The Ezan (Call to Prayer) 5 Ways

It seems a common sentiment that there is not enough time in the day, or in life, to do the things we want, or need, to do. No time to do x, y, z. Well, the Ezan makes time, five times every day; for prayer, for patience, for pause, for breath, in the midst of the ever-turning, attention-grabbing, notification-dinging Ferris wheel of modern life.

One of the first things that struck me upon arrival in Istanbul (and everywhere I traveled in Turkey) was the Muslim call to prayer. Known as the Ezan in Turkish, it happens at five set times each day. For additional information on the Ezan, an interested reader may head here.

First impressions of the Ezan? I was struck by how beautiful it was, how quickly it commanded my full attention, and how thankful I was to be able to hear it in the midst of the buzzy streets of Istanbul. To my understanding, the call functions as a regular reminder for those of Muslim faith to pray, facing Mecca, which to me has always seemed a lovely ritual; a regular reminder sounding through the chaos and clutter of days to return focus to purpose, to pay respect and attention to what one holds dear, to pause the conveyor belt of daily life in recurring recognition of belief. The call permeates mountains as well as the movement and machinations of humankind’s daily grind; hopes, sighs, whispers, cracked windows, market transactions, and resplendent sunrises. It reminds me of Buddhist meditation, which includes returning attention to breath in order to increase mindfulness and focus in the midst of a cluttered, busy mind; a continued recall to reconnect with being, knowing one will deviate from what is central in the noise available to experience.

It was interesting to see the different ways respect was shown, by people of all ages, to the call in places of business and homes. Shops turned their music down (or off) while it took place each time, and one of my roommates at a host’s apartment stopped the music we were listening to one afternoon in the living room, to honor the call coming from a mosque just down the street.

Since Ezan struck me so profoundly each time I heard it, in each city, each scene I happened to be a part of in the moment it was emitted across the airwaves of those worlds, I wanted to offer a slice here of some of the moments it took place, from where I was standing, and what I was looking at; for a first-person look-and-listen of what it is like to experience the call from five different perspectives, via four different Turkish cities. I hope you enjoy as much as I did, and hope you get the opportunity to experience this wonderful ritual in person at some point in time. It would be impossible to accurately describe my experience in this country without speaking to the wonder, and connecting beauty, of this call to prayer.






Nick’s Adventure: Izmir – To Çeşme with Love and Family, This Coffee is a Fortune, Slowest Windsurfer Alive

Izmir, Alaçati, and Çesme Scenes

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After yesterday’s arrival and hustle fun to the Ministry of Youth and Sport and the Pi Youth Association, followed by a dinner of kumpir (delicious baked potato-type thing) and hanging out with volunteers at a cafe by the Aegean, I was hosted by Learning Designs volunteer Hasan (former windsurfing instructor, currently a graduate student on the brink of receiving his Masters Degree in Business Administration, and educational trainer as well) at his apartment on the other side of Izmir. It was a nice night’s sleep, laying on a comfortable bed right next to the open door of his lovely balcony, feeling the sea breeze blow across my stomach as I quickly went to snoozeland.

We woke early to visit Hasan’s family at their home in Alaçati (a neighborhood in Çeşme, where Hasan grew up), and then to check out the shops and beach sights of Çeşme. After meeting up with another Learning Designs volunteer (Çeyda) we hopped a bus for the 45-ish minute ride to Çeşme. Upon arriving to Hasan’s home, we met his father (Nedim) and grandmother (Sultan), who welcomed us and quickly went to work preparing a delicious breakfast of omelets, sausage, bread, freshly chopped cucumbers and tomatoes, krem penynir (kind of like cream cheese), salami, and çay (tea). Not being able to speak Turkish was definitely a hindrance here, as I had so many questions I wanted to ask Nedim and Sultan, which Çeyda may have sensed, as she very kindly offered to translate for me.

I learned Sultan grew up in a small Turkish village, then moved to Izmir with her husband where they found work, started and raised their family. When I asked what makes her happy, she said her family, that she thanks God for her good life, and for being able to be near her the ones she loves.

