Saturday, November 1, 2014

AFS and NSLI-Y 101

Hey guys!

Sorry I've been more than a bit silent lately,  as I plow on through my so far very enjoyable but also immensely busy senior year, battling with the intense curriculum of my all-IB high school, scores of extracurricular activities, college apps, and trying to maintain some sanity in the process.

However, I wanted to get back to you all to share a bit of knowledge of mine on the two exchange programs with which I have traveled, AFS and NSLI-Y. Given that it's "application season," as I like to call it, that one of my best friends is applying to NSLI-Y, and that the deadline for preliminary applications (October 30) very recently passed, I thought it wise to get my two cents on this topic out in the blogosphere quickly, so here we go!

I'll start with NSLI-Y, since it's got a lot of structural things I can talk about.
Essentially, NSLI-Y, as I've stated before, is a government-sponsored scholarship that sends American high schoolers abroad to learn critical languages. The ones that they offer are Arabic, for which they send to Jordan, Morocco, and Oman, Mandarin Chinese, for which they send to China, Hindi, for which they send to India, Korean, for which they send to South Korea, Persian, for which they send to Tajikistan, Russian, for which they send to Russia, Estonia, Latvia, and Moldova, and Turkish, for which they send to Turkey.
There are a few key components to every NSLI-Y program - since NSLI-Y is essentially just a scholarship, every program is run by what's called an "implementing organization" that helps with the logistics of transporting NSLI-Yers overseas and overseeing their programs. My program's implementing organization, for example, was American Cultural Exchange Service (ACES). Implementing organizations often vary even within programs that travel to the same countries or teach the same languages.
There is also the overseas educational institution. As all NSLI-Y programs are centered around language courses in the country, each program has an educational institution in which these courses take place. What these are often varies program by program - sometimes they can be universities. Others are rather like TÖMER, the overseas educational institution for all of the Turkish programs, which is a cultural institution created by the Turkish government to promote both the teaching of Turkish to foreigners, and of foreign languages to Turks. It is certainly the largest of its kind in Turkey, so all of NSLI-Y's Turkish programs use TÖMER as their educational institution. Each program also has its residential director, or RD for short. This is a person who travels with the participants to and from their program destination and remains there with them for the duration of the program. They will be fluent in both the target language and English, and help to oversee the implementation of the program, language classes, and cultural activities and excursions.
That's about all I can think of for NSLI-Y programs.

AFS is generally structured very differently from NSLI-Y programs. AFS exists in a whole host of countries around the world, and sends between all of them, so whereas program participants in NSLI-Y programs are all just American high schoolers, an AFS program will have participants from all over the world. Every student who embarks on an AFS program will be placed in a host family (that could be located anywhere in the host country), and, once a specific family is secured, they will be placed in a local host school, which, in most programs, will mean a public school in which they will be immersed in their host country's language. The specifics on activities other than that vary widely in AFS from country to country, and even chapter to chapter. But, generally, it can be assumed that chapters will organize some sort of activities or excursions from time to time. For example, those in my Alexandria AFS chapter had weekly calligraphy lessons with a professional, and we were treated to a number of excursions to other cities arranged by our local chapter. A chapter usually has around 10-20 hosted students that could be from anywhere in the world.
In general, these activities are not quite as rigidly scheduled or regular as they are in an NSLI-Y program.
Oh, also: an essential component of every AFS program is that of several orientations held throughout the program, with a typical year program usually consisting of a welcome orientation (immediately after arrival in-country), a post-arrival orientation (usually 6ish weeks in), a midstay orientation (halfway through the program), a pre-departure orientation (6ish weeks before leaving), and a farewell orientation (right before leaving). These often are held in the capital or largest city of the host country, with ALL the participants in the country being present. This makes for very fun, dynamic gatherings at which crazy, amazing memories ensue.
Finally, aside from the shorter-term day trips or excursions like I mentioned before, oftentimes AFS will organize larger trips in-country for the participants to embark on. A good example would be the Aswan and Luxor trip that I went on during my exchange in Egypt. Others include the Camino de Santiago trip my friend who was in Spain with AFS went on, and the Lapland trip my friend who was in Finland with AFS went on. Those too are great fun, for obvious reasons - there is much to be learned, seen, discovered, and doing so with other exchange students makes everything SO much more fun. :)
That's about all I can think of for AFS.

