type 3) the ones that don’t seem to notice that I am there.

Teacher type 1: Geometry, Math, and German. My geometry teacher is great example of type 1. She really wants me to learn since she knows that her class is one of the few that I can actually pay attention in and really understand what is going on. The other day my classmates were doing a worksheet and going to the board one by one to explain it each problem. She wanted me to do it too and she said that we would do it together; so I did and it wasn't that complicated to solve. Since the pictures in math are almost the same in every language, with a little thinking I figured it out :).
Type 1 teachers can also be bad for me in other classes such Math and German. Let me tell you that the math here is wayyyy more difficult here and it we are definitely doing Calculus in 11th grade. Unfortunately I didn’t get up to that point during my high school career, so having it explained to me in Turkish makes it 100 times more difficult. My math teacher is also my homeroom teacher so he knows my class and me more than other teachers, so he tries to involve me as much as possible. The first few days I tried to copy all of the notes down, but it was really difficult to follow. Also, when I look confused and he tries to explain it to me, he was speaking very fast in Turkish so I just become lost. After a few days I was studying Turkish in class for a little bit while everyone was doing activities in their workbooks. He wanted me to go to the board and explain it, but I kept trying to tell him that I couldn’t because I had no idea where to even begin. Unfortunately this becomes very difficult for me since I don’t know how to say I can/I can’t do something in Turkish yet... (it is a very complex suffix so we will learn it in a few months). Finally I got the point across but he still asked me multiple times to attempt it. It isn’t as if I’m not trying, because I am, I just can’t do it. Luckily, my math teacher sometimes lets me study Turkish or the grammar that I am learning at TÖMER in class when they are doing very advanced math problems. He knows that I am struggling now since I can’t understand his explanation, but that if I study more Turkish I will maybe be able to understand the math in a couple of months.
In German, even though I have told my teacher many, many times that I have never had German before, he still asks me questions in German expecting me to respond in that language! When he does that my class always repeats over and over that I don’t know any German so that he will understand, but he still doesn’t seem to get it. The most difficult part of that class is when my teachers/classmates speak because it is very hard to distinguish when they are speaking Turkish or German. When they speak German they have thick accents and I can never tell which language they are speaking. Also, in my German part of my notebook I have to be thinking in 3 languages. Example: we learned the animals, but of course they were translated from German to Turkish, so then I had to translate them into English because I don’t know all of the animals in Turkish yet. It’s a little complex, but I’ll survive…

Teacher type 2: Turkish Language and Expression, Religion, and History. My Turkish Language and Expression teacher loves that I am there, but he gets a kick out of me and laughs at me a lot. He is a character so I still don’t exactly know how to act in his class. Every 5 or 10 minutes he stops to explain one word or has someone in class explain to me what we are talking about. We don’t have books for this class I’m still not quite sure what we are actually learning in class. Most of the time he just talks to the class, but obviously tells funny stories because everyone laughs the whole time.
In Religion we learn about Islam, and I wish I could understand what is going on because I am interesting in learning about this religion, especially because I don’t know much about it and I am in a country where 98% of the population in Islamic. The teacher doesn’t explain anything to me, but always asks me how I am at the beginning of each class. He wants me to speak about Christianity next class, so obviously had to talk to me about that. Therefore, I started preparing notes in class because I don’t know many of the words I will need to use when talking about Christianity. About 10 minutes later he told me to pay attention to what they were talking about in class, but my class jumped in and told me that I don’t understand anything and that is why I was taking the time to prepare for next week. Luckily he understood.
History is just rough. I really don't understand anything in this call. It is almost like listening to: Turkey… Atatürk… some… one… more… republic… street… 1919… more… day… and so on. As you can see, it makes no sense. Then she tries to explain what they are doing and I don’t get that at all so she has another classmate translate. It is as if she wants to involve me, but the attempt just fails. 

Teacher type 3: Literature, Philosophy, and Traffic and First Aid. These teachers don’t really understand what to do with me in class and just ignore me, but don’t let me study anything else in class even though I have no idea what is going on. In Turkish Literature class, my classmates read from our textbook and then discuss it with our teacher. Apparently it is very old Turkish that they are reading, such as Shakespeare for English, so they don’t understand it either. On Tuesday, this teacher mentioned my name in class, but didn’t look at me so it is as if he is just talking about me even though I am there. Later my classmate told me that he was saying that if the literature is hard for them that it would be really, really hard for me. He had me read a poem this week, which was the most that I have ever done in that class, but then he went back to ignoring me.
In Philosophy my teacher lectures us and writes words on the board that somehow connect together. I try to copy the notes down because from notes I can sometimes figure out what is going on rather than reading the textbook, but his handwriting is impossible to read!
I had my first Traffic and First Aid class this week. I found out that the school director teaches this class and I had met him the week before when we registered me in school so I was excited. He got to class and just started the lessons. I looked through the textbook and we are actually learning about how traffic and public transportation work along with CPR and First Aid towards the end of the year. This is the funniest class that I have seen. It is like health class or life skills, but in a different way. I had my electronic translator/dictionary out and was looking up words so that I could follow along with what was going on. I figured that he didn’t know I was in class because he hadn’t said anything to me, like most other teachers. I know he is very busy so I didn’t think much of it but I kept wondering when he would realized I was there. About ¾ of the way though class the director looked at me and my electronic translator/dictionary and asked me what I was doing. I said sözlük, which means dictionary and he spoke some more. I didn’t understand so my class filled in for me and said I was American. Then he asked what my name was. I was a little shocked and just laughed because he had completely forgotten about me.

