Thursday, December 5, 2013

The Muskoverts

The Muskoverts: Chris, me and Vid
The October Rotary Weekend was incredibly important in helping me to find contentment within myself by realizing even more about my exchange and life after exchange, while sharing time with a couple friends I hadn't seen in a long time.  Chris, Vid and I talked for hours about our exchanges.  We talked about our host families, our friends, our best memories, our craziest moments, our worst moments, our awkward moments, our weirdest meal, and so much more.   The three of us talked about our lives now,  and what we've done since we've been home.  The two of them just loved hearing about my apparently uninspiring life back home.  I really don't think it's too bad, Chris insisted it is, and just Vid listened to us while he laughed.   It was so great to be able to share all of this with them, I realized that even though becoming an exchange student was not something I have uniquely done, all of the experiences I had in Turkey and the ways I've changed because of my experiences are uniquely mine and I'm happy with how it turned out.

The main thing that got the three of us together was the fact that we are all inevitably introverted.  Although our exchanges made each of us more of a people person, deep down, we really enjoy and need our occasional alone time.  The Rotary weekend brought us into a group of unrecognized people, and although we're advised not to, we gravitated towards each other.  As we talked, laughing until tears ran down our faces, we decided that we needed a group name. There were three of us, like the three musketeers, but we didn't think that was very original and wanted to add a bit about our introverted ways.  "The Muskoverts!" Vid claimed, and the Muskoverts we were.  Over the years I've had a handful of "I would be happy living the rest of my life in this moment" moments, and that weekend accounted for one of them.  I didn't have to think about school, or the fact that I was still unemployed, or the relationships I let go of because of my exchange, because I knew that whatever might happen in my life, I have the support from my friends and family, including my Muskoverts.  And I hope to be trusted to return that back to them.

Sadly, that was the last time I'll ever see one of the Muskoverts.  There was a tragic event a couple of weeks ago, and I know that Vid is missed.  I won't forget the way Vid was always smiling, and offering the most logical and intelligent explanations to everything.  I remember during the Rotary Talent Show right before we left for our exchanges, none of the 6690 kids could think of anything we were talented at, but Vid hopped right on stage and sang White and Nerdy to the entire crowd.  He had the most witty blog posts, and it was always a treat to get online and see he'd made a new post.  He had the kind of contagious laugh that changed the attitude of the entire room and lightened the way we saw things. He can break the tension in any situation by making a silly joke, or bringing up the silly video we'd watched two hours ago online.  During our rebound orientation, Vid and I were partners in the getting to know each other game, and I'm so glad I got to know him then and during all of the Rotary weekends, especially that of October.  I'm glad I sought him out right before I left the weekend to give him a giant hug while feeling incredibly happy with my amazing Rotary family and friends.

So, to Vid, wherever you are, I hope you've found peace.  You are greatly missed.

Monday, September 16, 2013

Midnight Post Exchange Thoughts

Lately I've been spending my time doing a wide variety of things.  I've been searching for a job with a very selective list of jobs in mind; sitting on the couch battling some virus with a box of tissues in one hand and a cup of tea in the other; searching for universities to attend, hoping that one will just magically make me decide what I want to do with my life; I've been studying, and avoiding studying; I've been watching How I Met Your Mother and Friends as if they're just going to disappear off of the television tomorrow.  Basically, I'm keeping occupied, by trying to get everything, and nothing done.  I'm not finding myself bored, and although most of my time does go into school and studying, I'm not completely overwhelmed.  Luckily I got a bit of free time a few days ago when I came down with some weird end of summer virus, so I spent all day catching up with a few friends who live a little too far away and catching up with my sleep.

As I was talking to my friends, a Turkish friend particularly, I realized how much of my exchange I'm letting go of so quickly.  I don't read as much anymore, and in America I take life at such a quicker pace.  I knew that I'd probably end up losing my Turkish eventually, but it is happening fast. I don't take twenty minutes walking to the metro station a quarter of a mile away trying to explain to a friend how to pronounce the word "sword" or telling about my funny misuse of language in daily life. I don't get the opportunity to walk to the movie theater every weekend with the another exchange student, and make shadows in the streetlights on the way home while singing songs.  I don't take the time to stop what I'm doing, smile, and think about what my future holds, amazing myself with the things I've already accomplished, and things I hope to accomplish, while also making myself realize that my exchange won't last forever.