Now, a few final notes. First up, deadlines. Unfortunately, the preliminary application deadline for NSLI-Y just recently passed, it was October 30. To all those who applied and are now waiting for semifinalist notifications, GOOD LUCK!! I'm so proud of and happy for all of you, and I'm sending virtual hugs and good vibes your way. :')
AFS applications seem to have a much larger time frame; I took a look at a couple of programs - both year/semester and summer - on the AFS website and it seems like most of them have deadlines from early to mid-March 2015. So obviously there's still quite some time for those if you're interested. But I would advise you to look at the deadlines for whatever specific programs interest you, and to keep a close eye on them/get your application done as soon as possible to secure your spot.
If you're interested in trying out for the YES Abroad (Youth Exchange and Study - full-ride scholarships for year programs to study abroad in majority-Muslim countries) or CBYX (Congress Bundestag Youth Exchange - full-ride scholarships for year programs in Germany), those are also potential options. CBYX is implemented by different exchange programs in different regions of the USA, and the application deadline varies by implementing program (so if you're interested, be sure to check out the deadline for the implementing program of your region!), but those all are between December of this year and February 2015, according to the CBYX website. The YES deadline is a bit more straightforward - January 7, 2015.
A few final scholarship opportunity I'd like to publicize a little include AFS's Project Change initiative. This is essentially a contest in which 8th-12th graders are invited to create and submit an idea for a volunteer project that would have a meaningful impact abroad, with the potential to be awarded a full-ride scholarship to travel to China, Columbia, Egypt, France, Ghana, India, Ireland, Kenya, Malaysia, Panama, the Philippines, Russia, Spain, or Turkey to implement their project on an AFS program. The deadline for that is December 10.
Another would be the Cultural Explorer Scholarship, which I had when I traveled to Egypt (thought it was called the Global Leaders Scholarship back then), which provides $3,000 scholarships for students traveling from the US to "out of the ordinary" destinations (Bosnia, China, Ghana, Egypt, India, Indonesia, Russia, Thailand, or Turkey) on unsponsored AFS programs.
Another is the Vaya a América Latina scholarship, which provides $3,000 scholarships for students traveling to Latin American destinations (Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Costa Rica, Panama, or Peru) for a year or semester program starting in the spring.
There is also the Viaggio Italiano scholarship, providing $2,000 scholarships for programs to Italy, as well as two different ones for programs to Japan, the Yoshi Hattori Memorial Scholarship, and the Sakura Scholarship, which are full and 50% scholarships respectively.
Finally, a variety of local scholarships are offered by state and chapter, both merit and need-based.
Suffice it to say, there are a great many opportunities to potentially take advantage of. :)

Here are links to all of the programs and scholarship opportunities I've talked about in this post:
And here's a video from an AFSer who was in Italy last year covering similar topics discussed in this post, as well as an overview of the AFS application process. 

Thanks so much for reading this far, everyone. I sincerely hope that this post and the information in it is helpful to anyone who is applying to any of these programs, considering studying abroad in general, both, and/or anything in between. If I've helped even one person advance their dreams, even just a little, it honestly will mean the world to me. :)

I myself wish that I could be among you right now. It's no secret that I'd be reapplying for AFS, NSLI-Y, and YES gap year programs for sure if I could. Heck, I've got a whole line-up in my travel journal of what programs I'd apply for and in what order that I wrote one day (while feeling particularly nostalgic and salty…xP). Unfortunately, due to the fact that I'm a little old in my grade, I cannot reapply for any of these high school programs. Since I will be over 18 by the time all of these programs start, I'm ineligible to reapply. :(
My feelings about this are two-fold, in many ways. On one hand, I concede it would be a little strange and frustrating to have to continue abiding by some of the rules and regulations set by high school programs as a legal adult, as well as being surrounded by younger fellow exchange students.
On the other, I feel like a whole myriad of amazing and priceless opportunities has been denied to me by my inability to reapply for these wonderful programs, which is, for obvious reasons, quite frustrating.
In any case, regardless of how I feel about the given situation, I've accepted it at this point, as what's impossible is impossible, after all. I've taken it in stride, for I have no doubts that, even in spite of my inability to reapply for these programs, I will make sure to line up plenty of opportunities to venture abroad in my future, and to continue helping and supporting people aspiring to apply to these programs in my position as an AFS and NSLI-Y returnee and volunteer. :)

For now it seems my next major foreign escapade will be a trip to Spain and France on a tour with my school next July. I recently signed up for that trip, which a number of my close friends are going on as well, and will take us to Madrid and Barcelona in Spain, and Paris and Normandy in France as main stops, with a few others along the way in between these main destinations. I'm looking quite forward to it, as it promises to be a very fun and informative way to end my high school experience with some of the people whose friendships have defined it as a positive experience for me.

In the meantime, again, I hope that you all enjoyed and/or benefited from this post somehow! I will be back soon with any relevant experiences or updates in my life.

Goodbye for now, guys! ^_^

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

A cool video

Hey guys!

Sorry I've been inactive for a little while; my senior year has been pretty fun and informative so far, but crazy busy too.
I've got a new post in the works that I'll try to have up soon (no promises as to how fast, though).

Anyway, I'm here today to share a cool video with you all: My friend Emily from Washington, D.C., one of the thirteen lovely NSLI-Yers with whom I traveled to Bursa, has been featured in a video on the NSLI-Y YouTube channel, and I thought it only fitting that I should share it with you all. :)

Here it is:

Actually, speaking of which, this is a good opportunity for me to do a bit of advertising, as it is application season for NSLI-Y!
I'll share the blurb I've been posting on my Facebook, Tumblr, and such:

Are you a high school student? Are you an American citizen? Does learning Arabic, Mandarin Chinese, Hindi, Korean, Tajiki Persian, Russian, or Turkish in-country for a year or summer ON A FULL RIDE SCHOLARSHIP sound like your jam? If so, you may want to apply for NSLI-Y!
550 lucky finalists receive full scholarships to study critical languages abroad in Jordan, Oman, Morocco (for Arabic), China, Taiwan (for Chinese), India (for Hindi), South Korea (for Korean), Tajikistan (for Persian), Russia, Moldova, Estonia (for Russian), or Turkey (for Turkish).

