Tag Archives: Host Family

“A dopo,” not “arrivederci”

I can’t believe how quickly time has gone by.

It seems like just yesterday that I was packing my suitcase to head off to Italy for the semester, worrying about my choice to live with a host family and planning what I wanted to do over the four months. Indeed, even the last month has flown by, with trips to Rome, visits from my family, and weekend in Cinque Terre all while trying to finish up my final papers and exams. I’m still planning on composing some belated blog posts for those trips, but I wanted to jot down a quick reflection now that my semester just ended.

Hands down, one of the best parts of my experience this semester was living with my host family. Julia and I would repeatedly gush to each other about how lucky we were to have them, and I couldn’t have imagined my semester without them. My host mother, Emanuela, was incredibly caring and sweet, truly playing the role of mother while I was abroad. My host father, Paolo, provided endless laughs and entertainment as he mocked our American pronunciation of words and teased us about “finding a Mario.” Our family dinners each night––Emanuel, Paolo, Julia, Liz, and me––were almost always the highlight of every day, a time to relax and catch up on our daily lives.

Living with a host family also enabled me to drastically improve my Italian language skills over the course of the semester. While I still can struggle to find the words I want, the last four months have enabled me to become conversational in the language and to significantly improve my comprehension skills. It helped, of course, when our nightly dinner conversation in Italian ranged from everything from Italian politics to positive psychology to American geography.

On my final night in Italy, I gave Emanuela the scrapbook I had put together of our time in Italy, with photos of the three of us and thank you notes at that back. I was incredibly touched when she got tearful at seeing it, sparking tears from the rest of us as well.

“This is my favorite thing to receive,” she told me in Italian, “because I can just sit here after you leave and remember all of these memories.”

When Emanuela woke up the next morning at 3:40 a.m. to wake me up and make sure I made my 4 a.m. taxi ride, I again was reminded how lucky I was to be able to get to know such a wonderful individual.

“This isn’t goodbye,” she told me in Italian. “You can come back to visit anytime, and you know that we’ll always be here. This is dopo, until later.”

And truly, I have a feeling that I’ll hopefully be back in Florence someday in the future. And because I hate goodbyes, I’m sticking to Emanuela’s advice.

A dopo, Firenze.

On the Road (Airway?) Again: Countdown to Firenze

It’s strange to be leaving again.

My huge purple suitcase is once again stuffed with a semester’s worth of stuff. I’ve got my system down at this point. In fact, I hardly unpacked at all during the two weeks that I’ve been home. It only took several hours this afternoon to throw everything back in, replacing the shorts and dresses that were my staples in Alanya with clothing more suited for the rain and cold of a Firenze spring.

With my bags all packed, I’m now utilizing every outlet in my room as I charge up all the electronics for the travel marathon that commences tomorrow at 3:30 a.m., which is when I need to leave my house in order to make my early morning flight out of San Francisco. From there, I’ll stop in Chicago and Frankfurt before finally touching down in Florence on Thursday morning. (That is, if everything goes to plan!)

Over these past couple weeks, I’ve been so busy savoring my time with family and friends that I haven’t really had much time to reflect on all the wonderful experiences I had in Turkey last semester. And so, as I’m preparing to leave for Italy, it’s not California that I’m starting to feel homesick about, but Alanya.

I unpacked my duffel bag this afternoon to find the picture frame that my Turkish host family gave to me at our last dinner in December. Next to it, I found the beautiful blue, loopy scarf that my host mother had knitted for me. I am incredibly thankful for the charming people and culture that welcomed me to Turkey––encouraging my attempts to make conversation with my broken Turkish, cooking endless amounts of food and sweets, and inviting me into their homes and businesses. I hope that my experience this semester amounts to even just half of that.

I’ll be actually living with a host family this semester––something that both excites and terrifies me at the same time. While last semester I went to my host family’s flat for dinners and hung out with my host sister in town, now I will be living, sleeping, and eating with my new Italian host family. I’m excited to explore and have time away from the Villa in this sense, since that physical separation between home and school was absent in Turkey, where we did everything in the same building. I cannot wait to have my own Italian family, but I’m nervous about the logistics of living in a stranger’s home.

