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Watching and Listening in Turkey

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By Christian I.C., YES Abroad 2013-2014, Turkey

A lot of us came to Turkey this year with no knowledge of the language. Although we are all young adults, in essence we have been reverted back to children. Watching and listening are basically all I can do nowadays, when I am not saying basic phrases, or asking what the word for an object is.

Just by watching I have learned how the members of this culture interact with each other. Gestures and body language have become my fifth unofficial language. I have noticed that when a person blinks their eyes and quickly nods their head, it means “yes.” Instead of saying "no," you can simply suck your teeth. A “hello” can be said with only the wink of an eye. Acts of kindness are common every day by the people I meet here in Kayseri, Turkey. During my first day of school, students bought me tea and snacks, just out generosity.

Often, I sit with my host mom in the kitchen and she teaches me the words of everyday kitchen items, or how to pronounce something correctly. When I use the correct word for an object, or pronounce a phrase correctly, she blinks her eyes and quickly nods --an approval without saying a word.

Expressing yourself in Turkey is quite different than in the US. Saying "no" in Turkey will not be taken as an absolute, however, if you suck your teeth, no means “no” in the US context. I have said "hayır, teşekkürler," or “no, thank you” when asked if I wanted more food, but somehow food appears on my plate. Now I’ve learned that I must suck my teeth if I am certain that I do not want more food.

Winking is a common form of communication in Turkey. I have been winked at in school, on the street, and at home by every type of person --men, women, children, the elderly, and the young. The wink in Kayseri, Turkey indicates the equivalent of a quick “hello” or a smile in the US.

Another act of kindness is buying a drink or snack for someone. I often ask my classmates why they buy things for me and they say "Benim arkadaşim," or “you are my friend,” and that’s a great reason for me. I have returned the favor numerous times and have repeated the same words that were spoken to me.

I have only been in Kayseri, Turkey for two weeks and I am surprised at the new things I have learned each day. My YES Abroad exchange year in Turkey has only begun and I am looking forward to what this year has to offer.