Anyone who is interested in applying or has any questions is more than welcome to hit me up! ^_^

I'll hopefully make a post soon about the programs, explaining in a bit more detail how they work and such. But for now, know that you should most definitely apply if you're interested, and that the deadline for the preliminary application is October 30.

That's all for now, I'll be back soon with more good stuff.
Bye guys!

Monday, September 1, 2014

Back in the ABD

(Amerika Birleşik Devletleri = United States of America; ABD = USA).

Hey everyone! 
Sorry I have yet to elaborate on much of anything that has been going on for a while now; I have (unfortunately) been back in the USA for exactly three weeks now.

I suppose that first I will give you all a brief overview of what took place during our last week in Turkey, and then a rundown of our return, the three weeks that have passed since, as well as some thoughts and reflections of mine which I've had in the meantime. 

Başka şeyler son haftada (the rest of the last week):
On the 5th after classes, with little else planned to do that day, Salma, Maddy, and I made a spontaneous and impromptu decision to accompany Gianna and Sena in their search for a little Protestant church. We took Bursa's adorable little above-ground red tram which is often affectionately nicknamed "the Silkworm" to get there. There was a bit of trouble with Google directions and stuff, as this church was tucked away deep within a neighborhood that none of us (including Sena) had ever been to before, but eventually we were able to find it - it was a little peach-colored building built back in the nineteenth century, I believe. We unfortunately were unable to go inside (as it was closed and only opens on Sundays to begin with, I believe), but it was cool to get a glimpse of a little French Protestant church, not something I ever thought I would encounter in Turkey. And as usual, it was nice to just go on a little adventure in good company. :)

The 6th was by far one of the craziest and most amazing days of the whole experience, if not my life so far. It was the day of one of the things we all agreed we'd been anxiously awaiting our whole exchange - going up on Uludağ (the tallest peak among the mountains which surround Bursa).
First, after classes that day, we went back to the music center at Merinos for our final musical practice, in which we practiced our traditional dance for the last time in preparation for the farewell party later in the week, and in the process, Salma, Sophia, Brendan, and I all got to try on some pretty snazzy traditional costumes (pictures coming later). It made me feel like Aladdin. xD
We also got to record our performances of the songs we'd been practicing - first, the two pairs that were doing duets (Salma and me, Sophia and Brendan) got to record our renditions in one of the musical center's professional recording studios, complete with stellar headphones in which we could all hear each other and the staff helping us in the next room. After that, we also went in two separate groups to record the song we sang all together as a big group. All of these were compiled into a CD that was given to us later on. All in all, it was a neat experience - but that's not even getting into the Uludağ part of that day.
We were running a little late due to getting all that done at the music studio, but we were bused over to the Teleferik, the cable-car system which has been newly constructed within the past year and goes up to the top of the mountain. The way up was a bit scary at first - my stomach dropped to my feet - but my fear quickly gave way to awe and astonishment, as we rapidly arose, and the unmistakable sweep of clustered red-roofed buildings that is Bursa grew smaller and smaller, gradually giving way to fantastically unspoiled nature - the lush emerald forests which cloaked the mountainside. The weather seemed to be taking a bit of a turn though - it was a cloudy day, and on the way up we caught sight of lightning in the distance, resulting in a rather spontaneous outburst of "I was promised a barbecue, I do not want to BE the barbecue!" from me, which both Gianna and Madeleine thought was rather funny (we were about to have a barbecue picnic on the mountaintop, as will soon be discussed, so that's the joke. xD). Gianna even captured that golden moment on video! :D
Once we reached the top, it was distinctly drizzling, but not particularly hard, and so it was actually quite refreshing. I realized once we reached the top that I had not thought of the temperatures we might encounter - I was quite unprepared for the fairly chilly weather we first encountered in my ISE T-shirt and jeans. We walked to our picnic site, which was located on wooden picnic tables in a little clearing, and were treated to a fantastic meal with a lovely selection of freshly barbecued meat, as well as some homemade food courtesy of Şeyma and Şebnem, Salma and Ruth's host sisters. Although it was a bit chilly, the gentle rain and crisp mountain air offered welcome relief from the murderous heat we'd been experiencing in the weeks passed, and the tea we were served during the meal helped a bit. Afterwards, Gianna, Salma, Ruth, and I went for a brief run through the inviting forest in the surrounding area to do some Bridge to Terabithia-like exploring, even finding an adorable stream at one point, and promising ourselves that when we go back to Turkey in the future, we'll camp out on Uludağ.
Immediately afterwards, we picked up some trash in and around the campsite for a while, which was our actual "volunteer activity" for the day, and then we went for a little hike. It was beautiful in every sense of the word, wild, and savage - endless grassy open spaces, eventually giving way to thick and impenetrable pine forests, with a large, wide, and unobstructed open feeling to it. We stopped at a modest but grand outcrop of rocks, and climbed up to take in the view. As we took it all in, I was reminded of the moment of the book "Remains of the Day" in which the main character James Stevens speaks of a sprawling view of the English countryside which he is looking at, that I was in the middle of reading when I received my semifinalist notification last December. It was humbling and awe-inspiring, to say the least, to think about how far I had come from that moment - from having to restrain my desire to scream out (as I was with my carpool) as I imagined all that potentially awaited me, adrenaline coursing through every inch of me at top speed, awash with joy, to standing on an outcrop of rocks on one of the tallest mountains in Turkey, surrounded by both Turks and Americans that had become some of my closest and most treasured friends.
After stopping there, we made our way back to the Teleferik to head back down to the city. Rose, Maddy, and I chatted contentedly while gazing at the crimson sunset, exchanging grandparent stories, discussing how much we'd loved that day and the chance to be back in nature, and marveling at how such wild and untouched and perfect natural space existed so close to a city of 2.5 million.
The Teleferik ride back down was a highlight of the entire experience, to put it lightly. I was with Salma, Şeyma, Gianna, Sena, Ruth, Şebnem, Rose, and Maddy (aka all my favorite people :3) in the same cable-car. As we made the journey back down, this time watching the wide expanse of Bursa light up the darkening twilight like fireflies in a summer night sky, Şeyma at one point started spontaneously playing the 2013 "Pop Danthology" (which, if you don't know it, is basically this guy who makes big mashups of popular songs of a given year) from her phone. We all gradually began to sing along and add little dances here and there as well. Once we started we didn't stop - we sang all the way through, laughing, smiling, and just feeling happy. A quote that comes to mind is "and I swear, in that moment, we were infinite..." from the book "The Perks of Being a Wallflower." It wasn't just like that quote, as far as I was concerned - it was that quote. I wrote in my journal that: "I remember writing around a year ago about how I wanted to feel infinite like that. I got my wish. It was a moment so unexpected, so spontaneous, but fun and free in the purest way, it was blissful, and one of the most fun moments of my life. I'll never forget how I felt in those moments; none of us wanted that teleferik ride to end. It's a memory from this experience which I'll cherish as long as I live." 