That being said, I cannot wait to explore the city of Florence itself and to touch and feel its centuries of influence as one of the great cultural capitals of the world. I cannot wait to rome its streets, capture its words on paper and its beauty in photographs. I splurged on a couple of the DK Eyewitness Travel Guides for Florence and Italy, and I’ve been pouring over the photographs and drawings. Though they take up several precious pounds in my suitcase, I hope to try out some of the self-guided walking tours for myself. And then, there’s some places that I’ve already bookmarked. I can’t wait to picture the Medicis at home in Fiesole, explore the bizarre taxidermied collection of the Museo Zoologico La Specola, or marvel at Renaissance art.

I’m truly thankful for the incredible opportunity that I have to continue my adventures abroad in Italy. I hope to build off my one semester of Italian to become somewhat conversational in this beautiful language. I hope to learn not only about what Italy meant in the past, but what it means today in global politics. But above all, I hope to have time to wander and savor the country and its people.

Turkey in Turkiye

We got back late last night after spending the Thanksgiving weekend in a whirlwind trip to Adana and Cyprus, after taking three flights and three days. Our actual Thanksgiving evening was spent in a restaurant in Adana, eating none other than Adana Kebap (so good!). Because we would be away, we celebrated Thanksgiving on the Tuesday before, inviting all of our Alanya friends to a giant turkey dinner.

We don’t have ovens in our apartments, so we were somewhat limited in what we could make, ordering a turkey from a local hotel and pies from a restaurant. Mara and I claimed the mashed potatoes, so we spent the afternoon peeling potatoes, boiling them in water, and mashing them up with copious amounts of butter and milk.

At one point, when Mara, Amanda, and I were peeling potatoes, Lindsay remarked, “Of course we have the Foley’s, O’Malley’s, and Galvin’s peeling potatoes.” Of course.

We decorated Yamaç Cafe with a box of Thanksgiving decorations that had been shipped from the U.S., then laid out all the food in a huge spread: turkey, mashed potatoes, salad, rice, baked carrots, brussels sprouts, gravy, stuffing, pies, and so on. We invited our host families for the meal, and slowly the restaurant began to fill up with our big Alanya family.

My host family was amused that we called the meat “turkey.” In fact, the Turkish word for the bird is hindi, which is also the word for someone from India. So really, the circle of confusion just continues!

While it’s hard to be away during the holidays, there’s so much to be thankful for here in Alanya. I am thankful for my friends and professors, those who have shared this wonderful experience with me. But I’m also incredibly thankful for my “Turkish family,” who has generously and open-heartedly welcomed me into their home and lives. I can’t say how lovely it is to see The Hunger Games in a movie theater full of Turkish teenagers, to play countless games of Okey, and to share meals that always include never-ending amounts of delicious food. (They even brought me a cake and a container of ashure to take home with me after the meal!) They are absolutely the best.

It was truly a Happy Thanksgiving.

The Real World: Alanya

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It’s Friday afternoon here in Alanya. Even though it’s now into November, it’s still sunny and 75 degrees in this idyllic beach town. I always thought we had it good in California––turns out, it’s hard to beat the Mediterranean climate.

After the non-stop travel of my fall break, I’ve been equally swamped and busy with work in the past three weeks. Next week, we leave on our study tour, where we’ll travel as a group to see more of this enchanting country––from the Sufi legacy in Konya to the eerie lunar landscape of Cappadocia to Ataturk’s moseleum in Anakara. But until then, I’m busy studying for my economics midterm on Monday and writing an essay on Zafer Senocak’s Perilous Kinship for my Culture and Politics class.

