Sunday, July 2, 2017


Even with this being my third homestay exchange and fourth overall, this experience has thrown me some unique challenges that I honestly did not expect.

One is consequential, a product of simply being where we are, and that is the matter of the target language itself.
I'm sure that many of you smart folk will quickly catch on to the fact that it's a little strange that we, as a group of Turkish learners, are not doing our language program in Turkey, which is due to the fact that it is not possible to go to Turkey on US government funds right now, as the travel warnings from the State Department prohibit it.

Overall, I believe that moving many of the State Department funded Turkish programs to Azerbaijan is an innovative option which presents many unique opportunities. This is a place that most of my program-mates and I would not have come to, certainly not for an immersive experience like this, anytime soon; I in particular as someone interested in intersections between Russian language and Turkic ethnic identity have had a blast getting a good preview of how those things meld in Azerbaijan; and we're quite well looked after by the Embassy staff and the Azerbaijan University of Languages higher-ups, as they are very keen to ensure that we have good experiences and learn as much Turkish as possible.

Also, given that sending to other, possibly more immersive Turkish environments like Northern Cyprus is (unsurprisingly) not an option, it's certainly far better to have Turkish programs here than none at all.

But, evidently, Azerbaijan is not Turkey. The immersion that we are getting here is admittedly not the same, and in spite of all the positive thinking I'm trying to do in order to focus on all that I'm getting out of my experience here, I find it hard to break out of that mindset sometimes. It can be very frustrating, because many people, whether it's host families or strangers on the street, can understand our broken Turkish, but can only reply in Azerbaijani or Russian, which most of us highly struggle to understand effectively. Oftentimes even people who claim to have relatively high Turkish skills will snake back and forth in the same sentence, or even mix the two in pronunciation, in a phenomenon which I have informally dubbed "Turko-Azerbaijani."

Even so, speaking of focusing on the positives, my language skills have been tremendously streamlined and improved, even just in the two and a half or so weeks since we arrived. Being once again immersed in Turkish in both academic and informal environments has reminded me of how much I love this language, and how much I missed studying it. I'm going to do everything in my power to ensure that I never go as long as three years without studying it again.

The other main challenge in my life here as been a host family switch.
I will leave the details out and keep things relatively vague here for privacy reasons. Suffice it to say that it was a mainly circumstantial issue that brought out some people's true colors, it was handled about as well as it could have been, and it's worked out for the best. Shoutout to the higher ups from the CLS program, and my wonderful RD Cat, for handling the entire situation gracefully, courageously, and taking good care of me, and to all my CLSer friends for showing me nothing but support and understanding through the entirety of that hot mess experience. I may have felt afraid and uncertain, but thanks to the aforementioned folk, I never felt alone.

With this being my third homestay, experiencing a host family switch for the first time was immensely surreal, as it was just about the last thing that I expected out of my time here. Nevertheless, I'm quite glad that if it had to happen, at least it happened this time around, when I'm older, more experienced, and somewhat thicker-skinned than either of my homestay experiences I had as a teenager (in which I was luckily blessed with some very lovely families).

I now live in a slightly different part of the city with an older lady named Valida, and her 25-year-old niece Subiye, who has lived with her for a few years since moving to Baku to become an Azeri language teacher.
They're both very kind, welcoming, and overall badass women, and I feel very lucky to be living with them.

In terms of the normal life and progression of the program other than those things, I've been having a great time.
We had five days off of school for Bayram (Eid al-Fitr), or the holiday marking the end of Ramadan, which I spent with a big group of my program friends traveling to a beautiful city in the north of Azerbaijan called Sheki, where we had a great little adventure among the lush Caucasus mountains and waterfalls, and quaint Ottoman architecture that reminded me of the beautiful villages I visited around Bursa.
Yesterday we went on a group excursion to Qobustan, an area about two hours out from Baku, and there we saw an otherworldly beautiful assortment of giant stones with 5,000 year old petroglyphs carved into them, as well as the geological phenomenon of mud volcanoes, which were surprisingly cool (many of us ended up doing spontaneous face masks haha).

A few weeks ago, I had the amazing opportunity to attend a Tarkan concert. Tarkan is one of Turkey's most famous and widely known pop stars, whose music was one of the first ways I ever heard the sound of the Turkish language, so it was incredible to see him perform in person, and be able to jam out to many of my favorite songs of his.

Classes are quite challenging at times, but going well overall. Our teachers are nice, and we're learning so much from them.

Life here in Baku is amazing overall. I'm lucky to be here, learning Turkish, living yet another of my abundant dreams.

I will be back soon to write my "things I've noticed" post.

Bye for now.

(One of my favorite Tarkan songs)

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