^Pop Danthology 2013, which we listened to on the way back down. 

On the way up 

The little stream

From the hike 

The rocks we climbed 

Up on the rocks with Seyma (far left) and Gianna (middle)

With (left to right) Gianna, Ruth, and Ayca. 

From the way down 

The next day was less amazing, but nice. After our last Peer Language Partners meeting, our friend Ayça, who had been coming to the meetings, gave me a small but beautiful gift in the form of a gorgeous little çini fridge magnet with a colorful and artsy design of a whirling dervish on it. It was a gift I much appreciated and still treasure, and by the look of it, she gave similarly amazing little gifts to the others as well (I must say, the girl has good taste :P). After that, I took refuge from a torrential downpour which followed by hanging out for a while with my host brother Erinç, my friend Miles from New York, and his host brother Batuhan in the Kent Meydanı mall.

Friday the 8th was our last day of language classes, and to celebrate, we had a little in-classroom potluck of sorts. Each of us brought food - I brought some leftover cold (and vegetarian!) dolma, as well as some fresh biscuits called kurabiye that my host mom had made the night before, just for us. :) We all LOVED it. Our last day was fun and interesting - we talked, had fun, played music, showed each other pictures of family members and friends from back home, and chatted in Turkish with our teacher, Yeliz Hoca. A few of us had also made thank you cards and stuff for her, which we gave to her at the same time, towards the end of the day. I'm glad that she was our teacher - although we may not see her for a long time or again, she was really sweet, funny, and relatable, and just a good teacher in general; I'm happy to have had her as our öğretmen. That day was a fun and pleasant end to the most integral and central part of the program - our classes.
After the lessons were over, we spent some time practicing and finalizing our culminating projects, and then after that, we presented in front of all the participants of our program, and the presentations were filmed to be sent to the Department of State back in DC.
After finishing up with that, we headed home for a few hours to get ready for our farewell party. It was held (interestingly enough) at a horse farm, which may seem a bit random, but was actually very nice. We had a few hours to ride horses, talk, and just hang out freely before dinner. After dinner, we got two things which I had seriously been hoping to receive prior to our departure - the çini we made in Iznik, and the CDs which the musical center at Merinos had made for us with the recordings of our songs on them. After that, we also had a dance party - it started with music being played after we performed our traditional dance, and a few people started to dance, gradually convincing more and more to come up and join them. We had another moment of feeling infinite as we learned to dance another popular and traditional Turkish dance, the halay, which was immensely fun, and followed by some songs more familiar to us Americans ("Best Day of My Life," "Pon de Replay," "Single Ladies," various Shakira songs, etc). It was a little awkward dancing with an audience of tired Turkish host families, but we had great fun all the same. An enjoyable end to the party, marking the end of our program. :)

Me with our teacher, Yeliz Hoca, on the last day of classes. 
Then the 9th was our last day in Bursa. I spent most of it with my host mom in Kozahan (the Silk Bazaar), and we walked around together, meeting a friend of hers who owns a shop there, bought a few last-minute gifts, ran into both Gianna and Nate, had some lunch together, and just chatted and enjoyed each other's company. :) Once we got home in the middle of the afternoon, I spent some more time packing, and once I was done after dinner, journaled about how I was feeling in those final hours, as the experience was truly beginning to come to an end.
I wrote, "I've packed everything solid away into a bag of some kind or another. But what can't be packed away are the memories I've made, the feelings I've felt, the Turkish I've learned, and the friendships I've gained during this incredible and irreplaceable experience." 