Nevertheless, it’s only fair to take some time to update my family and friends on what I’ve been up to these past several weeks, seeing that they’ve been quite a roller coaster. As we like to joke on this trip, I’m pretty sure that the 9 of us are on some kind of horrible drama that doesn’t get picked up for the second season. Either that, or we’ve somehow found ourselves transplanted into a season of The Real World: Alanya. I guess it comes with the territory. Two months in, we’re all very aware of each other’s idiosyncrasies. But truth be told, I couldn’t ask for a better group with whom to share this all.

Iyi Bayramlar!

Our first week back coincided with the Kurban Bayramı, also known as the Feast of the Sacrifice or Eid al-Adha in Arabic. It’s one of the major  religious holidays within Islam and celebrates Abraham’s willingness to sacrifice his son Ishmael before God intervened. In Turkey, people have the whole week off from school and work, and  spend the time visiting with their extended family. University students return home for the week, and many families travel to their home villages for Bayram.

In honor of Abraham’s sacrifice, many traditional families still sacrifice an animal––usually a lamb or a goat––as part of the celebration. On Monday, you could see all kinds of sheep and goats tied up near the houses where we live.

There are all kinds of peculiarities that come along with this in an urban area like Alanya: I saw a family try to stuff a sheep into the back of their two-door car. The city designates an area outside of the city in which to conduct the sacrifices, so  I missed much of the animal carnage that comes along with the holiday. Once the animal is sacrificed, the meat is divided into thirds: one third goes to the family; one third goes to relatives, neighbors, and friends; and one third goes to the poor and needy.

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Since it was the Bayram, we got the week off from Turkish class (a.k.a. more beach time!).

On Thursday and Friday, we met up with our host families so that we could experience Bayram ourselves. My host family was out of town visiting relatives, so I was paired with Mara’s family for Thursday night.

We met up with Dilara, and spent the evening at the apartments of her uncles. Dilara’s father has seven brothers––all brothers––and we went to the apartments of two uncles over the course of the evening. (They lived just two floors apart from each other in the same building.)

It was so much fun to spend the night with their family, attempting to practice our Turkish and using a lot of sign language to communicate with each other. And my, the sweets! There were so many kinds of delicious desserts and sweets for the Bayram––baklava, cakes, pastries, candied pumpkin, and so much more.

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Visiting with Dilara’s family for Bayram.

On Friday night, Alex and I went over to the house of my host family. We had a wonderful dinner, shared all  kinds of YouTube videos, and thoroughly confused Müge with our pantomimed explanations of trick-or-treating and haunted houses.

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We were making fun of people who take photos of their food and put it on Instagram, so naturally I had to document my meal.

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Müge, me, and Alex in the living room.

It had been Dilara’s birthday earlier that week, so we walked to meet up with Dilara, Mara, and Matt, who were out to eat in celebration of her birthday. They had finished their meal, so we headed over to a cafe for dessert and waffles.

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I guess Matt wasn’t as excited as I was for Coffeemania’s waffles.

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Mara, Alex, Dilara, and Müge

Afterwards, we invited Dilara and Müge to the Lojman. We listened to music, and they taught us some Turkish wedding dances.

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Dans et! If these walls could talk, they’d only tell you how many impromptu dance parties have taken place in this room.

Iyi Bayramlar!

Meet-up at Akdeniz University

The next weekend, Nese had organized a meeting for us with a group of students at Akdeniz University. We drove out to their campus on the other side of Alanya, which had a fantastic view of the Akdeniz (Turkish for Mediterranean Sea, literally “White Sea”). On campus, we were treated to sweets and tea in a conference room.

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We all drove over to a local restaurant for breakfast, where we were served a fantastic spread of all kinds of Turkish breakfast foods––all the candied fruits you can imagine, fried bread, eggs, vegetables, fruit, and çay, of course.

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Okay, shoot, I totally am one of those people who takes pictures of their food.

I sat down next to Damla, and we talked all about our families, dancing, boys, and things to do in Alanya. We exchanged phone numbers so we can meet up later this semester.

