By Kyle, NSLI-Y Turkey, Summer 2015
On an exchange, one will certainly see and do many memorable things- some obvious, like visiting tourist destinations (there were plenty of mosques, ruins, and museums to marvel at) or attending special events, but it is often the simplest experiences that resonate the most.
One of my favorite nights in Ankara took place about midway through the program, a simple evening spent with my Turkish family, benim ailem.
Following a typical Turkish weeknight dinner of pasta, yogurt, salad, and chicken, I went with my host brother, cousin, mother, and aunt to a dondurma (ice cream) place a short walk from our apartment building. I ordered in Turkish a tiramisu, Oreo, and chocolate cone dipped in chocolate shell. Turkish dondurma is unique and special, thicker than western ice cream and chewier, made out of orchid flour, cream, milk, and a kind of resin. It is far better than Dryer’s.
As we ate, we all sat around an outdoor table in a grassy park, and conversed about many things- America, religion, holidays, and AFS, my exchange organization. I realized that this was truly the first time I had been able to carry out a conversation, as basic as my skills may be. Typically dinner would comprise of me following bits and pieces of the talk, having my host brother explain what I missed, and me speaking to him in a mixture of broken Turkish and English. But this night, I realized that I could understand the questions my adult host relatives were asking, and my answers were logical enough for them not to need my brother’s clarification. I was proud when I saw my improvement, and gained confidence in my language ability, realizing that through effort and making every unbashful attempt to speak that I could, I was able to convey simple ideas.
The air was cool, and as we walked back to the apartment, my host brother told me about many Turkish plays-on-words and pranks, and I mentioned ding-dong-ditching, and he told me that if you tried that here, you would be in far more trouble than in America. This then digressed into a conversation comparing the legal systems of the U.S. and Turkey.
This evening was one of the first times I truly felt part of the family, a member who could talk, joke, and even do chores. The Turkish language was a tool that helped me grow closer to them and form stronger relationships.
As my language skills progressed in and out of the classroom, I was effectively able to order food, get a haircut and shave, and try my hand a bargaining at several bazaars in Ankara and in other villages. I had some success there, but I don’t think I managed to get anything close to the price a local would.
Using my acquired Turkish language skills made a huge difference in forming connections and learning about Turkish culture. Forcing myself to speak gave me confidence, and the more confidence I had, the more I spoke. The more I spoke, the more I learned about Turkish culture, its people, and their values and beliefs firsthand.
I’m beyond grateful to have had this awesome opportunity to spend the summer in Turkey.It has been a tremendous growing and learning experience. I have made many new friends both abroad and from America. I have gained skills in a language that seven weeks before I barely knew anything of. I have learned how to navigate my way around a city in a foreign country. I now know more about adapting to different cultural norms and ways of life. This experience has made me more independent, open-minded, and a little more in-tune with the world around me.