Seyahat Amerika'ya (the trip back to America):
The next morning, I ate one last breakfast together with my host family, and the four of us took a taxi together down to the TÖMER Center, where we would be boarding the bus to Mudanya, the nearby seaside town from which we would take our ferry back to Istanbul. We were able to wait a few minutes, all hanging out together as a group one last time, as we waited for everyone to arrive. Once everyone had arrived, as well as the bus, things got sentimental pretty fast. The whole thing turned into a super emotional cry-fest. I definitely joined in myself, tearing up significantly. I was very happy that I got to say goodbye to Sena, Şeyma, and Şebnem, my three favorite host siblings from all those in our group (aside from my own host brother). As we all tearily waved goodbye from the bus, we finally got moving, and the true end of our experience was officially underway.
After a pretty uneventful and actually fairly fun bus ride full of funny conversations to Mudanya, we arrived a few hours early for our ferry, and got that time free to roam around the inviting little seaside town before continuing on our way. I spent most of my time fascinatedly exploring with Gianna, Salma, and Ruth, checking out some questionable play structures and old wooden houses, stepping out on a pebbly beach and attempting to skip stones while gazing at the clear turquoise water, and having our very last dondurma (ice cream) and eating it on benches in a little park, before heading back to the cafe where we were keeping our stuff.
After getting a sunburn on the back of my neck from standing in line under the sun too long, and having to undergo a rather chaotic line and insufferably sullen employees, I was lucky enough to sit next to Gianna on the ferry ride to Istanbul, which passed pretty uneventfully. We talked, looked at all the places in Turkey we want to come back and visit in my Lonely Planet guidebook, and had a cool conversation with the young Turkish man sitting next to us. And after a tauntingly beautiful view of both the Hagia Sophia and Blue Mosque on our way into the harbor, we headed straight to the Ibis Hotel by bus. Sadly, the program had us stay at the hotel all day, as that was the day of the presidential election and they feared the possibility of riots (though there really was no trouble to speak of). In any case, we made the best of it. After eating a fairly early dinner, I tried two different times to get some sleep, went down to the lobby to play cards with the others, and managed to journal about how I was feeling so close to the departure. I was in a room alone, which allowed me a chance to really relax, be at ease, and reflect inwardly, although I missed my friends. I wrote, "Honestly, my emotions have been all over the place the past few days. One moment I feel ready. The next I panic and feel like I can't do this, even though I know I have no choice in the matter. Others I feel a resigned acceptance. Generally, leaving Turkey has been something I've been seriously dreading, to be honest. I'm not ready to leave behind an amazing and fascinating place, an experience I've worked so hard to achieve and have enjoyed so thoroughly, very strong friendships and connections that I've made, and a language I've only just become comfortable using. I'm just not ready to leave all these things behind and go home to a mere week to gather my wits before starting school. I'm not ready." and, "I have no clue where my next adventures will take me. But I know with unmistakable certainty that I have fallen in love with Turkey. As many things as there are that I'm excited to be going back to in America - cooler weather, world cuisines, my city, my family, my cat (don't judge me), etc - I will miss this place dearly, and I will do everything in my power to come back here as soon as I can, for this country now occupies a very special place in my heart."
Around 3 am, after another failed attempt to fall asleep, I gathered up all my things, took one last look at my empty hotel room, and headed down to the lobby to await the others, and eventually, the bus that would take us to the airport. I was the first down, and spent a few minutes just trying to stay awake until the others began to gradually trickle downstairs. Once we were all present and accounted for, we ate breakfast, which the hotel had generously prepared that early just for our sake. As we purposefully and slowly savored every morsel of our last Türkçe kahvaltı (Turkish breakfast), we made our final rounds and reluctantly ambled outside to catch the bus to the havalimanı (airport).

Me and my host brother at TOMER before we left.

Me and my host parents. :) 

Exploring the center of Mudanya.

The water.

