“Has it hit you yet?”, my friend Isacar would consistently ask me as our bus pulled away from Esenboğa Airport, and quickly wound its way along and across the bright green, straw yellow, and rocky hills of Anatolia towards Ankara. “Has it hit you yet?” he asked me again, when I did not respond. I still didn’t answer; I didn’t tell him that I didn’t truly believe I was in Turkey until we were eating döner together at a hole-in-the-wall restaurant almost seven intensely long, but fleeting, weeks later. “This is the way I imagined Turkey to be,” I told him, as we sat together eating and drinking ayran – a watery yogurt drink – while eavesdropping on a group of Turks enjoying a late dinner next to us. “It just hit me that I’m in Turkey.”
In retrospect, this delay in accepting that I was in Turkey until the last conceivable moment moment was extremely silly on my part. The truth of me being abroad should have hit me as soon as I arrived at my host family’s apartment. I was living with an old retired couple and their 32 year old son. Aside from the son, who was forbidden to talk to me in English, none of the rest of the family knew a foreign language.
Although living with strangers speaking a drastically different language was terrifying at first, the experience soon became amazement. Looking back on my time with my host family from a distance of a few months, I can safely say that I have never felt so welcomed and warmly received as I had then. I was as much as a stranger to them as they were to me, but the first thing I remember them saying was something along the lines of Call us your mother and father, and you are our son. Such was family life in Turkey; the food they cooked was fantastic as well. The entire experience was like a fantasy given form before my eyes.
For as long as I could remember, I have always dreamed of going to Turkey. I have no idea why or what originally put the goal in my head, but I have been drawn for as long as I could remember. So, when the chance came to apply to study Turkish intensively for two months abroad last summer I could not wait to apply. Luckily, with just a few pinches of anxiety, I was awarded a Critical Language Scholarship (CLS) by the U.S. Department of State and was sent on my way, with a handful of others, in June. For the next two months, I was able to live my dreams as I traveled from Ankara to go boating in Istanbul or hiking in the world’s second biggest canyon in Kapadokya, all the while improving my language skills as much as possible.
Now, upon reflection, the entire experience seems entirely unworldly, a lifetime ago, even though I only left Turkey at the end of July.
Already I am itching to apply for the program again this summer, as I encourage everyone to apply for the scholarship as well. The CLS’s goal is to take interested students from around the country and, all expenses paid, send them to a country where one of thirteen languages deemed critical for national security is natively spoken for two months of intensive language training. I will not say that the program was easy or relaxing, but seeing the difference between my language ability after the two months abroad may have been one the most rewarding moments of my life.
So, if language learning is something you crave, please check out the website and apply for next year.
By: Jeremy Bender (Bended Brains)