English class is a completely different story. In this class I am the star! Sometimes my English teacher's pronunciation is a little off and I want to correct him, but I bite my tongue. When we do activities in our workbooks I am treated like the other students and give the answers to questions when I am called on. When we read in the book though different students read one paragraph 2 or 3 times. Frequently he has me read the paragraph either before or after other students so that they can hear the pronunciation. My classmates hate reading after me because they feel embarrassed, but it is the same as me reading or talking in Turkish. They shouldn’t feel embarrassed because I am in the exact same situation as them.

I have gotten used to not understanding what is being talked about in most of my classes. I have a lot of time to think about the differences in cultures and just life itself. One thing that I found a little weird at first, but am completely used to now, is that students write on their desks all the time. Anything that they need to explain or remember they write down and if they are bored then they doodle… a lot! Therefore, sometimes I doodle too. I have gotten very good at writing my name! And I have started to write with my left hand to see if I can improve that, practice makes perfect! I don’t want you to get the wrong idea and think that I am not paying attention in class or trying because I am, it is just very difficult and boring sometimes when I have absolutely no idea what is going on. I know that in a few months I will be able to pay much more attention but it is just my second week, so there is not much I can do.

In class I am always in one of 2 situations and rarely in the middle. The first is having all of the attention on me because something is being explained to me or my class is asking me questions. The second is me just sitting there while my friends are just talking or having class and I am not involved. I am not at the point yet where I can just listen and understand what is going on. These are the times when I get even more frustrated, but I have accepted it at this point and know that it will only get better with time.

On Saturday night there was a poetry show in Samsun and our Turkish teacher wanted us to go. We met up at school before the show to go eat dinner. Dinner took longer than expected because we went to Dominos. Then we walked to the performance center, but they all walk very slow. It didn’t seem to bother anyone that we were half and hour late to the show. Luckily when we got there it hadn’t started yet, but it was çok çok kalabalık (very crowded)!! We ended up going up to the balcony and sitting on the stairs on the side. Then everyone started getting bored so we left after about 25 min. I was completely indifferent about leaving because although I didn’t understand what was being said, it was interesting to see and I don’t understand what is going on a lot of the time so I am used to it.
Most of my class before the poet... 8 out of the 11
Talha, Taha, and Me
another poet
the poets
Today, Sunday, is spent relaxing. I have realized that Sunday is the day that I can write more to post on my blog so I will try to do this every Sunday. I want to wrote more posts about the culture, fashion, food and other aspects of life that I have noticed about Turkey. With help from my dad, we figured how to make my laptop a WiFi hotspot so now I can write posts on my iPod Touch while on the bus and then post them when I get home because I can send them to myself. It is great!

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Atatürk Anadolu Lisesi :)

I finally started school at Samsun Atatürk Anadolu Lisesi! I haven’t actually gone to a full day of school yet, but this week I don’t think I will have any special days. While at lunch at Dominos on Monday I got a call from Sero, our AFS liason, which is the person that we go to with any questions, saying that we would start on Wednesday! Sero would come to Samsun and then each of us would go to our school with Sero at some point during the day so that he could officially register us. Sero comes to Samsun once a month to do regular visits with our families, deal with any issues, pay us back for school lunches, uniforms, bus tickets and other things that our NSLI-Y scholarship includes. First he took Lena and Lucas to their school because they are together, then he took me, and finally Sam. We met up in the morning and went to the Director’s office where we talked for a little bit and Sero gave his information in case the school needed it. While I am in Turkey Sero is my “guardian/parent” if there are any problems. After, we went to the Vice Principal’s office where he officially registered me and Sero filled out papers that he would take to the Police Station so that we would be able to get our residence permits.
My School!

Finally I was taken to my class, 11E/TM! The TM stands for Türkçe Matematık - Turkish and Math. Yes, I am in 11th grade again, but I love it and I absolutely LOVE my class! In Turkey, high school students choose a track to go in and I am in Turkish and Math. At my school most kids choose to be in the Science and Math track so my class is very small compared to most other classes even at other schools, but I really like it. There are 11 of us, 5 girls and 6 boys. In orientation and from observing other students we have learned that in many situations high school boys and girls do not hang out together even as friends, but this is not the case in my class. We are all like one big family and we do not sit separately by gender at all. My class is very excited to have me in class and they really try to explain things that I don’t understand. If I say that I don’t understand something they each try to explain it to me in different ways at once. They all say look at me! and I have to choose one person to explain it, but they truly want me to understand. They also have many questions about the American culture, which I am happy to explain, but it is very different and sometimes I get weird looks. Most questions are about high school, teenagers, boyfriends/girlfriends in the US and other subjects that high school students would be interested in.