At dinner.
An elevator shot with my favorite crazies. <3
I spent the bus ride to the airport chatting with Rose and Cat, and offering everyone kurabiye (my host mom made a whole box for us to eat during the journey and gave it to me the morning we left Bursa!). We eventually discovered that even our program-dictated arrival at the airport three hours prior was not enough. After a few brief scares making it through security, once we were on the other side, a few of us, including myself, sprinted towards our departing gate to get them to wait for the rest of our group, as we were dangerously close to boarding and nowhere near the gate. Seeing how I nearly missed my connecting flight in Istanbul en route to Cairo, I now have come to the conclusion that every time I'm flying somewhere from the Istanbul Airport, I end up sprinting.
In any case, the few of us who did sprint to stall for the rest of the group seemed to do the trick; they waited for the rest of us to get there, and we boarded the bus to the plane. At this point, the all nighter that we had essentially pulled that night began to really get to us, and many nodded off while the sun discreetly rose, casting crimson hues across the sky, as we waited for the bus to take us to the plane.
The rest is a bit of a blur, honestly. The next thing I can concretely remember was falling asleep as the plane took off, and I didn't wake up for a while thereafter. I woke up to breakfast being served, and chatted for a while with Cat and Gianna, who I was seated next to. I remember little else of that flight, to be honest.
After about four hours, we arrived in Paris. Our connection was not quite as long as it had been on the over to Turkey, but still comfortably long. We planted ourselves at our connecting gate, and did some wandering around the airport, just as we had on our outbound journey back in June. We even managed to hold our return orientation, sitting on the ground next to our gate.
After that, we boarded our flight to DC. At that point, most of us were getting severely tired. I was with Gianna and Cat again, and I spent most of my time napping, talking to them, watching movies, or writing notes to people. Towards the end, with our jetlag spiraling increasingly out of control, resulting in us getting more and more out of our headspace, some very sweet and hilarious exchanges took place. xD
As another result, the time ran together and that flight was a bit of a blur as well. We landed (quite roughly, as I remember) in DC more or less right on time - a moment we had all been dreading, as after landing following an already pretty grueling transatlantic trip, in that airport we would begin to go our separate ways after nearly seven weeks together as a group.
It was a bit weird, being back in that space where we'd last been to fly to Turkey, so full of excitement, hope, and a little bit of fear, all those weeks before, under such different circumstances. Nonetheless, many of us had very long connections to sit through (mine was 5 hours, but still one of the shortest!), and so we had prepared for a chance to spend more time together, do more things together (I had prepared a whole file of pictures on my computer to show people!), and say the long, sentimental goodbyes which we had been dreading for weeks.
However, it seems reality had other plans in store for us. Although we arrived on time, after having to clear customs, retrieve our bags, and recheck them, the several of us who were all leaving just after 5 pm were left with little more than 90 minutes to reach our gates and board our flights, and on top of that, we were going to have to split up, as some of us were flying with different airlines and therefore headed to different terminals. We stood in the face of our final passage to separation, the security line, very sad and slightly panic-stricken, thinking of what to do. Finally, we went through, and said our goodbyes by the interterminal train.
In spite of the tight, long hugs that were shared, and the thoughtful, heartfelt words that were spoken, those goodbyes still felt painfully sudden and rushed compared to what we'd all been hoping and planning for. I couldn't help but feel not only heartbroken that I was saying goodbye to people that had become some of my closest friends, but also that those had to be our goodbyes as they were.
Luckily, Gianna was headed in the same direction as me, and we took the train over to the United terminal together. After a brief mixup finding the gate which I was leaving from, we stood together for a little while, talking, exchanging promises to visit each other and keep in touch, all the while trying our best (and failing a little) to hold back tears.
After a biiiiig hug and many moments of looking back and waving to my dear friend as I walked down the jetway, I found myself on my connecting plane, completely alone (at least in terms of friends from the group) and with the adventure I'd been living for seven weeks finally at a tangible and undeniable end. To which my response was to take out my Turkish notebook that I'd been having friends sign (and saving the notes for the plane to Detroit once we'd all said goodbye to each other), and read the notes while listening to the two saddest, most depressing Rascal Flatts songs on my iPod set on repeat, crying my eyes out all the while.
I remember little of the flight itself. I tried to sleep a bit, cried some more, and read the notes and my journal entries from the trip over and over again, and that took up most of the brief flight. I landed in Detroit in the midst of some pretty intense downpours of rain, and after a brief and heartwarming call from Cat making sure that I had landed safely, I made my way out, reclaimed my bags, got in touch with my dad, who was picking me up, and we headed for home.
I opened the door to my house, with the odd feeling like I was floating on a cloud. I've felt it before for sure, coming back home, to all that is familiar and everyday, after an adventure in the complete unknown. I didn't feel particularly positive or negative about it - I was still missing Turkey and all my friends big time - but my God, I must say, after such a grueling trip home, it was heavenly to hunker down in my room (which I love to bits) and find a super sweet setup of Christmas lights draped over my bunkbed, see my cat's surprised reaction to seeing me again (and snuggle with her :D), and sit down to a meal of delicious Thai takeout with my parents and sister.
I went to bed that night feeling more exhausted than I have in a long time, too tired to process my own feelings.

Ve Türkiye'den döndükten sonra (and after coming back from Turkey): 
Then, I've been back for exactly three weeks now. At times it seems like mere days, at most it seems like it's been much longer. I didn't do much in the week after I got back before starting school (yuck). I did some wandering in downtown Ann Arbor, which was very nice. Went to the pool. Ran into a few friends along the way. Not much other than that. I started school on August 18th, exactly one week after my return from Turkey, which was less than ideal, to put it politely.
Overall, I've had a pretty okay transition. The first two days back were pretty hard - I still found myself crying every now and then, thinking of Turkey, my host family, my NSLI-Yer friends, and such. Although I've readjusted just fine and without any major problems, I still miss those things and those people a lot. Part of this is definitely due to school - with only a week to gather my wits before starting right back up again, and then jumping right back into the thick of things, I was really not able to have a post-return transition. It hasn't been all bad, though - as stressful as my school can be (and is), and as many deadlines as there may be hovering all around, it's been very nice to see everyone I'd missed again - close friends (many of whom I hadn't seen all summer!), teachers, acquaintances, and so on.
As crazy as this year has already been so far, I can daresay I've been happy. And I have a feeling things will work out.

