Turkey to Truckee: Exchange student makes memories
When Gizem Kabadayi, a resident of Ankara, Turkey, heard she was going to study abroad in California, she had visions of palm trees and sandy beaches.”I wasn’t expecting all of the snow,” said Kabadayi, sitting in her host family’s home in Glenshire, one day before she would begin her return trip to Turkey.But Kabadayi made the most of her time in the snowy and sunny Sierra. During her 10-month stay in Truckee, she tried skiing, which didn’t work out, and stuck with snowboarding. She joined the swim team at Tahoe Truckee High School.She also did a lot of traveling with her host parents, Stephanie Bright and Josh Ditchoff. They went to New York City, Washington, D.C., Yosemite, San Francisco, Sacramento, and the most memorable stop: Elko, Nev.”We went to a ranch, and part of the trip was [castrating a cow],” said 19-year-old Kabadayi.Neutering cattle wasn’t the only new experience she encountered. There were the cultural differences, of course. Turkey is largely a Muslim nation, while Truckee is mostly Protestant Christian.Then there was the language barrier. Before she left Turkey, Kabadayi learned some English, but not nearly enough to hold a conversation.”I learned basic stuff – like British English – and then I learned American slang,” Kabadayi said, laughing.
Then there was American food. Bright brought home a new kind of American cuisine, usually junk food, for Kabadayi to sample each week. Kabadayi liked it all – Ramen noodles, Jell-O, doughnuts, corn dogs. She does, however, make a sour face at the mention of raw fish.In school Kabadayi said teachers in the states were more ingenious than her teachers at home.”They’re so creative,” she said. She recalled a game of Vietnam she played in her history class at Truckee High.School was tough because of the initial language barrier, Kabadayi said, but as her English improved, so did her experience. She also received a lot of help from people in the community in the form of acceptance and support, she said.”It’s been really great,” said Bright, who was an exchange student as a teenager. “We’re sad that she’s leaving. There have been bad times, but the good times definitely outweigh those bad ones.”Kabadayi said she’s pretty sure her 10 months in Truckee have constituted a “life-changing experience.” The true test, she said, will occur when she returns to her family in Ankara.She is worried what her family will think of her: Kabadayi died her hair from deep brown to red (which has now turned orangish-yellow) and she got her belly button pierced.Because of her new piercing, Kabadayi won’t be able to vacation by swimming at the beach when she returns to Turkey this summer. She’ll probably get a job and study more English before she goes to college in Ankara next school year.Although Kabadayi’s stay in California wasn’t all surfing and movie stars, she’s still trying to digest the whirlwind of her stay in the mountains.
“This year was so crazy,” she said. “It was so cool. There are so many memories.”AFS: a ticket to see the worldJosh Ditchoff, 33, and Stephanie Bright, 31, volunteered to lead orientations for foreign exchange students before they were the host family for Gizem Kabadayi, of Turkey.In addition to learning more about Turkish culture, Bright said she and Ditchoff discovered more about themselves.”Since we don’t have our own kids, we learned how to be more patient and accepting,” she said.Ditchoff and Bright work with American Field Service [AFS], an international, voluntary, nonprofit organization that provides intercultural learning opportunities to help people develop the knowledge, skills and understanding needed to create a more just and peaceful world, according to the AFS Web site, http://www.afs.org.The organization offers opportunities for students and adults to study abroad. This summer, four Truckee natives will travel abroad through AFS.While there’s a large number of Truckee students traveling abroad, there aren’t a whole lot of host families in Truckee.
“Anybody can be a host family,” Ditchoff said. “There’s an application process, but you don’t have to be married; it’s fairly open.”AFS provides a lot of support for its students, Bright said. Each month, exchange students in the same area will get together and have a roundtable discussion about their experiences.The organization also encourages students to be a part of where they’re living.”They tell them to get into the community, instead of just visiting,” Bright said.For more information on AFS volunteer opportunities, contact Nick and Cindy Carter at (775) 747-8803.On the NetFor more on AFS, go to http://www.afs.org.