I asked Nedim, who is retired, what his day-to-day life is like. He mentioned that he usually wakes at 8am, takes Pelin to work, then gets and reads the paper. He also likes to meet with a group of men from the area at a cafe, where they play games and joke around. In the evening he and his wife (Sema) like to drink coffee on their porch near the flowers. “Everyday is nice,” he said. I asked what patterns he noticed from the porch, watching life from that vantage point on a daily basis, and he mentioned enjoying seeing people go and come home from work, waving hello as they pass. They have a number of friends in the neighborhood, a tight-knit group, and often neighbors will come by to share time over tea.

Not long after, Sema and Pelin returned home. Sema showed us her 3D artwork (which is apparently based on an Ottoman style), we all drank Turkish coffee, and for the first time in my life, I received a Turkish coffee reading, which is basically a fortune reading based on the cup symbols that are created after swishing the grounds at the bottom of one’s Turkish coffee around three times, and then quickly flipping the cup over and placing it on the saucer (so as not to spill). In these precious modern times, one can simply take a picture of the resulting cup symbols once they’re ready (you feel the upside-turned bottom of the cup for when it has cooled, which indicates readiness for removal), and send it via an app to receive your reading in a few minutes. Naturally.

If you´d like to learn what my future holds, you can listen to Çeyda kindly translate my fortune below:


The Wonder of (Weak) Windsurfing

As I mentioned, Hasan used to be a windsurfing instructor, with 10 years under his belt to go along with multiple certifications. I have no certifications, zero years of windsurfing experience, and pretty weak water skills, but I have an eagerness and interest in learning (especially physical things) that is average to slightly above average at best, so he kindly gave me my first windsurfing lesson.

If you’re a glutton for punishment, here are some clips of me “windsurfing,” it felt like I was going about as slow as it appears on the video, especially with the amount of wind you can hear whipping past, but it was an insane amount of fun, and really great learning the motions, mechanics, and basic principles of working with the wind and water. Please note, if you take the time to watch this, I can not offer you those precious moments of your life back.

It was incredible. Hasan was very thorough, patient, and clear in his instructions, even while I fell off the board a few times going less than 0 m.p.h. It was interesting getting used to handling the sail, but such a neat experience, and even going at a lethargic snail’s pace was thrilling. It was pretty funny to watch what other people were able to do with the same wind I was offered, flying around, zipping in between the assorted expertise levels, turning the sail in milliseconds (something which took me about 45 tiny steps and around 3 minutes to complete). I have no idea the kinds of people that do this regularly, or with excellence, and for some reason (and no informative background) I imagine wealthy people from South Africa. Really. No clue where that comes from.

I felt a sense of connection I had not experienced before, with everyone having their own watercrafts (*definitely not what they are called*) but all sharing the same sea, the same wind, it being up to each of us to make with it what we could…I’ll stay away from the heavy-handed life parallels here (perhaps it’s too late), but it was a great feeling on many levels.

Thank you, Hasan! This is something I will absolutely remember far beyond this stretch of time.



Nick’s Adventure: İzmir – Arrival

Teşekkürler (Hello) from Izmir! I have arrived at the second stop on my journey, greeted warmly by my hosts, local Learning Designs volunteers Hasan and Buket who quickly whisked me from the bus station after my overnight ride from Istanbul >> Izmir to the lovely Konak Square (where this video is shot). From here we will hustle off to host a fun workshop at a Ministry of Youth and Sports location for about 15 participants of all ages, talk with volunteers and attendees, and then head to meet with the coordinator of Turkey’s 2016 NGO of the Year,  Pi Gençlik Derneği (aka Pi Youth Association, link is to English site).

Be sure to check back / subscribe / connect for more info on my experience with the two org’s mentioned above, as well as more on what I have been doing in Izmir (like learning to windsurf and exploring the local scenes) and for all of what is to come over the next few weeks.

*Note: For some reason I took video vertically, rather than landscape format, at the outset of the trip (including this vid, as you can see). It was silly, and I will regret the error forever, but I promise to fix this in the future 🙂

– N


Nick’s Adventure: Introducing Peter the Frog, Whimsical Ambassador of Goodwill

Who, and why, is Peter?