I've gotten to do some pretty neat things since I returned to boot: I ran a color run with several good friends of mine, I've been to some pretty fun gatherings/parties at friends' houses, I've been going out a lot, I've swum quite a bit at my neighborhood pool, I hung out with Krista (who went to Turkey with the AFS-NSLI-Y group in Ankara) twice, I've been to a NSLI-Y alumni event already, I've been reading good books, and I even just went to the Detroit Jazz Festival today. :)
So I'm definitely still readjusting, and I miss Turkey and all the people I was there with immensely. But being back has been nice nonetheless.

Thank you guys as usual for putting up with my endless rambling, I hope I at least procrastinated on my homework for a reason tonight ;)
Herkese hoşçakal! (Bye everybody!)

PS: I'm going to give this blog's format another little touch-up, of sorts, pretty soon. While I definitely like the name very much, I think this blog's temporary Turkish stint as "Good Dil" has sadly come to an end.

For now.

Monday, August 4, 2014

What we've been up to

Herkese merhaba!!

So it has very unfortunately come to the point where, in a week, we will be leaving Turkey. :(
I definitely plan on writing a big post about my feelings in regards to that, but for now, since it's been quite a while since I updated you all on what we've actually been doing, I think I'll focus on that for now. The feels can wait a day or two. xD

Üçüncü hafta (the third week):
Generally, the third week was much more relaxed and not as busy as the second. We started it off on July 14 by heading to a musical center at Merinos, one metro stop away from our school, to start off our dance and music lesssons! The Municipality of Bursa organized these lessons for us, and we started off learning a traditional dance from one teacher, and an old Turkish song from the choir director. We will be performing the dance as well as the group song at our farewell party later this week. I will post video footage if I can/if everything turns out well. xD
Anyway, on the 16th, we headed to the Children's Shelter as a volunteer activity. After given a brief tour of the premises, we spent most of our time teaching the children typical American games from our childhoods, such as kırmızı ışık, yeşil ışık (red light, green light) and ördek, ördek, kaz (duck, duck, goose). Overall, it was a pretty good day, and the children seemed interested and enjoyed playing the games we taught them, which was nice. :)
The 17th is the day which I would tentatively label as the most productive, at least for my class specifically. I don't know, we just all were quite on top of things for the most part, learned a lot, and got stuff done, which felt quite satisfying. :) After class, I headed over to Kent Meydanı for some refreshing cold drinks and frozen yogurt in a cafe with Salma, Gianna, Maddy, and Ruth, which was great fun. :)
On the 19th, we had an (optional) group outing to a lovely little village in the mountains near Bursa called Misi Köyü, which was a little gem - a tiny, quaint little mountain village perched in the mountains. We arrived and were greeted by a wonderfully refreshing shower of rain, which was a welcome change from the suffocating heat which we've been dealing with for a while now. After getting something to eat at a cafe in the main square of the village, we were essentially given freedom to explore by ourselves. I spent most of the time with Maddy - we made our way past some quaint little houses and farmer's plots up to a hill with some breathtaking views of the village and the lush mountain forests surrounding it. It's reassuring that such beautiful nature exists so close to the urban hustle and bustle of Bursa. As we wandered back into town, we also got a look at a really pretty and mysterious looking old Ottoman home that has since been converted into a museum. We ended our day by settling down in a cafe right next to a beautiful little stream, which was beautiful and relaxing in the extreme. I sat at a table with Gianna, Salma, Maddy, Şeyma, Salma's host sister, and Cat, sipping çay, talking endlessly about everything and anything, and sharing some laughs. :) Overall, I'm super glad we got to see Misi Köyü - I feel like we're all in on a little-known secret, having been there. 'Twas a good day. ^^
That's really all there was to the third week. Much more relaxed and less chaotic than the weeks prior.

