PUBLISHED: 4:16 PM on Wednesday, February 7, 2007
Juneau exchange student visits Turkey
Thoughtful observations

Courtesy photo
  Katherine Palmer, 17, a senior at Juneau-Douglas High School, spent her sophomore year of high school in Turkey.
Many opportunities are available for young students to travel-they just have to put forth dedicated effort and an array of possibilities open. Knowing there's a colossal world brimming with culture, history, landmarks, politics and traditions outside Juneau is a good thing.

Katherine Palmer, 17, a senior at Juneau-Douglas High School, applied for an exchange program through the Juneau Rotary Club during her sophomore year. After going through the application process, she was selected from a group of "potential out-bounds" and scheduled for exchange during her junior year, at the age of 16.

Rotary focuses on building bonds between countries; the exchange program supports the development. It's easy to see why Rotary picked Katherine, with her bright eyes to her infectious smile and intelligent yet personable attitude.

The program hosts students for almost a year in a foreign country; it's more than a quick trip but a life-shaping, educational and enlightening experience.

The best part of an exchange program is students get to travel, sightsee, submerge within another culture and still get school credit.

Students stay with volunteer host families, arranged through Rotary International, a global network of community members. Katherine is familiar with the procedure, and said her family hosted an exchange student who visited Juneau.

With contributions from exchange student's family, Rotary organizes the traveling particulars and distributes a daily allowance.

During her stay in Turkey, she resided with four different host families, where she adopted the majority of her language skills. She said it was definitely beneficial to stay with host families, and see how people work in a family.

Some parents may not embrace the idea of their child living in a foreign country for a long period of time.

"If given the opportunity, I think most students would benefit from an exchange program, especially if they have a good attitude about adapting to another culture and respecting the differences," said her mother Lorene Palmer. "Exchange programs can be a real opportunity to mature and prepare for a global community."

A couple months after her arrival to Istanbul, Turkey, with an immense population of 15 million people; Katherine started school in a private establishment.

She describes the classrooms as the size of small boxes and very different from JDHS. Most people go to private schools, and nobody goes to the public schools unless they're really poor, she says.

Photo by Katherine Palmer
  A Turkish woman sells flowers on the streets. To view more photos of Katherine Palmer's experience in Turkey, go online to
Turkey, which is 99 percent Muslim, offers a varying degree of people who are serious about their religion, says Palmer.

Some women are clothed completely in conservative bhurka dress while around 40-50 percent of women are in European dress, consisting of short skirts and knee-high boots, according to her. Many women wear brightly colored, shiny head scarves, which are flashy since it's a form of expression.

Istanbul is different because it's a modern city, she said.

Modernization in Turkey began around the 1930s due to the reign of Mustafa Kemal Atat?rk, the founder and first president of the Republic of Turkey (a.k.a "Father of the Turks," according to Katherine). He essentially westernized Turkey including abolishing the Arabic alphabet and replacing it with western equivalents and established secularism among several other advanced reforms.

Palmer observed a sub-culture of young people that's very European, and says it's interesting to see American-style mirrored in their culture. Popular fashions include baggy pants, long jerseys and even beat boxes to boot.

She noticed that the roles of women and men are quite defined; general rules specific. For example, without question brides have to be virginal and men are encouraged in pre-marital activities, an interesting contradiction. In comparison to most American families, Turkish women take care of all the cooking and cleaning.

She said women are educated, intelligent and very capable; they don't think to change anything because that's part of their culture.

"I can step back and analyze their culture just because I'm not apart of it-that was one of the things I learned how to do in exchange," she said.

Concerning culinary delights, her favorite dining option is Iskender kebab, named after Alexander the Great. It is meat (usually beef) slowly roasted on a stick, and then sliced thinly and layered over pita bread with a tangy tomato sauce and yogurt on the side. She mentions a big part of their diet is salt and olive oil on everything. Other diet constituents include tomato and cucumber salads with no lettuce, dolmas (stuffed grape leaves) but no pork or shellfish, due to religious practice.

With a friend, she spent many afternoons at a café, a local honing-spot where young people hung out. Palmer partook in the traditional of smoking "nargile," chemical-free tobacco from a water pipe; a social practice. The owner of the café really liked my friend and me, called us his daughters and gave them free tea, she says.

She described a host sister, Melise, 14, as obsessed with Green Day and the color green (everything in her room was green) and host brother, John, 18, as a big fan of Lord of the Rings. They're Turkish, but their culture is so similar (to mine), Palmer says.

She divulged in exciting adventures including: spending a month at a beach house on the Agean Sea coast; attending Turkish "Ska" concerts; and performing a psychedelic belly dance routine with a friend at the local Rotary Christmas party (in honor of American tradition).

She said some of the best parts were going on tours, such as a trip along the western coast and eastern Turkey. She describes traveling close to the Syrian border, and noticed how different it was from (Istanbul's) modern culture.

Seeing ruins including the Library of Celsus in Ephesus and locations where Paul the biblical apostle taught doctrine was memorable. Another top highlight was visiting ancient architectural structures including the Haggia Sophia, a former Byzantine church converted into a museum-like historical mosque.

Turkey has a wide range of people and culture, a fusion of Europe and Asia. It has been inhabited for centuries upon centuries and has such a history to it, which is really cool, she said.

Palmer suggests visitors see the Grand Bazaar, the oldest underground mall, with over 4000 shops. It's a sprawling market space, hectic with masses of people mulling around; customers get to practice their bargaining skills as well.

"Turkey is overlooked but it's an incredible country. I definitely recommend people go there," she said.

Along with Rotary board members, Katherine assisted in selecting exchange students for next year. She mentions students should apply their sophomore year-it's best to go (on exchange) junior year.

Her hobbies include photography, a passion that developed deeper during her time in Turkey. After graduation, Katherine hopes to attend the University of Hawaii in Manoa and also pursue her love for photography.

"Katherine's experience with the Rotary exchange program changed her in wonderful ways. For example, the experience made her more self-reliant and thoughtful about the world and her place in it," Lorene Palmer said. "She came back with a strong sense that all countries have strengths and weaknesses when it comes to their cultural, social and economic issues."