I have 16 classes, which is very different than in the US. We stay in one classroom all day and the teachers come to us, which is a little like elementary school except that we have a different teacher for every subject. I have a 10-15 min break between each class, which is really a smoking break for the teachers, but I love it because it is when I get to chat with my classmates and meet more people. Some classes we have more than others such as Turkish literature, Turkish Grammar and Math. On Monday and Tuesday I leave after the 7th period because I have TÖMER language class at 4 and we get out at 4:30, but that is fine with me. It is a little confusing, but my schedule is below: 

1. 8:30-9:15
2. 9:30-10:15
3. 10:25-11:10
4. 11:20-12:05
5. 13:00-13:45
6. 13:55-14:40
7. 14:50-15:35
8. 15:45-16:30

2YDI – 2 Yabancı Dil – Almanca = GERMAN
BED – Beden Eğitimi = GYM CLASS
ÇAĞDAŞ – Çağdaş Türk ve Dunya Tarihi = TURKISH HISTORY
COĞ3 – Coğrafya = HISTORY
DİN – Din Kültürü ve Anlak = RELIGION
GEO3 – Geometri = GEOMETRY
İNG3 – İngilizce = ENGLISH
MAT3 – Matematik = MATH
REH – Rehberlik = GUIDANCE (it is a little like guidance/health class)
SCOĞ – Seçmeli Coğrafya = EXTRA GEOGRAPHY
SMAT – Seçmeli Matematik = EXTRA MATH
TCİT – T.C. Inkılap Tarihi ve Atatürk Çülük = ATATÜRK HISTORY
TRF – Trafik ve İlk Yardım = TRAFFIC AND FIRST AID (we literally learn about traffic on the streets and how cars/busses/taxis operate. and then towards the end of the course we learn CPR and first aid... this should be interesting)

On Wednesday I went late to school, but was very welcomed by my class. For lunch we all went to a restaurant where we got durum and drinks. At the end of the day Sero met up with me again so that we could talk with my “school bus” driver so that I could get picked up in the mornings. The school buses here are vans that hold about 12 people, but carry from 15-20 people. They try and cram as many people as possible into them. They do this on busses and public transportation too. It is as if it doesn’t even phase them to maybe run busses more often or add another school bus that has a different route so that we wouldn’t have to cram many people into the busses. My bus had as many seats as it holds except that now since I am in it we have one extra person.

Thursday I went to school on my school bus in the morning, but left right after lunch and met up with Sero, Sam, Lena, Lucas, and Lucas’s host sister who just got back from a year with AFS in the USA and is now volunteering for AFS, so that we could go to the Police Station and register for residence permits. Since that ended early we went to a café and hung out there before TÖMER. That day in class we all crashed. The last hour was almost painful because we were so dead from class, and we hadn’t even gone to a full day!

Friday was pretty much a normal school day except for the fact that my Geography teacher was traveling so we had math during that period and got out early. Some kids in my class accompanied me to the Police Station because I had to go back and pick up my residence permit. Unfortunately it was 2:30 at the time and it wasn’t going to be ready until 4. We went to a restaurant and got drinks and just hung out. Lena and Lucas had left class early and came and met up with us so they got to meet a couple of my classmates. We talked about the social life of high school students and it is pretty much as if there it is very minimal to nonexistent. They all go to dersane after school and on weekends, which is pretty much like extra school, so regular school is where they hang out with friends. They get almost no homework for school, so their homework is all for dersane. It is very different from the American lifestyle, but here it is the norm. I don’t know any high school student who doesn’t go to dersane

Melis, Me and Almila on my first day!

In our different uniforms!

Wednesday was a little bit of a blur because there were so many new faces and names, which are very hard by the way, and it was very difficult to follow what was going on. So many people looked at me, but since I was in uniform I didn’t stand out as much as I expected. Lena stands out more because she is much taller than most of the girls here, but I am normal height and I'm not blond so even though I look foreign it is not completely obvious. As each day goes on I don’t stand out that much. I went to the bathroom on Thursday by myself and no one even looked at me differently! Lena’s host sister’s cousin who I met previously is in another class so I meet up with her sometimes during breaks. I have met a few of her friends, but I want to meet more. I think people know there is an American at school, but they don’t really come up to me or meet me, so I want to meet more people. Especially since my class is small I don’t know too many people at school. Also, the classes stay together for all 4 years here so the classes become very close. Another thing that I have noticed that is different besides the not getting homework, is that they don't really take notes during class, only for some subjects where it is necessary. I need to take notes because otherwise I don't understand what is going on. If words or pictures are drawn on the board then I can follow along much more than reading the text book. Classes are mostly lectures and in some classes each student is assigned a specific paragraph or page to explain to the class after a few minutes of reading it over. In class there is much more talking and chatter than I expected. Some of the teachers are very strict and no one even whispers, but some of the teachers get so off subject and just talk with the students or let the students talk between themselves while they read a book. During a couple classes we listened to music on the students' cell phones and talked about the differences in cultures. I am interested to see how a regular week will be especially when I am not super new. It is the weekend so I am very glad I get to rest, but I am so excited for school again tomorrow!