A few days before my 18th birthday, a friend and I talked about how life back home (America) would probably be easier than life on exchange and some days we just want to wake up back home, but that there's no way we'd ever choose that for ourselves.  We wanted our exchanges, even the hard times that came with them.  Now that I'm home, and I've been home for over two months, I'm realizing more and more reasons how much my exchange has changed my life.  I have a million memories I hope to hold on to forever, and although my exchange wasn't perfect (whose is?), I have times where I wish I could close my eyes and find myself right in a certain moment of my exchange when I open them.

 I'm eternally grateful for every moment I spent in Turkey, the good and the bad, because I learned about things I never could have dreamed about learning here at home. I hope I can start applying some of my exchange lifestyle to my life here, but most importantly, I hope I can always remember the ten months that changed my life and who I am.  I may not be the same girl who left her home to go to some far away land a year ago, but I'll always be Annie; and even when I'm trying to get everything done in my fast paced American world, I'll always cherish the memories that I know will last a lifetime.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

I'm not in Turkey Anymore...

I returned home from my exchange eight days ago.  When I left, I didn't really know what to think; I'd been overcome by countless emotions, both good and bad, but I was surprised about how similar leaving Turkey was like leaving America.  I knew I'd miss my friends, my family and my home, but it was hard leaving and not knowing when I'd see those things again, or if I ever would.  I was also excited to be coming home to see my American friends and family.  I was feeling ready to get moving on to the next step of my life, but right now I don't even know what that is.  Right now I'm at an in between for the next 6-12 months, then I'll be studying something at some university. I have a little bit to figure out before then.

I'd like to start by saying that being home is weird. Everything looks the same, everyone pretty much acts the same, but I don't feel the same.  I still feel like Annie, but I look at things and people differently.  I see this as a good different, but it's strange nonetheless.  I'm more open to try new things, or just anything at all.  I can see the difference between important and unimportant tasks, and I know better how to go about both situations.  I think about other people's situations and put myself in other peoples' shoes. I'm more confident in myself, but I feel a weird feeling of comfort and discomfort in my own shoes.  I feel comfortable because I feel like I know myself better than I ever have, but uncomfortable because I don't fit into my lifestyle the way I used to.  Obviously my friends have also changed in the year that I've been abroad, but it's been a different change.  Most of them are just starting their first big step, but I've just finished mine, putting us in slightly different places.  Despite the differences, I'm surprised about how much fun I'm having with my crazy teenage American friends whom I haven't seen in a year!

Over the past year, I've learned about not a lot separates us from the people half a world away from us.  We may look different or go about our daily lives differently, but at the end of the day, we all love our families and friends and want what's best for them. I mean, I've only stepped foot on four different countries, but what I've learned from my friends from all over the world and my own first hand experiences is that we're not all that different.

I see a lot of change occurring in myself over the next year, perhaps even more than what's happened over the past year.  I plan on doing a combination of studying, working, volunteering and of course, travelling.  I'm eager to learn more about the world around me, through both travel and people.  I know that not all my goals might not be feasible, but I've got my whole life ahead of me, and I'm excited to see what's in store!

Saturday, June 8, 2013

I'm a Turkish High School Graduate!!!

Today I graduated from my Turkish high school.  In the afternoon my friends and I went to get our hair done together.  It was fun, I've found it's fun to dress up and look pretty.  Anyways, we went to school in the evening, and met up with all of the 12th grade students.  Everyone looked so nice, and everyone was so excited.  My classmates were starting to get all of their plans for University set into place, and graduating from high school is a big step after 13 years of schooling.  I graduated last year in the States, but I was happy to be with my new friends on their special day.  I was trying really hard to be happy, but it was hard because I know I might not see a lot of them ever again, and graduation means my exchange is coming to a close.

