US high school students visit Turkey, give glowing reviews

Blue Mosque and Hagia Sophia
Blue Mosque and Hagia Sophia

Date posted: August 23, 2014

A group of American students who came to İstanbul in a cultural exchange program have told Today’s Zaman that their warm reception in Turkey has caused them to view the country extremely positively.

Fifty-five students, aged from 10 to 18, arrived in Turkey on Aug. 5 from US states such as New Jersey, Pennsylvania, New York and Massachusetts. The program ran until Aug. 21, when they were presented with a certificate by Fatih University. During the program, the students attended Turkish lessons until noon, after which they spent the afternoon with their Turkish host families. In addition, the students had the opportunity to travel to cities like Bursa and İzmir, as well as exploring İstanbul itself, to immerse themselves in Turkish culture.

Dania Martinez accompanied her daughter during the trip. Speaking to Today’s Zaman, Martinez said: “The prejudices are wrong. Turks and Muslims are very warm people. I had some fears about Turkey [before coming]; I knew nothing about the culture. After the Sept. 11 attacks, the media gave misleading and frightening news about Muslims, but I wanted to see and learn for myself. I wanted to make up my own mind about Muslims. When I came to Turkey, I met with a big surprise. I’ve seen the culture, the unity and the love here and I know these are very important because you don’t see this much in America. Turkish culture is very enchanting; you [Turks] are very helpful … and are always positive. These are things I appreciate about your culture.”

Martinez also shared her thoughts on her daughter learning the Turkish language: “I think it’s great. In America only Spanish, French and English are taught in schools. For my daughter to learn Turkish is really lucky, especially because at such a young age she will gain a third language.”

Ten-year-old Xavier Siciliano, the youngest student of the group, also shared his thoughts on his Turkish experiences, saying: “Turkey is an amazing place. The food is great, everyone is so nice. Next time I come here I am going to bring my friends with me. My favorite thing about Turkey is how warm people here are.”

Sebastian Caceres, aged 11, said: “The teachers are always really helpful. My host family taught and helped me a lot. There was this one family that we went to go visit with a little girl. I gave her my hand flashlight, which for me was not anything important. But the little girl’s eyes sparkled and she was very happy.”

Another student, 14-year-old Nate Grey, added: “My friend told me how much fun he had when he came last year. My dad also pushed me to come [to İstanbul]. It’s on the coast of the sea, there are old buildings and all the mosques are so different and beautiful. The family that hosted me was great… Everyone is so polite, kind and helpful. If I say it’s hot, they immediately turn on the air conditioning; if I say I’m thirsty, someone immediately brings me a glass of water. Everyone smiles and is happy, no matter the situation. This is something you cannot find in America.”

Source: Today's Zaman , August 21, 2014

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