She offers the following summary of her experience:
by Shannon McDonald
The Lewiston-Porter Community Ambassador Program sponsors one student every year to travel abroad and complete a service project. This year, I was selected to represent my community in the country of my choosing. I decided to go to Turkey, thinking it would be an excellent opportunity to see ancient ruins and meet an interesting variety of people.
What I knew about Turkey came mostly from my history class and Internet research. Another incentive was Turkish Delight, a, dessert I have wanted to try since I read "The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe." It was Edmund's favorite.
My research was nothing compared to experiencing Turkey in the flesh. Turkey became my puzzle to solve. The more I tried, the easier things fit together. My personal growth during the trip was incredible and would have made the voyage completely worthwhile on its own, but what I experienced was even more rewarding. Turkey is a place where east and west collide, old meets new, and where anything is possible.
I traveled with 11 other Americans and a group leader. We stayed in three different cities: Izmir, Istanbul and Antakya. We also had two home stays, one in an urban setting and the other in a rural one. The trip began with an intensive orientation about the culture, politics and language of Turkey.
The time in Izmir was a whirlwind. Slightly jet lagged, nervous and excited, my group and I dove into Turkey headfirst. The language was of course new to all of us, like nothing we had ever heard before. I have studied Spanish in school for four years now, and Turkish is completely different. There are very few words in Turkish that sound similar to their English translation. We had to be very creative to remember phrases, but some simply would not stick in my mind.
For instance, the Turkish term for good morning, which is günaydın (pronounced goo-nigh-a-din), was very simple to remember. That was because it sounded like good night, again. Word association was the easiest way to remember. But phrases like iyi geceler (pronounced ee-gay-j-lar) and meaning good night, was impossible to remember. It sounded like absolutely nothing to me, and the only reason I ever learned it was because my family in Istanbul reminded me every single night how to say it, and sheer repetition finally made it stick. By the end of the trip, I could look at the written word and pronounce it; even recognizing a few basic terms. I'm certainly not fluent, but just learning that much gave me a great feeling.
My first home stay was in Istanbul. I had two sisters who were very near to my age and a little brother who was 7. Both of my parents worked. My mother was a nurse and my father was a wrestling trainer.
Istanbul was amazing. My sisters spoke English very well, which was helpful, making the transition much easier (not a single person spoke English at my second home stay). My family introduced me to their entire extended family. Aunts, uncles, cousins, grandparents, I met them all. It was like being around my own family. Sitting in my aunt's living room, we ate a special meal of rice and chicken, with a side of baklava (so delicious!). My family spoke in Turkish at very high volumes (much like my own family, just in a different language). It was amazing to see that, despite the headscarves, and cultural differences, they were just like me -- part of a big, loud, loving family.
Our second home stay was in the Village of Yarımca. This experience was very different than the city stay. There were far more restrictions between boys and girls and, while going to college was an option for some, most boys embark on their required military service once they graduate high school. Girls learn how to do housework, garden and raise the animals.
Some of the women have never been outside of the village. They have never even seen Adana, the nearest metropolis, located only 30 minutes from Yarımca. Most marry very young, I learned that I was of marrying age, a very scary thought! But even though things were very different, I felt at home. My family was extremely accommodating. They fed me well and I was never hungry during the entire two weeks I was there. Since we couldn't hold conversations easily, any communication that occurred was that much more special. One of the best moments of the trip was when my father taught me to place my spoon over my cup when I didn't want any more tea. It was very cool to learn without any words, and it was an extremely helpful custom.
The night before our flight home, we stayed in Istanbul, and my friends and I set out to explore the historic district. We talked to shop keepers, heard some amazing stories about their lives, and honed our newfound confidence. The architecture in Istanbul was incredible, but the greatest result of the trip was a greater understanding of other cultures and peoples.
Differences aside, we all are working toward the same thing. Our similarities overcome any differences we may have. With all the unrest in the Middle East, it is comforting to know that, on a small scale, my group and I have improved and are still improving international relations between Turkey and America. Thank you so much to everyone involved in the Lewiston Porter Community Ambassador Program. I could not be more grateful. My journey to Turkey allowed me to expand my horizons internally as well as in mileage covered.
Shannon has developed a short presentation on her memorable trip and would like to present it free of charge to any non-profit organization in the area. Contact her via e-mail.