How It All Has To End
This blog might not have much rhyme or rhythm to it, but that’s mostly how I’ve been feeling for the past week or so, especially in the last two days. I came to Turkey on September 9th, 2011, and now, roughly 300 days later on July 3rd, 2012, I’m leaving. There’s no way to ever fully say “goodbye” after an exchange... to the exchange students you’ve spent your year with, the families who have gone above and beyond to love and care for you, and to the country and culture itself. As I walked through the streets or sat and looked around me, it was unreal to think that one day very soon, all of that would be gone from my life. All the small things that happen every day that I can’t help but think, “Only in Turkey...” will no longer be there for me to laugh about or sigh about. My exchange friends from assorted states and countries will no more be just a phone call and spontaneous meeting time away from me, but hours and oceans. How can you possibly adequately dismiss yourself from all of that??
Well, like I said before, you can’t. And thinking about the fact that I have to part ways with it all somehow is horrendous. I love being able to call myself a Rotary Exchange Student. I love being able to say that I’m living with the greatest host family I could have possibly asked for. I love being able to say, “When in my life will I be able to do/see this ever again?” on a daily basis. I can say all those things still, but after tomorrow, I no longer can. What I can say is that I lived in two different countries for almost one year each and survived. I can say that I experienced life from the other side of the world, literally, and wouldn’t change it for anything.
Saying goodbye to my fellow exchange students was just as difficult as I thought it’d be, and I’m not done yet. There’s a group of girls coming to the airport tomorrow in the morning to see of Morgan, Hannah, and myself before we board our planes. Although most of the students are still here, I’ve had to say goodbye to some extremely special people. The two Mexican boys, who were among the first to leave, were much harder to say goodbye to than I expected. They became like brothers to me, and we shared a bond different than that of anything I’ve ever had before. The night they had their goodbye party, Hannah and I were the last to leave along with the boys. We embraced endlessly as tears ran down each of our faces, exchanging assorted memories and words of hope, encouragement, love, and assurance that someday, we’ll meet again. That moment was truly the beginning of the end for me. And from that moment on, little reminders of them pop up in my head every so often, and the tears try to come bursting out again. Just imagine you’re more or less isolated with a group of people from all over the world who become like family to you, and then imagine having to tell them goodbye. I’ve said goodbye to Michelle, who I spent a huge portion of my exchange with every day in school, learning about Canada and laughing about life... I don’t know how I’m going to get by without constant comic relief from her! I went to the airport to see off Mariana back to Mexico, and had to comfort Diana as she watched her new best friend leave. Even though they’re going to see each other within a few weeks in Mexico, it can never be the same as it is now. From the moment your exchange ends, nothing can ever be the same again, no matter how much you might wish it could be. Unfortunately, there are several students that I won’t get to see face-to-face to say my goodbyes to, and that makes me very sad. I feel like I have unfinished business with them, but there’s not much I can do at this point. I know I’ve said it before, but I’ll say it again: exchange students are some of the greatest people you could ever possibly meet. The beautiful mixture of cultures, languages, and personalities is unlike anything you’ll find anywhere else. The things that these students bring from their previous lives can help you see things differently, just as the things you show them can change the way they see things as well. They bring a party wherever they go, but they’re appreciative of cultural differences at the same time and adapt themselves to better understand the country they’re in. I could go on and on, but basically, I will truly miss being a Rotary Exchange Student, and will NEVER stop looking for ways to include myself in RYE-related activities.
Along with saying goodbye to my wonderful exchange friends, I also have to say goodbye to my host families. My younger host brother, who isn’t one to show emotions easily, is visibly distraught over me leaving. I’ve had everyone I love here write a message on a Turkish flag for me, and Can’s message (in Turkish) was as follows: “I never miss anyone, but I’m always going to miss you. I love you soooo much my big sister. I know we’ll see each other again. I will never forget you. Brother Can” ... now if that’s not enough to see how much we’ve bonded, I don’t know what is. My older brother Ali, who returned from his exchange in Brazil just 11 days ago, and I have become quite close in the time he’s been home. We’ve been able to speak Portuguese together, talk about exchange and tell each other stories, and help each other with readjusting/going home. You’d think I wouldn’t have that big of a connection with him for only having known him for 2 weeks, but like I said, exchange students are special people, and have the ability to instantly bond with anyone they choose, especially other exchange students. It’s been a beautiful experience having two brothers in the house around my age, and I only wish the three of us would have had more time to do things together before I left. My host father works in Istanbul most of the time and is only in Izmir every other weekend, so I had to say my goodbyes to him last week already... I wasn’t ready to start saying my goodbyes yet, so it felt odd and didn’t hit me quite right that I wasn’t going to see him again for a very long time. He did, however, call me today to wish me safe travels and to tell me he loved me like his own daughter and was so happy to have had me. My host aunt and mother have been spending lots of time with me, and I love them both to pieces. I cannot begin to explain the sadness I feel when I think about having to leave this family forever. I know I will always have them in my heart and will always talk to them and visit, but I can never be 100% a part of the family like I have been the past four months. And this family is so large and tightly knit that I’ll miss more people than I can count from it! I am so lucky to have had such a fantastic, loving family, and I have learned so much from them; not just about Turkish culture, but about family values as well. Tomorrow, everyone is waking up at 5am with me to take me to the airport and say goodbye... All I can say is that we’re gonna need to bring a lot of tissues.
