Looking (way) back at a big adventure

Katherine Ward (middle) and her daughter (behind, left) in Turkey.

Katherine Ward (middle) and her daughter (behind, left) in Turkey.

By Katherine Ward

Thirty years ago, at the age of 18, I started a grand adventure and boarded a plane on my own toward Istanbul, Turkey. I was headed off on a yearlong Rotary Youth Exchange.

Before I left, I attended several camps that prepared us for culture shock and gave us a general sense of some of the changes we could expect. My high school wouldn’t accept any credits from Turkey, so I had accelerated my course schedule, completing all but one required course to graduate.

I spoke absolutely no Turkish but, despite my struggles with language learning at the beginning, my host families were wonderful. They took in a scared, noncommunicative teenager and showered me with affection, kind concern, and caring. They were hard to leave at the end of the year. One of my host fathers even made a special show of sending me home with the keys to the house, so I knew I’d always have a home there. I still have them, to this day.

Holidays were odd. For Halloween, the other exchange students and I carved a watermelon during lunch break at school. We skipped school on what would have been Christmas Day — going would have been too much. My own Christmas package didn’t arrive until March, so my little celebration was a bit delayed! Thankfully, my host mother had prepared a few little treats for me.

Turkish holidays turned out to be major food fests. Seker Bayrami, perhaps better known here as “one of the Eids,” was an all-out three-day food marathon. It comes at the end of Ramadan, the Muslim month of fasting, and I spent the first day with my host family visiting relatives and friends — my journal says 11 different houses — and the second day hosting relatives and friends at home. I don’t remember what we did on day three, but I imagine it involved a lot of recovering from the vast amount of sweets devoured!

I learned some Turkish cooking. My manti-making lesson stands out as one of the best, as a lady I came to call Teyze (Auntie) taught me how to form the thin dough around morsels of meat and into delicious little dumplings that would be served under a blanket of garlicky yogurt sprinkled with paprika. In return for these cooking lessons, chocolate chip cookies were the best I could do.

I did some writing while I was there — both for my local newspaper back home and for a couple of Turkish publications — describing my experiences and thoughts about this wonderful, strange city that was more and more becoming home the longer I was there. I was encouraged by a friend’s father, himself an author. It helped me know that it was right to go back to Canada and pursue my journalism degree when, every day, my year got closer to ending. It got harder and harder to think about leaving.

My exchange year had a huge impact on me. I’ve been back a few times in the three decades since, most recently this past summer when I got to share the trip with my teenage daughter and see it anew through her eyes. 

1510_wardAbout the author: Katherine Ward is a Canadian communications professional who takes pride in helping companies tell their stories clearly and succinctly, with a view to increasing brand awareness. Her Rotary Youth Exchange experience in the 1980s had a lasting impact on her life.

5 thoughts on “Looking (way) back at a big adventure

  1. Many thanks for your kind comments. Herkese teşekkürler!

    Civicconerns — I have written on more than one occasion about Turkey on my blog (http://act2sceneone.blogspot.ca/) — both more about my exchange year there and also a bit about current politics. I often muse that there is a book inside me; perhaps a memoir will get written one day!


  2. BothTutkey & Canada have very rich heritage and still bubbling with mixed dynamics of modernity of religious influence on both sides of the divide will Katherine offer is more of her memoir in Turkey or does she want us to to
    Pose questions and cheers to expedite her writing actions?
    Is there a special support if one wants to write for Rotary -more than a leaflet format and possibly a book?A prof @ 26! Spoke glowingly of Rotary International yesterday at the 9 th Investiture of Rotary Club of Oluyole Estate held at Mauve 21 Event Centre touting that globally RI is a gift to the world and that our club could also be a gift to our local community if we can donate books that will impact knowledge and skills to the youth and needy elders,The Professor of Animal Health has worked in and studied in different universities and well acquainted with Rotary friends and the manifold and conscientious not just consistent way we ve partnered Bill& Melknda Gates to help eradicate polio from planet earth for the benefit of global health,
    More pointedly why I suggest a fuller reflection of Katherine Ward ‘ Youth Exchange in Turkey from Canada is that a youth in Nigeria queried an elder statesman how many Politicians or so called Achievers write books of their lives unlikeAmerican public figures in and out of politics?Fajemiokun further probed the NTA panelist reflecting Nigeria at 55 if the country really have an identiy or clear cut goal forebery citizen even thoughthesaid nation is the largest economy? are the largo population educated? Is there an enabling environment for all to be truly productive?
    I agree in toto with the young woman in her early 30s that Achievers Roth modeling Fyers shouldntbethoseopportunists who have looted public treasury and stacked them abroad but those whose lives are inspiring challenging and creative in their fields of training or community service.Surely such Achievers will be fruitful and proud to to replicate entrepreneurship programmes to improve human conditions and effective living.
    this then is why a fuller memoir beyond The Rotary Voice will be a delight to read by Rotarians and Non Rotarians alike

    Civic concern convener RID 9125


  3. Pingback: Looking (way) back at a big adventure | The Rotary Club of Carteret

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