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.)