Though I have had the honor of participating in a multitude of programs throughout my high school career, there is no doubt in my mind that none will ever be able to compare with studying abroad in Ankara, Turkey on the National Security Language Initiative for Youth scholarship from the U.S. State Department. I was chosen for the scholarship after applying as a long-shot 15 year old. As a child of a staunchly middle class family which did not ever have enough money to go on extravagant trips, I knew that this was the chance of a lifetime. I was a freshman in high school. Little did I know at fifteen that this experience would last a lifetime.
â–º QUARTER FINALIST 2012 TEEN TRAVEL WRITING SCHOLARSHIP
I left the country for the first time in my life one June morning, excited and anxious to get started in this foreign culture. As I spent my time there, I fell in love with my host family and came to consider them my own family as much as my biological family back in the U.S. I spent time with my little Turkish sisters and practiced my Turkish by reading them nightly bedtime stories. I dedicated myself to my daily Turkish lessons at Ankara University. I tried to learn as much Turkish culture as possible so that I could bring back what I had learned to small-town Georgia. When I returned, however, I realized that my homecoming was not at all what was expected. Sure, my friends and family were supportive, but they all looked at me with a look of mild amusement. How could this girl be so fascinated with foreigners who drink hot tea instead of sweet tea? I made it my mission to share the experience with others in order to educate them about the world outside of our small town. In the rural Southern town that I come from, people tend to be a bit unaccepting, and at times bordering on ignorant. Because of this, sharing positive experiences about a majority Muslim country was not always taken well. I became discouraged at times when people just would not get that spark of understanding in their eyes, but eventually I made progress. I even convinced some of my friends to apply for the same scholarship and set up a pen pal relationship between my Turkish sister and a teacher's daughter. As I went back the next summer to visit my host family, I realized that I had made connections and relationships that will always be dear to me as well as a love for learning things that are new to me. I found my niche in learning and sharing to try and make the world a better place in whatever small way I can.
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