BY ÖMER SAMANCIOĞLU
“Hello, my name is Ömer Samancıoğlu.” That was one of the few sentences along with “Nice to meet you” and “My favorite color is red” that I knew English when we first arrived in Michigan from Turkey. It was the summer of 2011 and I had graduated from first grade. I started the second grade at Angell Elementary where I was put in an “English as a Second Language” (or ESL for short) class. I had a portion of my lessons in a normal class, while some were in the ESL classroom. With me were other kids that didn't speak English fluently from Mexico to Israel. At first, I was disappointed to find out I was the only Turk at school. But I realized later on that having no one to speak Turkish with at school had forced me to speak English and had helped me learn English faster. I went to grades two through six in Michigan and only had an ESL class up to third grade.
Other than learning a new language in Michigan, I got to learn about different cultures and beliefs. I've found this to be beneficial in my career as this has broadened my views and perspectives on many subjects. Although, I have to say that at first, it was a bit difficult to adjust to so many new cultures coming from Turkey, where we only had Turkish culture. For example, as Turkish Muslims, we only celebrated Turkish and Muslim holidays. But in Michigan, people celebrated holidays that were completely new to me, such as Christmas, Halloween, and The Day of the Dead. Along with finding out about different holidays, I got to experience new foods I had never tasted before, such as sushi and hummus. On the topic of foods, I want to mention that as a Muslim, I had to eat halal/kosher foods, which applied mostly for meat. Growing up in Turkey where we celebrated Eid al-Adha where you eat meat, I could say I was fond of consuming meat. Going to the US meant meals where less likely to have meat as it was harder to find halal/kosher meat. Seeing my friends at school eating lunch which contained meat didn’t make this any easier. But I got used to it and developed a habit of asking whether the food was halal/kosher if a meal was shared with me.
I feel like, after the fourth grade, I was pretty used to living in Michigan and didn't have any adjustments to make. After the end of the sixth grade, my family and I returned to Turkey. My Turkish wasn't as good as my English, but I understood most things spoken in Turkish and didn't have an accent speaking it as it was my first language. I mostly had problems understanding Turkish expressions. Adjusting back to Turkey was easier than adjusting to Michigan but it wasn't easy. Returning to school, I continued with the seventh grade. I didn't have much trouble in subjects such as Maths and Sciences but faced some issues catching up on and learning subjects like Turkish Language Arts and Social Studies, as these classes weren't taught in the USA. I can say it took two semesters to adjust to the classes. But something I still haven't adjusted to is the pop culture of Turkey. I had started getting interested in pop culture in the USA, so even after I returned to Turkey, I continued reading and watching the pop culture I was fond of in the USA. This caused me sometimes to be oblivious to some subject matters among my friends, but thankfully, they were kind enough to explain if I didn't understand or know something.
It's now been four years since I've left Michigan. What I miss most are my friends and Michigan in general, with its snowy winter and its nature, as where I live now, in Istanbul, we rarely see snow and it doesn't have that nature vibe Michigan had. But I am happy where I am now and hopeful that I may return someday to visit.