The ceremony went really well, although it was excruciatingly long.  I was graduating alongside about 80 students today, so before each person got their diploma, the speaker said a few sentences about them and then everyone cheered while music played as they walked down the stage to get their diploma.  When I walked from my seat to get my diploma, I got special Turkish music and my classmates chanted, "I love you Annie!" It was such a sweet thing, and I realized how lucky I was to spend my year with that group of kids. I've always felt really lucky with the other exchange students I got placed with, it hit me I got really lucky with my school also when my classmates were including me in all their pictures and getting excited for me to walk across the stage.  After the ceremony I found one of the girls in my class, teary eyed, so I went in to hug her and she said to me, "Annie, never forget me! I'm not going to forget you!" And then I did this....

trying my best not to cry, and I looked at my host mom, telling her not to cry, but then walks in my assistant principal who gave me a nice little speech about how I'm always going to have a home here in Bursa and they'll be waiting for me whenever I want to come back.  That made me start crying, and I looked at my host mom, who was clearly holding back tears, and then we cried together for a minute, and I was able to make myself stop, partly because I spent more than 30 seconds on my make up and partly because I wanted to take a few more pictures.  I made myself leave the graduation pretty quickly because I'm not good at long goodbyes, and Riad had surprised me by coming to my graduation and we were both very hungry, so we packed up my things and were off to another school's graduation (my host sister attended the school) with my host parents and to eat a late dinner at that school because all of the restaurants were closed at that point in the night.

Once we got there, we got some good ol' Kofte Ekmek, which is basically just a Turkish meatball sub.  At first Riad and I were kind of bored, but then they started playing music, and so I decided it was time to have some fun, and I started dancing, singing and having a good time!  We got a few strange stares, but I was enjoying myself, and I didn't really care about the stares; I'm used to them now. We started by dancing to American music, but then we started dancing Turkish style to the American music, then Turkish music started and everyone was impressed that we learned how to dance like Turks.  It was so much fun.   

I guess I really wanted to stress that I'm so incredibly happy with this year.  Now that graduation has come along, my exchange is officially ending, and it really has been amazing.  A month from right now I'll be on a plane from Chicago to Columbus, and I'm excited to see my family and friends again, but I don't want this year to end.  I know it's not rational to be living in happy go lucky exchange land forever, but I can say that my exchange has effected my life in ways I can't even put into words. Though it's been hard at times, the people I've met, the sights I've seen, culture I've learned, everything has been worth it. 

. . .

Now I HAVE to go to bed, or else I'm going to be asleep all day tomorrow! I'm going to a wedding tomorrow, I'll post pictures soon... I'm too tired to now.  My sister bought me a Photobucket account for Christmas, I need to start using it.  Also, I'm safe! I know some of you may be worried with the Turkish protests... but I'm good! :) Night all. Hugs!

Saturday, May 25, 2013


This year, the 2440 Rotary District Conference was held in Fethiye, a city along the Mediterranean.  On Thursday the 9th, Riad and I took the bus to Izmir, then on Friday all the exchange students got together to go to Fethiye.  The bus ride was about four or five hours, but we spent the time leaning a Turkish song, then all the girls talked about our future weddings and kids' names.  Once we were in Fethiye, we were all amazed by how beautiful the sea and the resort we'd be staying in were. Everything was really nice, and we spent some time preparing for the conference, then we had dinner and Riad and I worked on our speech some more.


On Saturday, we were all up bright and early for the conference. Riad and I gave a speech in Turkish to all of the Rotarians about our experience as exchange students, and how we've changed over this year.  The speech went alright, I'm not very good at speaking in English, so Turkish was a little bit scary, but I didn't mess anything up too badly.  After we did our speech, a video with all of the exchange students' experiences was shown, and then the kids in Manisa and Izmir did a traditional Turkish dance.  The video was so nice.  It was amazing to look back on all the things I've seen this year, but also really sad to know that it's almost all over.  Everything for the conference went really well, then we were off for the rest of the day to explore our resort.

Riad and I speaking

Saturday was mostly spent on the beach.  For some reason, Rotary keeps sending me on exchanges to these Mediterranean countries, and I'm definitely not a big beach person.  I mean, I think nice beaches are really beautiful, but I really don't like swimming (beaches are salty, pools are chemical-y), and the beach in Fethiye was a rocky beach rather than a sandy beach, so my feet were definitely killing me after walking along the beach.  Anyways, after spending a few hours at the beach, all of the North American girls got together and went to the sauna.  We wanted to go to the hamam (Turkish bath), but it was 60 Euro, so we didn't do it. There were so many tourists in the resort, it's funny the way exchange students view tourists.  Even though I'm not Turkish, I see tourists and call them "foreigners" when, I am in fact a foreigner.

