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Journal Writing Project Iki Evim Var

Fri, Nov 18th, 2011
Posted in Journal Student Writing Project

While many readers may be thinking that the high school author of this article may have made a serious spelling error, I disagree. The three simple words above are correctly Turkish. While meaningly for many, for me these words represent ten months of strong emotions, hard work, and uncountable memories. Translated: I have two homes.

My 'year' as an exchange student in Turkey actually began just over two years ago when I announced to my family that I wished to leave the safety of small-town Minnesota and fling myself into a very foreign country where I would know no one and be able to speak next to nothing. Needless to say, it came as a surprise; exchange is not a common dream among American teens. Still, I was determined to try. I applied to a State Department-sponsored, language-focused scholarship with hopes of going to Turkey. Several essays, phone calls, e-mails, one phone interview, and five months later, I received an e-mail informing me I had been accepted to the program. Then came the four months of waiting, preparing, and learning as much as I could about Turkey, then Samsun (my city), then, finally, my host family.

On the morning of August 31, 2010, I boarded a plane and headed from Minneapolis-St. Paul Airport to LaGuardia International Airport in New York City. I boarded alone, leaving my family on the other side of the glass. When the lady at the gate announced it was time for everyone to board, the tears came. I would not be seeing my family for almost 300 days (298 to be exact), and the thought frightened me. I stood there, and told my mom I didn't want to go. All the excitement was gone. All the desire to learn a new language and culture that still hid somewhere inside of me was gone. All I thought about was how I was leaving everything known and safe to go to a place I had never seen and to live with people I had never met. In that moment, I concluded that I must be insane to be doing this.

I landed in Samsun on September 5, 2010. I would not leave Turkey until June 25, a long ten months later. I could easily fill this entire newspaper with stories from that year. How do I even begin? Language, food, people, religion, Turkish high school, Turkish language school (three hours a day, five days a week), music, weddings, emotions, friends, travel, NSLI-Y (my scholarship program) and AFS (the implementing program). This list is just a beginning.

Today I am back in the United States of America sitting in the same room I did when I first applied to go abroad. The almost 300 days are finished and gone. I have been home over four months. Being home is amazing and very hard to describe. The conviction that I am insane has been pushed aside (it did pop into my head more than once throughout the year). Even though I am not insane, I am not like most of the other students at my small rural high school in Lanesboro, Minnesota. Those ten months have taught me and changed me, sometimes without my knowing, other times with a conscience decision I had to make. I have not only seen a different way of life, I have lived it. With that, I have also seen American lifestyle and values in a new light.

One of the biggest things I learned during my exchange year was a new language. Though this may seem like a very ordinary thing to encounter while living in a foreign country, I find it just as interesting as gender roles or food, or even how dating is viewed in Samsun, Turkey. Learning a new language through immersion was extremely difficult even with the help of three-hour language classes every day. You are forced to use new grammar daily and almost immediately after learning if you want to improve communication with the people around you. It is not like an American classroom setting where you can cram all the vocabulary and new grammar the night before the test and then look back in your notebook any time you forget during the year. I was required to learn and retain new words daily and learn to use new grammar while I had a conversation. I am not saying there is a better way to learn the language, but I do say immersion is one of the hardest and most stress-filled methods. And the most rewarding.

Every time I told my host sister to wait just one moment while I formed a sentence in my head using a new grammar, I would see her sit up just a bit. Then, if I said it correctly, the huge grin that spread across her face and her enthusiastic high five was enough praise and encouragement for me. Talking to new people for the first time was always a bit scary. I never knew if they would understand my sometimes broken Turkish, let alone my accent. Whenever someone complimented me or asked me how much I learned before coming (and I answered that I had literally known five words), I could not help but smile. When people were surprised I was an American because I 'looked and acted Turkish', I knew I was on the right track.

I have changed a lot since the morning of August 31. I don't regret going at all. Even with all the tears and hardships throughout the year (and there were plenty), I would never take back the year. The fact is, I can say I have two homes, two families, two lives. Was it worth it? Yes. Simply put: hayat güzeldir, hem de çok. Meaning? Life isn't just good, it's great.

Sam Stocker is a student at Lanesboro High School. She is one of 8 area students participating in the Journal Writing Project, now in its thirteen year.

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