Trying to push past the emotions of family and friends for a second, preparing yourself mentally, emotionally, and physically for your return to your country is no easy task. Physically, there’s the issue of packing. I’ll be taking 2 large full suitcases, a backpack, and a black carry-on bag which holds Turkish carpets for my Grandma and mom. I also had to send two boxes through the mail with clothes and presents because it wouldn’t fit in my suitcases. I’ve gathered three or four bags full of clothes and shoes to give away here as well. Beginning to pack felt like a slow, painful nightmare of having to throw everything you’ve purchased in a year before your eyes. There was the issue of what to throw away, what to give away, and what to take with me, then the issue of fitting everything into my suitcases (which didn’t happen, hence the second box). But, in the end, I’ll be home and happy, so it’s not much use to complain about bag weight or quantity or anything like that. Mentally and emotionally, I’m preparing myself for reverse culture shock. I experienced it pretty bad when I came back from Brazil, so I’m nervous to see what it’s got in store for me this time around. You’d think because I’ve done all this before that it would be easier, but that’s a downright lie. I’m excited to see my family and friends again and eat all my favorite American foods again (Taco Bell is first, then Culver’s custard) and start thinking about college, but at the same time, I’m preparing myself to leave behind the life I’ve created for myself here in Izmir. Again, as I said in the very beginning, there’s no way to fully prepare yourself, so you just have to do the best you can with your luggage, make sure people know that they’re appreciated and will be missed, and hope for the best when you get home.
I’m excited to see how I’ve changed this year. I’m excited to use my knowledge from Turkey in my daily life in the US. I’m excited to give presentations about it to Rotary and classes in schools. I’m excited to tell my stories and show pictures of beautiful places I’ve been and things I’ve seen.
It’s hard to be excited, heartbroken, nervous, and stressed all at the same time. But after a year of emotional roller coaster rides, it’s easier to handle. Actually, once you’ve survived a year-long exchange, there’s nothing that you can’t handle!
With that, I say my final goodbyes to Turkey. Thank you to all of you who have been following my adventures, and again I apologize for not having kept it up more during the last few months. The only excuse I can give is that once the weather got warmer, I went on several small trips and was constantly busy with something, which made it hard to sit down and write. The extreme heat of the summer hasn’t been helping much either. Hopefully I can get a few in about my trip to Istanbul, Bodrum, and the newest trip that I just got back from yesterday (the 1st), my cruise to the Greek islands. Thank you to all the people that supported me through this year, both in Turkey and in the States: especially to my amazing family, host families, Rotary clubs/committees in US and Turkey, US friends, and exchange student friends. Also, thank you to the kind people at the Gazette for letting me use their website to tell my stories for the whole city, as well as WCLO/WJVL for mentioning me every once in a while on their radio show. I know this can’t substitute for all the wonderful people I’d like to thank for each individual thing they’ve done, but this will have to do for now.
If exchange does anything for people, it makes them realize what they really have in life, and what they are able to do with their futures. I was lucky enough to have had this experience twice (I’m done now though, I promise) and I’m willing to share more information about it to anyone who’s interested! Feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org with questions/requests/etc.
And now, seeing as I need to wake up in an hour to shower and get ready to leave, I suppose I had better go to bed. I’ll see you soon, Janesville!!
Haley Drozdowicz is a Craig High School student who's visiting Turkey. She's studying there as part of the Rotary Youth Exchange Program. Haley is a community blogger and is not a part of The Gazette staff. Her opinion is not necessarily that of the The Gazette staff or management.