Monica and I on a boat

On Saturday evening all of the exchange students got all dressed up and went to a fancy Rotary dinner. There was three or four courses, and live music.  We all sat in a table in the corner, but we had a good time nonetheless.  My friend Emre and  I had a staring contest throughout the night, and when people wanted to take my picture, I'd frown and say "THIS IS ME SMILING!" 

It was a good night and once it was finished we all retired to our rooms and got a lot of rest because Sunday morning we were back on our way to Izmir.  We stopped at an old Greek village called Kayakoy, and we climbed up a giant hill to see an old Greek Church, and the view of the entire village.  Although all the exchange students felt terrible after climbing the huge hill, it was really beautiful, and I was glad we were able to go to the village. It was a really nice weekend spent with all the exchange students.  Thanks Rotary for giving us this trip!

A few of the exchange students making "silly faces"
The church was on top of that hill, and I'm taking this picture on top of another hill.  It was a long walk!

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

It's Been Awhile...

So, yeah, it's been awhile.  After having Rotary weekends nearly every weekend in March, April was kind of slow because I was spending my weekdays at school and my weekends just hanging out in Bursa.  It's not that it was boring in any way, but I never really got around to blogging because I was keeping pretty busy. I had some fun little things happen.

During the first weekend in April, all of the exchange students from Manisa and Izmir came to Bursa for a Rotary weekend.  One day we were able to go to Uludag, the mountain in Bursa, so I was able to hang out with my friends there.  We also did a tour of Bursa, saw a traditional Turkish pre-wedding ceremony drama and my friends and I hung out together in a park one night.  It was nice, but also kind of weird to have everyone in Bursa when I'm so used to leaving Bursa to see everyone.

Fun in the snow! Left to right, Max (Mexico), Felipe (Brazil) and Riad (Indonesia)
Women dancing at the wedding drama
I got henna on my hands during the theater. I left it on too long and my hands looked like this for about a month.  Oops. 
One day in April, all of the twelfth graders at my school got our cap and gown graduation pictures done.  It was really funny, and really Turkish the way everything went.  My friends and I all got together in the morning and we went to the salon to have our hair and make up done.  I'd never had my make up done before, and let's just say that was an experience.  I have pictures with me and my four classmates. 

Cagla, Elcin and me
Sevval and me
Ozdemir and me
The Group Study Exchange group from Australia came to speak at my Rotary club.  Rotary in English! Yeah!

Riad and I went bowling for his birthday.  The computer didn't work, so I bowled like a 30. Oops....

Riad bowling for the first time!

My host family took me to a dance put on by a group of children for Children's Festival.

I went to a jazz concert put on by my Rotary club.  

Drummer of the jazz band signing CDs after the concert

I had Turkish Breakfast with a group of Rotarians.  Ahhh, I absolutely love Turkish Breakfast!

The Rotary sponsored the deaf school in Bursa to put on a play.  It was really one of the coolest things I've ever seen. I'd never seen anything like it before, the students signed while someone translated what they were signing over the microphone.  The girls even did a dance and they can't even hear the music! It was really awesome. 

My host mom and some of her relatives threw a baby shower for her nephew's wife (I think that's the correct relationship, something like that at least).  Baby showers aren't very normal in Turkey, but she's foreign, so they surprised her with the party!

A few weeks ago I went with my host mom to a picnic dinner with her friends from her sewing class.  There was a lot of yummy food and a bonfire, so obviously it was really fun!

Are there American mezes or tapas?  I'm going to miss Turkish food!
My host mom and me. She's the sweetest :)
Before the bonfire a few women were making sausage wraps. 

And, for my last little bit of information.... My family is officially coming to Turkey on June 23, and my best friend whom I haven't seen in two years will be joining them!  I'm very excited to be seeing my family again, but the thought that I'll be back home on July 8 at 9:35 is kind of freaking me out.  I've experienced just about every emotion with the thought of going back home, and you can probably expect a blog post about my thoughts in the future.  

