This is the first article in the 2019-20 academic year series ‘Opening our homes and minds: West Hartford’s AFS foreign exchange students and their host families.’
Interviewed and edited by Jamie Cohen, AFS volunteer (now), host sister (1980s) and returnee from Japan (1984)
Meet Yigithan (pronounced “yeet-HAN”) Yasa from Istanbul, Tukey. He is one of seven foreign exchange students living in West Hartford this school year.
Hi, Yigithan! Tell us about yourself.
I am coming from Turkey. I am honest guy and am planning to be a biologist. I’m planning to go into the research field. I’m interested in meeting more people from this town and to learning about your culture and sharing my culture. If you have any questions (yes, anything at all!) please contact me. I’ll respond honestly.
Why did you want to be an AFS exchange student?
I wanted to go to another country and learn a different culture. I am curious – I’m a scientist. The most common human feeling is curiosity.
What are the biggest cultural differences between Turkey and here?
I see a huge difference in our foods. Specifically like the most important meal. Here it’s dinner. In Turkey it’s breakfast. Especially on the weekends, our normal breakfast lasts 2 hours, and we talk and enjoy the big table feast. It’s really unusual – but that’s the whole point. To experience different things. My goal here is to focus on the present experience. I’m actually not missing anything, because I want to use this time to enjoy myself here. If I spend my time missing Turkey, I will miss out on learning more things here.
In Turkish culture, if you are offered a food, the recipient must refuse it on the first time it is offered. It is disrespectful, actually, to accept it the first two or three times. Only after refusing a few times can I accept food. So I had to learn to say YES on the first ask – or I’d be hungry. But the portions are so large here – so much larger than in Turkey.
What have you liked about Connecticut and West Hartford?
I can say that city planning is so different. West Hartford is tidy, and a nice suburban place. I have seen a wild rabbit here – but never in Istanbul. Istanbul is more like New York City. You wouldn’t see wild animals. I’ve never seen squirrels before.
Because it is a suburban area here, I notice that everyone has a dog, walking them a lot, and always saying hello. When I’m waiting for my bus, there is a man who always says good morning to us. In Istanbul, I have to take metro, shuttle, and then walk to get to school each day. Here I use the Yellow bus – and we can sleep on the bus since it comes so early in the morning. It’s a nice experience for me – the Yellow School bus is so iconic and it reminds me of the American movies.
The other thing that I am very impressed with here is the plants – the Green Situation of it makes me very happy. I look at the trees every morning when I walk to the school bus stop. I enjoy the lawns and how beautiful the town looks. I would recommend that other cities do this. But we don’t have a lot of space to do this in a big city like Istanbul.
What school do you attend?
I’m a sophomore at the Metropolitan Learning Center in Bloomfield. It’s a magnet school, with an International Baccalaureate program. I’m taking all scientific classes, but even so, some of them are easier than in Turkey. But in Turkey, we cannot choose our classes. If I pass the exam when I return, it will count for me as my 10th grade year. And in my school here we have a block schedule, and we have to change the classrooms. That is all new to me. But I think I’m learning differently. In Turkey, it’s all about memorizing mostly. Here, I’m LEARNING. Not just memorizing. After a test in Turkey, I may forget 80% of the content. But here, I think I’m learning more – we are going more slowly and we are allowed to ask questions and discussing and analyzing. I think the activities that we do are so important for learning – it’s better than just memorizing. The only thing I think we need here is to have a few more minutes between classes so I can get my mind ready for the next class topic.
What do you do outside of school here?
I do a lot of homework – but I am looking forward to joining some clubs. Probably science clubs. I have made a lot of friends in the school already, so I am lucky.
What would you like people reading this to know about:
Turkey: Turkey is NOT an Arabic country – we are the road that connects Europe to the Middle East. We have four seasons, with one-third of the country covered in forests. Another common misconception is that Tukey is not safe – it is SAFE. We have a low murder rate. You should come visit me! Our economy isn’t so good right now, so everything is amazingly cheap in U.S. dollars – you can benefit from this!
Hosting an AFS exchange student: If you host an AFS student, be patient. That student is coming from another culture that may not make so much sense to you. You will want to ask why, and not to judge them. It’s a super experience – you’re getting another family member, and also learning about a whole new culture.
Being an AFS exchange student: I can say the same thing! You can learn so many new things – cultures, education systems … even if you are so happy with your own culture, if you want to experience something new, you should do it.
If you want to learn about yourself, you should be an exchange student. Knowing something and learning something are two different things – so you should try it.
If you are interested in hosting an exchange student, or if your high school-aged student would like to participate in an AFS exchange, please contact Jamie Cohen at [email protected] or visit afsUSA.org.
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