Peter is much more than an average frog, he is a philosopher, a name-dropper, a relentless jokester, and total food snob with a gigantic literal and figurative head, but for now we’ll say he is Just a Frog. He happens to be a very lucky frog that has traveled all over the world (Thailand, Malaysia, Italy, Mexico, Cuba, United States, and now Turkey), the majority of which with a unique wind-walker that occasionally goes by JMC. Peter brings with him the nature of the child mind that is so essential in learning and approaching the seemingly known and unknown with wonder. I have stuffed him in my backpack to accompany me on my learning adventure through Turkey to serve as a symbol of child-like wonder, the joy of life, the importance of openness, awareness, and humility in establishing intercultural communication and connection (and because he’s kind of a perfect travel pillow) through the universal link of laughter.

Peter has no soul and loves mugging for the camera, so he’s available for pictures at every turn. This is a reality I will likely abuse, and right here is the place where I’ll store all the Peter pics with volunteers, families, random encounters, places, etc. Peter will be part of the glue (figurative) that binds the many varied threads of this learning adventure, and I’m excited to see what he finds. I will try to keep this from being nauseating 🙂




Nick’s Adventure: The Bag of My Existence

So, there is a popular team-building / conflict resolution / etc. game that Learning Designs’ has developed called “Topik.” It’s a great game. Learning Designs has used colorful, durable materials to make the game, and even built cool bags to make the game comfortably transportable. I will be bringing this game with me wherever I go in Turkey, to use during workshops at various NGO’s / non-profits / community organizations across the country, which will be awesome.

Something a little less awesome? That I forgot to grab the black bag for Topik before my departure from Istanbul, so instead, I will be carrying this vibrant, in-your-face, undeniably pink Topik bag with me for the next 3+ plus weeks, to all parts unknown in Turkey, making it the first (and in many cases only) impression I will leave upon the people and places I happen to visit and pass through on the myriad streets, buses, cafes, buildings, street corners, etc. that I venture through. I’m not saying that I have a problem with this, no, not really, but it’s just…well, it will add an extra layer of “unique” to what I know will already be a very interesting journey. Without speaking the language, it will be interesting to see how interactions unfold with me toting this thing in midnight bus stops, walking through throbbing city streets screaming “pink” (a color I actually kind of like) to all that care to glance.

It will be developmental. It will be a happening. It will be unique. It will be fun. It will be memorable, without a doubt.


…and away we go!



Nick’s Adventure: Conversational Sparks & Funny, Tiny Travel Moments


Sparks of Conversation

*What have you found to be sparks of conversation in your days? I’d love to hear, so connect and let me know!

Connection is interesting to me. What behaviors, places, things, etc. make us feel connected, and disconnected? What can, and do, we do to control and create those experiences, those feelings?

As someone traveling in Turkey for the first time, where I speak basically 0% of the local language (outside of “Hello” and “Thank you,” yes I am currently One Of Those, though not proud), I am interested in what elements create conversations, or some form of communicative bond. Often, I find myself in the middle of an interesting interaction and, after working backwards through time, will realize it was something seemingly random, or tiny, or mysterious that sparked the whole thing.

This is where I will keep an updated log of some Turkish sparks I encounter (in no particular order)…

1) Open Palm Change, Dickies, and The Turkish Texans: While taking a boat back from Büyükada, the biggest and most popular of the Princes’ Islands (which are located about 75 – 90 minutes from Istanbul’s city center, depending on which boat line you take) – Burgazada, Heybeliada and Kınalıada are the other three open to the public – I ordered a tea from the man walking around the boat selling çay (pronounced “chai,” traditional Turkish tea, similar to black tea). Not knowing exactly how much to pay, or speaking much Turkish, I grabbed a few 1 TL (Turkish Lira) coins from my pocket and extended my hand towards him, palm open, with the money offered so he could grab what I owed. This clearly showed I had no idea what was going on. Immediately after he (kindly) took just what I owed, a guy (named Serdar) that had been sitting just a few feet away on the bench right across from, and facing, me, said, “Hey man! Where are you from?” After telling him “America” (which I’ve found to be more instantly recognizable here than “United States” or “U.S.” though for some reason I like saying it least of the three), he replied, “America! Are you from Texas?” This was odd for a few reasons: 1) I wasn’t immediately sure why Texas was his first guess, as I wasn’t wearing a cowboy hat or boots or something similar, 2) I actually had just come from Texas, having spent a week in Austin before departing from there >> Dallas >> London >> Istanbul just a few days prior, 3) Texas is the place I’ve spent the most time outside of my home state of Michigan, having lived in Austin for ~ 10 years.