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Afterwards, we headed back down to the center of Alanya for a special talk with Professor İlber Ortaylı, one of leading historians in Turkey and director of the Topkapı Museum. During his talk, he argued that Turkey should look more towards the East––towards Russia and Iran––and avoid the European Union, focusing instead on bilateral negotiations with other countries. I didn’t agree with much of what he said, but it was illuminating to hear his viewpoint, especially as such a respected figure within Turkey.

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For whatever reason, this was the only photo I took inside of the cistern.

Our talk was hosted in an old cistern near the Red Tower. We had a short break before the talk, so Alex and I went exploring and found this absolutely breathtaking beach near the castle walls.

It ended up being one of my favorite spots in Alanya. I have no idea how we didn’t discover this spot sooner.

Highlights from the rest of the weekend included attempts at facial masks out of coffee grinds, Amanda singing Les Misérables to herself in a headscarf, shopping sprees at Makro Mart, beach trips, and making friends with the staff at Viking.

Also, this sunset:

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A little bit of Turkish pride

Every October 29, Turks celebrate Cumhuriyet Bayramı or Republic Day to commemorate the founding of the Turkish Republic on the same day in 1923 by Mustafa Kemal. School is off for the day; instead, schoolchildren gather in public to recite Turkish poems or sing songs to honor the history of the Republic.

After dinner on Tuesday, Alex and I followed the sounds of the music down to the harbor, where we found several hundred Alanyans crowded around a stage that had been constructed by the docks.

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The enthusiasm was contagious. Countless onlookers passionately waved Turkish flags in the air; everyone danced to the beat. At one point, someone in the crowd handed us a Turkish flag, so we joined in as well, waving the flag above our heads.

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Because honestly, I have to say I’m pretty grateful to be in Turkey too.

 

I’ve also had a blog post posted on the Junior Year Abroad Network for the Berkley Center for Religion, Peace & World Affairs. Check it out!

Nevertheless, this experience with “Tourist Turkey” has made me wonder: where’s the real Turkey? How can you find authenticity amidst banal internationalization?

Palmistry, UNO Games, and Harry’s

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One of the special components of the McGhee program is the opportunity to participate in different options for Community-Based Learning (CBL) while you’re abroad. It’s an integral part of the experience because it allows you to get involved with the community and interact with the beautiful city and people of Alanya—whether it’s helping to plant a flowerbed at the waterfront or assisting special needs adults with a crafts workshop.

This semester, I signed up to help teach English at a local middle school in Alanya for my CBL. On Friday morning, we got a ride over to the school in the morning, where we met up with Mehmet Bey, who teaches us Turkish twice a week but also is a regular English teacher at the middle school. When we arrived, he gave us the basic run-down of the plan as we sipped cups of çay—first we’d help out with the seventh graders, then we’d go help out with the eighth graders.

We soon made our way up to the seventh grade classroom, being mobbed by students along the way who kept wanting to show off their English to us—“Hello! How are you! What’s your name!”

We introduced ourselves to the class, and then sat down with a group of students to help them go through the lesson. After so many years of language classes, I’ve always wondered how strange our conversations and readings must sound to native speakers. And so, it was a lot of fun to re-enact a dialogue with Amanda on the topic for the day as Sam and Pam. It went somewhere along the lines of this:

Sam: Hello, Pam! Let me see your palm.

Pam: Why do you want to see my palm?

Sam: I am studying palmistry. Palmistry can tell you about your personality and traits by reading the lines on your palm.

Pam: How does it work?

Sam: For example, you have strong lines on your palm, which means you must be optimistic.

Pam: I don’t believe it, but I need to go to the cinema at 4 o’clock.

Sam: Okay. Good bye!

I have no idea why Unit 1 of their textbooks includes a lesson on palmistry of all things—and I’m not quite sure any of the students understood what was going on—but it made for a very entertaining lesson.

After our lesson with the seventh graders, there was time for recess, so we went outside to join the rest of the kids. It was almost like we were celebrities—everywhere we went the kids would point at us, and then mob us with questions about what our names were and where we were from.

We then went to the eighth grade lesson, where Mehmet Bey handed us the textbook and told us what pages he wanted to go over today. And so, I somehow ended up leading the class through an impromptu lesson on the vocabulary for character traits.