The past two weeks I've spent with other exchange students, traveling to Fethiye, Izmir and then to northeastern Turkey. I'll be blogging about those soon and posting a lot of pictures.  I had a really great time and I'm so happy I've been able to become an exchange student!  Goodnight for now, because tomorrow I have to be up in the morning to be an exchange STUDENT.  Iyi geceler :)

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Easter in Turkey

Living in a Muslim country, the Christian holidays tend to just slip my mind (although I only celebrate two of them).  For example, at Christmas, the whole idea of a "Christmas Spirit" was lacking, so I think that made it a lot easier to not be with my family, because it didn't really feel like I was missing out on anything.  Easter isn't a huge deal at my house anymore.  Growing up I would always dye eggs with my family, and buy a fancy new dress to go to Church in, then later in the day have an Easter Egg Hunt with the cousins after having a huge, delicious meal with my family.  Now that none of my cousins are kids anymore and we're all separated by hundreds of miles, that tradition has pretty much shifted into a huge dinner with the family, and all of the cousins sitting in the basement playing board games.

This year I obviously missed out on Apples to Apples in the basement and the colorful conversation at the dinner table, but I was able to spend my Easter in Izmir with one of my really good friends, Monica, from Washington (state), her host family and Riad.  Monica and I both put on dresses for dinner, to get into the Easter spirit, then we had a fish dinner with her family, and at dinner we told her family that it was Easter.  We told them about the tradition of getting together with your families, and also the tradition of coloring Easter eggs.  Monica's little host sister was intrigued by the idea of coloring eggs, so we put some eggs in a pot to boil, then we finished our dinner and went out for Turkish waffles while the eggs finished cooking.

And I wonder why I've gained so much weight over the past 7 months...
After eating our waffles and walking around a park, we all decorated eggs with markers and watercolors.  It was the first Easter for all of Monica's family, and also for Riad.  Everyone had a good time painting eggs and learning a little bit about American culture.  It was fun teaching other people about a holiday I celebrate at home, and it was also really fun celebrating with a friend who has a more traditional view of the holiday.  I got to learn and teach about Easter!  This Easter wasn't like any Easter I've celebrated in the past, but it was memorable nonetheless.

Getting our eggs ready to paint!

(Left to right) Monica, Riad, me and Monica's sister


Monday, April 15, 2013

Jack Jack!

This is me and my little cousin Jack the summer before I came to Turkey:

Somehow I got stuck at the little kid's table during a birthday party, and Jack was being angry with me, so we took an angry picture... for some reason we didn't also take a nice picture... Oh well, it's Jack and me nonetheless. 

Today when I checked my Facebook, my aunt had posted a picture of a piece of writing Jack did earlier in the year that she saw today for the first time.  

 "I would live to visit my cusin Anne. my cusin live in terkey. she jost want to high school. She is not in college. she did this thing and she had 5 choses to go to a state and she pick terkey so I want to go to terkey. To see my cusin Anne that is why. I want to go there because I want to learn people and how they saw and like...."

Jack's teacher may have been a little confused reading this if she didn't know I was an exchange student, but I thought this piece of writing was the sweetest thing.  It's nice being reminded sometimes that I have such wonderful support back home, even from my seven year old cousin.  I guess the really nice part about reading this was that he hasn't forgotten me and he remembers that I'm in Turkey.  He even would love to visit ME! Of all the places in the world!  This really did make my day and put a great big smile on my face!  Thanks so much Jack!! Love you!


I went to Bodrum with all of the 2440 exchange students a few weeks ago, and I'm just now finally getting around to write about it!  
Bodrum... Greece is in the background!
Okay, so on Friday I took my normal bus ride to Izmir with Riad.  We counted that we've been along that long road stretching between Izmir and Bursa at least twenty times.  We were both staying at a friend's house, so we waited at the bus station for her host mom to come pick us up, then we were off to her house, where we hung out and watched How I Met Your Mother for a couple of hours, then had a nice, big Turkish dinner. We then hung out with her host family, then watched more HIMYM into the early hours of the morning, then we finally went to sleep for a few hours before we had to get up early to catch the bus to Bodrum. 