Dördüncü hafta (the fourth week): 
The fourth week was a little busier than the third, but still no match for the second. On the 21st, we started our fourth week off with a real treat: a whirling dervish ceremony! After iftar (the daily breaking of the fast at sundown during Ramadan), we headed to the Karabaş-i Veli Cultural Center in a distant and maze-like neighborhood in the center of the city, to witness this quintessential and typical Turkish experience. The ceremony itself was absolutely breathtaking - watching the way that they moved as the relaxing music typical of these ceremonies was played in the background was soothing and hypnotizing (which I guess showed, since several of my friends later remarked on my apparently quite mesmerized facial expression xD), and it made me feel happy and peaceful inside in a way I haven't in a long time. It reminded me of a time that I was lucky enough to attend an event several years ago at which the Dalai Lama was speaking, and I felt like my head was swimming in positive energy. I think those words describe how I felt this time around quite accurately as well. What else can I say? It was beautiful, incredible, a highlight of my time in Turkey for sure. :) After the ceremony, a guide gave us a quick tour of the Mevlevi Dervish Lodge where the ceremony was performed, and gave us a brief but informative rundown of the Mevlevi traditions and history, how the dervishes are trained, and the significance behind various things that are a part of the ceremonies in and of themselves.
On the 23rd, we were able to visit another little gem of a mountain village, Cumalıkızık, where we had a chance to wander through some fantastically preserved Ottoman architecture (it's a UNESCO World Heritage sight to boot!) and cobblestone streats. Most of the shops and restaurants were closed since it was Ramadan, but we did have a chance to peruse a couple of stands and buy some much-desired, fresh grown, mouthwateringly delicious fresh fruit (peaches, strawberries, etc.) from kind old ladies selling them in the town square. Rose and I even managed to befriend a friendly cat that followed our group for a little while. :D Another great village, another great day.
We came to the general consensus 24th was a bit of a weird day, in a bit of a weird week. Everyone felt a bit off for some reason, and tempers flared a bit. We also seemed to agree that we couldn't particularly nail down just why it was weird. We thought it might have have something to do with the weird timing during the program - we were at a point where the novelty of being in a new country had largely worn off, but going home was also a while off. There was also something of a torrential downpour that day, so I waited inside the TÖMER Center with Gianna, Salma, and Maddy, and we chatted as we waited for the rain to stop, managing to cheer each other up quite effectively (they're good at that kind of thing  - I love you guys! :) <3). After the rain stopped, we also made a quick stop before going home, grabbing a bite out with Cat at a restaurant on the way to the Osmangazi metro stop, where we had some pretty fantastic conversations and laughs.
The next day, the 25th, we finished up our last week with an unusually long dance and music practice, where we not only made significant headway on the dance and group song we're learning, but some groups were set up for solo and duet performances, one comprising Brendan and Sophia, the other Salma, Gianna (who later had to back out due to a severely sore throat, but has since recovered :)), and myself. We will be performing these duets in addition to the dance and group song at our farewell party later this week! Towards the end of the practice, we even had an impromptu visit from the mayor of Bursa, who got to hear Brendan and Sophia practice their solo. After that, we all went our separate ways for the several days of vacation we had for Bayram, the feast marking the end of Ramadan, ready for a well deserved few days of rest and relaxation.

Beşinci hafta (the fifth week):
This week was pretty relaxing, and not many specific things happened that are worth going into detail about. I originally was supposed to go to Ankara with my host family, since that's where most of their extended family lives, but since my host family recently sold their car, we were unfortunately not able to go. As disappointed as I was not to experience a typical Turkish Bayram celebration with tons of extended family, and that I didn't get to see Ankara, it was a very relaxing few days. I got lots of conversational Turkish practice by talking to my host parents, and I achieved my coveted "oh my God, I can speak and NOT sound incompetent!" moment when I managed to brokenly communicate to my host parents that I am applying to college this coming year, and how the American college selection process differs from the Turkish one. :D I also swam a lot with my host dad in the pool we have in our apartment complex. So as un-noteworthy as it may have been, I had a good Bayram. It was just the break I needed, and I headed back to class on July 31st refreshed and ready to learn. We only had two days of class in the fifth week, and they were not especially noteworthy in any significant way either, just...normal. But a good normal. :) It was super nice to see all mah NSLI-Yers (I missed them!), and be together again.
Finally, on August 2nd, a small group of us (me, my host brother Erinç, Maddy, Emily, her host sister Defne, and Brendan) headed to Kozahan (the Silk Bazaar) and some of the surrounding bazaars for some heavy-duty souvenir shopping. I managed to get most of my shopping done, and we even had a crazy chance encounter with a girl from New York state who is here with the AFS summer program! She heard us speaking English and came up to say hi. xD It turns out that the AFS-NSLI-Y kids, including Krista, are in Ankara, but there are also a number of "core kids" who are traveling on the AFS Turkey summer program without a scholarship, many of whom are scattered in different cities with no other exchange students nearby. This AFSer we met was the only one in Bursa, and also learned all of her Turkish through pure immersion, without the cushion of language classes. Very admirable (and rather similar to my Egyptian experience in many respects, particularly in the second semester when I was the only AFSer in my chapter xD). But it any case, it was a crazy chance encounter which made me very happy. :D
So that's the uneventful fifth week in a nutshell.

Bu hafta - altıncı ve SON hafta :'(
This week has started off quite nicely today for the most part. We had music practice, where we made significant progress, and then Maddy, Salma, Sam, and I went back to Kozahan together, where we wandered for a while, making a few additional purchases here and there, and then sat down for a quick çay at a cafe, having some fantastic, open-ended philosophical conversations and bonding time. It was just a great outing and a great day, one which I'm quite sure I'll never forget. :) Obviously there's not much to say about this week at this point, since it's just started.

Phew! So that's the rundown of what we've been up to in the past few weeks.
Hope you all enjoyed it!
Get ready for the onslaught of pictures.

Pretty great view.

I liked the colors of this house.

Inside the old Ottoman home.

The cafe by the stream.

Inside the Cultural Center where the whirling dervish ceremony was performed.

The musicians who accompanied the ceremony. 

I can still see it in my mind, still feel how mesmerized I was. I'm getting goosebumps just thinking about it.

Village dos. 

A cat I photographed because she looked just like my Ginsberg back home! :') (Sidenote: I miss my kitty!)

The friendly cat that Rose and I befriended. :)

Just a pretty sunset. 
Thanks for bearing with me, my lovely readers. :) I hope this at is at least somewhat interesting, as I've procrastinated quite a bit on tonight's homework to finish it (what else is new? :P).
I'll be back later this week to update you on the exciting activities we have planned, as well as some pre-departure jitters and reflections I've been wanting to get out.
Be back soon! 
Thanks as always for reading,
Nico ^^