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This time, the passage was an email from a girl to her friend back home about her new friends in London—“Let me tell you about Elaine. She is very rude and inconsiderate. I wish I had a true friend like you.” After reading it several times and going over the assigned questions, we worked on the pronunciation of some particularly difficult words: honest, punctual, ambitious, generous, etc. (Turkish is written phonetically, with 29 letters and 29 sounds—unfortunately, English isn’t quite as straightforward.)

At noon, we were picked up and had lunch at Yamaç Café before getting our stuff together to head down to the beach. (I can’t get there often enough!)

We had some time to read for class before getting ready for our reception that night. Every year, the McGhee Center hosts a huge reception for members of the Alanya community—host families, the mayor, and even the governor! It was hosted on this outdoor lawn, right next to Cleopatra Beach, with a huge buffet laid out for all of the guests. My host family came, so I was able to hang out with my host sister Müge and her friend Dilara, who is Mara’s host sister.

Afterwards, Müge and Dilara wanted to take us out to some places in Alanya. So, after the reception, we walked down to the waterfront near the Red Tower to listen to the free jazz festival that’s going on this weekend.

After watching the concert for a bit, we then played UNO for an hour or so at this café nearby, which has a huge collection of board games and cards that you can choose from.

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By midnight, we finally headed over to Harry’s, a bar on the main strip that plays live music on the nights. We had a wonderful time listening to the band, who played all kinds of American rock and had an absolutely gifted lead singer.

I can’t name a better way to top off a Friday night than jumping onto the dance floor with Mara singing every word to “I Will Survive.”

On another note, I’ve updated Georgetown’s OIP blog with a summary of my time in Turkey so far:

The dance group took us backstage, and dressed us in elaborate costumes that represented traditional garb from various regions in Turkey. Our instructions? “Just follow what we do.”

And so, the nine of us took the stage along with our professional friends, clumsily walking and clapping with the beat as we acted out a traditional wedding ceremony. I’m pretty sure our Turkish audience was quite bewildered why a group of clumsy Americans were also included in the show that night. (We were too.)

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Memnum oldum, Alanya

By now, we’ve got somewhat of a grasp of this city: where to buy groceries at the nearest Migros, what shortcut gives us the quickest way to beach, and how to conquer the massive hills that surround our residence. But after a week in Alanya, it was time to finally become more than acquaintances with this city and its people. And my, what a lovely introduction it was!

First, we met our bus outside of Yamaç Café at 9:30 a.m., before we took a quick drive up the hill to the McGhee Villa.

The McGhee Villa is an Ottoman-era mansion, built in the 1830s by a local Orthodox Christian merchant who specialized in the export of timber to Egypt. However, after World War I and the collapse of the Ottoman Empire, Alanya’s trade routes were severed and its merchants left the city. The villa itself fell into disrepair as most Turkish families families moved to modern apartment buildings.

Ambassador George McGhee served as the U.S. Ambassador to Turkey from 1952-1953, and discovered the Villa as he traveled throughout Turkey with his in the 1950s and 1960s. The McGhees then purchased the Villa in 1968 and renovated it as their summer home. (They also decorated the Villa with numerous pieces of antique wood they had collected in their travels.) In 1989, the Villa was donated to Georgetown, where it’s been used to operate educational and language programs by the university ever since. Unfortunately, right now the villa needs some serious structural restoration, so we are unable to use it for the program this semester.

After our visit to the villa, we continued up the hill to visit the Alanya Kalesi, or Alanya Castle. The castle is one of the best-preserved castles in Anatolia—the Seljuks built most of the current structure in the 13th century, when Antalya served as an important port and strategic fort.

The castle is located 250 meters above the sea on a rocky peninsula that protects it from three sides. Today, you can wander the castle walls and gaze at the spectacular view.

