By DENISE FEDOROW
The Goshen News
The United States may not have been exchange student Sunce Selcuk’s choice of destinations but now that she is here, she is enjoying every minute of her visit. Selcuk is part of the Rotary Club’s Exchange Student program and she has nothing but high praise for the Rotary program.
She said the Rotary “Gives you the best exchange experience in your life. You get a family you’re involved in all around the world with other exchange students and Rotarians. It’s not just a club, it’s a family — they help you and they listen to you.”
Selcuk said she attends a district conference every couple of months with other exchange students and Rotarians where they are asked how things are going. They are also asked to meet with outbound students to share with them some things about countries they may be visiting. She also loves meeting with the Nappanee Rotary Club members regularly.
Selcuk is from Izmir, Turkey, which she said is on the west coast of Turkey, close to the seaside. Izmir is the third-largest city, according to Selcuk, and is “most modern. I love living there.”
Selcuk has a 28-year-old brother who travels a lot. Her mother is a semi-retired pharmacist and her father is retired from advertising. She admitted she didn’t apply to come to the United States but instead wanted to go to Canada, Mexico, Peru or Brazil. She said Canada was her first choice because it has always been a dream destination for her family, and she chose the other countries because of the reminiscence of other exchange students. She was given a totally different picture of the United States than what her experience has been so far. She heard everyone was so strict here, that most Americans are overweight and the images of high school on television and in movies showed all kinds of crazy parties.
“Now I don’t believe you can just learn about a place by reading and watching movies — you have to go there and see for yourself,” she said.
She said she was also warned by other exchange students that she may go to live in the country versus a large city, “But I didn’t believe them” she said. So going from living in a city with a population of 2.7 million to the town of Wakarusa — population 1,758 was “culture shock” she said. She went on Google Maps and looked at the streets in town and was surprised there were no busses or trains, but now she’s used to it.
Selcuk said how well students are welcomed into the family plays a big part in the student’s adjustment. “When the host family makes you feel a part of the family, once you get that feeling — wow — you won’t miss home so much,” she said.
At the time of this interview Selcuk was living with the Jody and Tara Lengacher family in Wakarusa but was getting ready to move to her third host family — Denny and Jackie Kaiser and their children Mitchell and Alexis.
Her first host family was Dave and Cathy Cox and their daughter Chelsea. Rotary exchange students stay with each host family for four months.
“It went fast; it really flew,” host “dad” Jody said. He said that the first host family may have had a different experience but they feel by the time Selcuk came to live with them she was settled and “almost Americanized”.
Selcuk admitted she struggled in the beginning. “It was really hard when I first came here. The first week was the best, but then school started and it seemed too big — I got lost at NorthWood!” she said looking at her host family in disbelief now that she felt that way about the school of about 800 students. She said homesickness was strong at first but now she shrugs it off and said it made her grow.
“So far I’ve grown up a lot,” Selcuk said.
Even though she’s had host families for help and support, it’s not the same as her own family and friends. “I’ve learned a lot from the experience,” she said. “How I’ve become patient, learned to calm down and find the right thing to do in every situation.”
But Selcuk’s experiences with her host families so far has been “awesome! I’m having so much fun — especially with my sisters. I’ve always wanted to have a sister,” she said. “I had a big sister with my first host family — it’s been so much fun.”
She found a trio of sisters at the Lengachers — Blakely, 16, Courtney, 13 and Macy 8. Blakely said, “It’s been fun to have someone new in the house.”
Courtney and Macy agreed having Selcuk around has been fun. Blakely said she talks about Turkey all the time. “She Skypes her friends and family and talks to them in Turkish,” she said.
Jody said Selcuk’s ability to Skype and Facebook her mom and family and the fact that Lengachers can include her in family things at home “while not the same, is sure helpful with the adjustment.”
Selcuk smiled and said she was able to celebrate her mother’s birthday with her family through Skype and plans to do so again for her birthday Saturday.
Tara said this is the first time they’ve been a host family and that it’s been fun . She also said that with three girls already in the household adding one more has not been a big deal. Tara said they’ve had fun learning about Selcuk’s culture and food. “It’s been interesting,” Tara said, adding Selcuk has cooked a few different things that they’ve enjoyed, but found a little spicy.
Jody said, “This truly was a fantastic experience — it’s been good for us as a family to make the adjustments we needed to.”
Jody said they were able to go to Florida over Christmas and take Selcuk to DisneyWorld.
“It was like taking your first kid for the first time — when we were at Epcot and we got to Morocco she was like ‘Ohmigosh, that’s our food!’” he said.
The family ate the more traditional Turkish food — lamb and cous cous — and were able to go to the beach.
Tara’s also been enjoying watching Selcuk play volleyball at school and said when she played on a traveling team with Blakely, others gave Selcuk a nickname. “People would say, ‘Here comes Bullet,’” Selcuk said.
Selcuk said she has a “bucket list” of things she wanted to do once she realized she was coming to the U.S. She wanted to go to an NBA game (which she’s done), go to concerts of her favorite music groups and wanted to go to Los Angeles and the West Coast — Hollywood, the Grand Canyon and Las Vegas.
“Which I’m going to do with the help of my host family and Rotary,” she said. “It’s like my dream to go to these places and now it’s coming true.”
Aside from going to DisneyWorld with the Lengachers, they also went to Chicago.
Selcuk was excited about the fact that she’s learned about the Amish culture. “I didn’t know about them and I got to meet them and eat their food,” she said. “I’ve gotten a chance to discover both cultures and it’s been really great.”
Education and future
Selcuk was also very complimentary about her education experience here.
“The school system here offers a perfectly good education. In the high school teachers are real nice, the systems work really well. To get an education here seems better,” she said.
She said she’s also more involved in sports than she can be at home. She’s learning to play tennis and is on the tennis team. The emphasis on art, music and sports is much more than at her high school at home. She said she’s getting really good grades here and while there is discipline, she said she doesn’t feel pressured. At home up until this past year she’s had to wear a uniform and was checked daily to ensure students are dressed appropriately — no jewelry, no makeup.
Selcuk said after college she’d like to be a politician or translator. “I love learning languages — I love French, Spanish and English.”
Selcuk said not only are her dreams being fulfilled but also her mother’s. She said her mother was given the opportunity to be an exchange student in the United States but her parents wouldn’t let her go.
“When she found out her daughter wanted to be an exchange student she did her best to send me here. I’m living out my mom’s dreams as well as my own.” She said her mother still has her winning papers.
Her family is enjoying hosting an exchange student while Selcuk is here.
The Lengacher girls are not sure they would want to be an exchange student but Selcuk said, “You just have to be strong for awhile — some friends I know didn’t make it and went back, but you just need to be strong and patient and love what you’re doing — love the families and the culture and just enjoy doing it.”
Tara said, “She has a great attitude and is willing to try new things and new foods.”
Jody said Selcuk represents “a model exchange student”.
Selcuk said, “It may not be this deep for others but for me, this is the biggest chance in my life and a big dream in my family too.”
While she is enjoying her time she’s also serious. “I have so many plans for my life — a lot of plans and a long way to go,” she said. “But, I believe.”