by Inanc Karacaylak

Story Summary

Inanc Karakaylak was sent from Turkey to Muscatine, Iowa as an Exchange Student where he experienced intense culture clashes, ridicule, and cold weather. However, he was blessed to have an amazing host family including Christian Minister, Hal Green.

Discussion Questions

  1. How can we make it easier for international students to feel at home?
  2. Do you think one role model can change someone's future and destiny? 
  3. Can humor be found in adverse situations and create change for the good?

Resources

  • Podcasts by Dr. Hal Green - https://drhalgreen.com/category/podcasts/
  • Closer Than Your Own I: Meditations on Union with God by Dr. Hal Green
  • Essential Sufiism by Robert Frager and James Fadiman
  • The Essential Rumi by Jala al-Din Rumi, Coleman Banks (translator)
  • The Prophet by Kalil Gibran
  • Movie: Monsieur Ibrahim with Omar Sharif

Themes

  • Identity
  • Languages
  • Living and Traveling Abroad

Full Transcript
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Hi! My name is Inanc and my last name is Karakaylak. Inanc which means “belief” in Turkish and Karacaylak is something like… translates into a “dark rookie”, but it has a nice meaning.

I was born in the beautiful Aegean coast of Turkey and the third largest city, Izmir. That’s where Homer is from. That’s where the Odyssey was written. That’s where Mother Mary’s house is. Very nice place.

And I was not that great of a student. When I was 16 years old, my Father said – I’ll do this part in Turkish, you’ll get it – “America!”

I was like, “Ahh, America. Oh, okay.” I asked him, “New York? Los Angeles? Hollywood? Hawaii?”

Baba goes, “Central America like ah…Muscatine, Iowa – Midwest.”

And I was sent to Iowa in year 2000 as a foreign exchange student. And I was 16 years old. My English wasn’t  – it wasn’t that good. I learned English from South Park.

And my Dad said, “You have to be respectful and nice, and dress nice, and always put hair gel on, and greet your friends properly.”

And I would, you know in Turkey we kiss a lot. When I started school, I would try to kiss everybody. Soon enough I had a name, because I kissed everyone. And I was shy around girls; I couldn’t kiss them.

But in Iowa, we had some Hispanic kids and then there was me. And soon I realized that I was the only black person in the state. And not knowing much about culture, I try to fit in. And I wanted to be a part of basically the American life as a foreign exchange student with Rotary Club. And my name has always came up; Inanc, so people couldn’t really say it. They used to call me Enoch which is a biblical character also means cow in Turkish which is hard to take. And I was like maybe… okay.

When I was in… I think first, first week, actually this was in November. I came later and November 22nd to be exact, my birthday. My teacher, biology teacher was reading names you know. As they do in high schools, “Is Ashley here? Is Bill here? Is Jose here? (Hispanic kid),  Is Jill here? Is Anus here?”

I was like, “Wow! Who would name their kid that?”

And he said, “Anus, our exchange student from Turkey.”

I was like, “I don’t think so.”

And he said, “Yes. Our exchange student, Anus.”

I was wondering how he would read Inanc as Anus. But then later on he said, “Anus, Turkey, Turkey boy, Anus.” And it was the November 22nd, my birthday. He said, “Happy Birthday, Anus.”

And he also said, “Happy Birthday, Anus, Turkey boy. And guys it’s Thanksgiving. Happy Thanksgiving!”

I never went to prom after that. I didn’t have many friends and, basically, I moved here and I thought, “Maybe I should try to change my name.”

I tried to use the name Ino for a little bit. It didn’t work so much. Also. I found out it’s a Greek goddess.

But, lately, when I meet people – they try to say my name and if it doesn’t work, I just accept. They’re like Ina, Ina. Okay.

So, me when I was younger, I did not know much about this culture and it took a while to get used to it and everything that happened especially like, after September 11th, was a whole different life, you know. And I never had…I grew up in a very socially accepting place actually and religion was not a big deal. And asking people about their religion was something that you don’t really ask, you know. And I learned…

I was asked all the time about things that I didn’t really know at that time. They would be like, “Hey are you pro-life or pro-choice?”

I’d be like, “I am pro-life-choice. Is that something?”

They’d ask me if I was Republican or a Democrat. Again, I didn’t know for a while at that time. And then they would also… I went and stayed with an amazing Christian family, Dr. Hal Greene. And he has been like my father. Even though I’m Muslim, I was raised around this beautiful Christian man. But the people at church would like sometimes some of them would cry on my shoulder. I remembered this warmth from this lady at a rock concert, a Christian rock concert, on my right shoulder her tears. And she’s like, “I really like you, but I think you’re going to hell.”

I was like, “Ooh, Deidre, okay.”

But I learned that there’s so much love and passion and kind people in Midwest, too. But I decided to move here to California and here in California, I found there’s much more. There’s a little bit more… I’m not the only black person at the school I would say.

And now I follow my dream of working close to the ocean a lot. I teach kite surfing. Uh, I’m also a stand-up comic. And I would advise anybody that’s interested in following their dreams in a foreign place… they should.

It ends up becoming nice even though, sometimes, people make fun of your name and such.

Thank you.