We then drove back down from the Kale Area to the city center, where Nese pointed out the important places to know in the city: the nearest grocery store, post office, pharmacy, and beach, of course. We stopped for lunch at a local restaurant that serves traditional Alanyan cuisine—something that’s actually surprisingly hard to find in Alanya with its glut of restaurants selling hamburgers, pasta, and hot dogs to tourists.

Spotted a creepy mannequin at the restaurant to add to my photo collection.

Spotted a creepy mannequin at the restaurant to add to my photo collection.

After lunch, we visited Alanya’s Archaeological Museum, which surprised me with its extensive and well-showcased collection. At this point, you would think I would be museum’d out, but the museum in Alanya offered a truly thoughtful presentation of artifacts found in the area. (My favorite piece was a beautiful iron Pegasus ornament for the bow of a boat, dating back to the first or second century A.D.)

We got back to the lojman, or apartment building, with just enough time to squeeze in a trip to the beach before we had to meet up with our host families for dinner. With all of our classes, we hadn’t had time to go since Monday, so Alex, Matt, Jo, and I headed down to Cleopatra Beach for an afternoon swim.

For the evening, we were paired up with a host family to have dinner and learn about Turkish culture. Alex and I were paired up with a lovely family with a 17-year-old daughter who had studied English in school. Through a handy translation app on her cellphone and an English-Turkish textbook, we were able for the most part to communicate throughout the night.

They first drove us to their apartment, which is located down the hill near the city center. They gave us a tour of the apartment, and Alex and our host sister bonded over her collection of science and math textbooks. (She studies at the science high school in Alanya, and currently spends hours each week studying for her university comprehensive exams. She wants to be an Industrial Engineer.)

We had dinner in their kitchen, where endless plates of food endlessly appeared before our eyes. First, it was bread, soup, and salad. Then, we were served rice and sarma, which is rice and meat wrapped in vine leaves and served with yogurt. After that, our host mom also served us a huge plate of breaded chicken called schnitzel with French fries.

After dinner, we watched some television with our host sister. The newest show in Turkey right now is a remake of The OC, with Turkish actors playing out the drama of Southern Californian high school students. We then flipped through the various music channels, and our host sister introduced us to some of the current stars in Turkish music. At some point, the channel was changed to the world championships for female wrestling. I think our reaction to wrestling was interpreted as genuine interest, so we ended up watching the female wrestling championships for about 30 minutes.

We then moved out the balcony, where they served us tea and an assortment of Turkish delights and cookies. And the food just kept appearing… a gigantic bowl of hazelnuts, a humongous plate of fruit… It was all absolutely delicious, but I didn’t know how much more food my stomach could fit.

By this time, we had gotten into a routine of using a combination of hand gestures and pantomimes to try to convey what we were saying. We listed off all of the Turkish words and phrases we knew (by this point, you can pretty much count all of it on my fingers and toes), and they taught us some more words.

After being gone now for some three weeks, it was so nice to be in an actual home and feel a part of a family for the evening. Our host mother works as a secretary in the hospital, and our host father works in one of the hotels in Alanya. Through our makeshift sign language, we talked with them about how much Alanya has changed over the past several decades and how much we’ve enjoyed our experiences in Turkey so far. They told us they wanted to take both of us to visit Gazipasa sometime, a nearby town where our host father is originally from.

Soon enough, it was almost 11:30 p.m. and Alex and I were uncomfortably trying to figure out the best way to leave. Under Turkish hospitality, it’s extremely rude to ask guests to leave. Turks will gladly sit with their guests late into the night, and go to great lengths to take care of their guests—even offering them to sleep over for the night. In fact, many Turkish homes have a type of sofa bed that serves this purpose, which can easily be converted into a place for guests to sleep.

After we had tentatively asked about three times if they needed us to go—“Don’t you have homework and studying to do?”—they drove us back to our apartment around 11:45 p.m. (Luckily, they also handed us a mineral water for the road to help with digestion!)

I arrived back at the apartment, stuffed and exhausted, but bursting with appreciation for how wonderful our host family was. We met up with everyone else, and sat swapping stories about our host families until we got too tired.