All of the exchange students took the bus together.  We were on a public bus, and we are eleven foreign teenagers, all speaking in English and laughing, so we were told multiple times to quiet down.  We have problems with indoor voices. Anyways, once we made it to Bodrum a few hours later, we went to a Rotary program called Bodrum Hugs the World (I think I'm remembering it correctly), where people from all over the world came and set up stands selling food from their countries, then all of the money they raised went to the Rotary club in Bodrum for Turkish students to go to university.  We got to meet a bunch of new people, from all over the world, and also eat some really delicious food! It was really nice.  I even got to play Pin the Tail on the Donkey.  I was really good at it. 

After our eating, all of the exchange students gathered again and went to the Underwater Museum in Bodrum.  We spent a few hours there, exploring the museum and a castle.  It was really beautiful, and I met this little Turkish girl who had a very curious fascination about all of us.  We talked with her for awhile, then we continued on with our tour where we saw a peacock! After the museum, we had free time until we had to meet up with our host families.  We walked around Bodrum for awhile, then we ended up just sitting in a cafe along the water.  It was too cold to swim, but a few kids went anyways.  We had a good time just hanging out together, then we were off to meet our host families for the night.

Riad and I were staying together with a couple who lived in Bodrum.  They took us out for dinner, then we just hung out in their house for the rest of the evening.  Right before bed we took a walk down to the rocky shore (not quite a beach) near their house, and they were shocked with I ripped my shoes off, rolled up my pants and decided to go for a walk in the Mediterranean.  (Okay, this is completely off topic, but I'm really happy that exchange had made it possible for me to be able to spell the word "Mediterranean" correctly on the first try.  Thanks Spain and Turkey!!  I'm proud of myself.)   I then went to bed, and had a really nice sleep (which had a lot to do with the AC in the room that I turned on and allowed me to sleep in the cold for the first time in FOREVER!). 

In the morning everyone gathered with their families and we had breakfast together.  On the drive to breakfast there were cows blocking the street. Anyways, after breakfast we walked around Bodrum some more for a few hours and we went to a boat museum.  After lunch together, we all got back on the bus to Izmir, and we sat on a bus for the next three-ish hours.  My bus buddy and I had a good time, except for the fact that he kept trying to steal my free sandwich. We laughed at the awkward videos taken during Pin the Tail on the Donkey and I got to learn some Spanish tongue twisters.  Tres tristes tigres... tigres tigres tigres tigres tigres tigres! (You got me... I only remember the first three words).

Bodrum was so beautiful, and the trip was so nice!  We met some really nice Rotarians and I was so happy to have some relaxing time with all of the exchange students.  THANK YOU, ROTARY!

Me at the Underwater Museum

Proud to be American


I saw a peacock. It was just walking around the Underwater Museum . No big deal. 

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Manisa Mesir Festivali

Every year, a city in Turkey called Manisa has a festival celebrating their special candy.  All of the exchange students went to the festival two weekends ago.  On Friday night, I spent the night with one of my friends staying in Izmir, then on Saturday morning, we ended up getting our hair done and getting bubble tea, before we were on our way to Manisa!  It was only about a thirty minute bus ride, and once we were in Manisa, we  had lunch with a few other students, then met up with the whole group.  We all just hung out the rest of the evening, then later in the night we went to a concert.  Apparently the artist was like Turkey's Lady Gaga.  I don't remember her name...

After the concert I went to a friend's house for the night, and we all just stayed up late talking, as we always do.  We even made popcorn.  On the stove! It was quite an adventure.  The next morning we met up with the rest of the exchange students once again, then we walked through a parade, representing Rotary and our home lands.  We sang songs, chanted "Turkiye," then we got stuck in the middle of a mosh pit where people were pushing and fighting over some free candy.  The parade was nice, after the parade wasn't so nice.  It was all made up for by a nice dinner at a Rotarian's cafe, and a chance to hang out and talk some more with my friends.  At the time, I was kind of disappointed with the weekend because it was a bit stressful and disorganized, but now, in hindsight it wasn't too bad.

Everyone in the parade

(Almost) All the American girls