His reaching out opened up a conversation between the three of us (he was traveling with the guy sitting immediately to my right, named Ertan – Rice University PhD, currently working in oil surveying all across Turkey, misses Chick-fil-A, finds connection being in nature during his work out in the field – his good friend, both of them mid-20’s, and originally from Turkey, Serdar here to visiting his friend in Istanbul over the summer) about their experiences in the US, growing up in Turkey, where they find connection in life (for Serdar – getting his PhD from Texas A&M in Mechanical Engineering – it was dancing, especially salsa which he was currently learning “going out 4-5 times a week all over Houston,” he also told me I should’ve recognized his American connection because he was wearing an American Eagle shirt), and insights on Istanbul (the story of the Maiden’s Tower, history of some bridges and landmarks, created/mapped a walking tour for me in my iPhone notes). When I asked them what tipped them off that I wasn’t Turkish (and signaled Serdar to speak to me), Serdar mentioned that my face didn’t really look Turkish, and he noticed I was wearing Dickies shorts, while Ertan mentioned seeing me having no idea what to pay for tea, and mentioned that the man selling the tea also said something else (a kind greeting) to me, which I completely missed.

We talked for most of the 75 minute boat ride back to Istanbul, shared pictures and contact info, reached the Euro-side pier, and then parted ways into our diverging afternoons.

2) Random Right Turn to Ukulele-land: This spark led to a really neat experience and magical afternoon, so it’ll get its own blog post (“Atolye 2”) but in terms of conversational sparks, it began with a day of wander-walking and a random turn down an Istanbul alley (Asian side), intrigued by an ivy-covered doorway in the distance. As I walked up the alley in the early afternoon, I noticed a mid-to-late 20’s man playing ukelele (his name is Emrecan) on the sidewalk, being photographed, in front of what appeared to be a coffee house-ish type place, with 5 or so people sitting near him, casually chatting, smoking, drinking coffee. The setting felt straight out of a Concert-un-emporter video, or how I imagined one feels. I wanted to sit and listen, but wasn’t really sure how to approach, so I walked about 10 feet past where they were, and pretended to be intently looking at an apartment building’s wall, windows, and accompanying skyline while the music washed over me. After about a few minutes of me awkwardly standing there, Emrecan and I made eye contact, and he initiated conversation.

(Click below to listen to recordings of Emrecan playing ukulele and singing from this very slice in time, the first clip is a full song, the second just a snippet)



Him: “Hello. How are you?” Me: “Oh…hi! Is it ok if I stand here and listen to you play?” “Sure, do you want to sit down?” From there, I sat and joined the group, he played a few songs for us while others casually sang along to the known choruses, and I wound up spending the rest of the day and part of the evening there, at what turned out to be a workshop / artist collective / community space, talking with those around me about human connection, their lives, interesting spots in Istanbul, and more. When I asked Emrecan and his photographer friend about the spark of our conversation, they both said they noticed me standing there, which was odd to them, and were curious what I was doing. The photographer thought, “Hmm, he must know someone in this building, I guess,” and Emrecan thought I must be looking at something very interesting on the wall, so he had walked over while playing to check it out. When he saw there was nothing there, he realized what I was doing.  

3) Curious At The Metro: A few days after my arrival in Istanbul, a Learning Designs volunteer (Baran) kindly offered to take me on a historical tour of the city. I was to meet him (for the first time, I learned of his tour offer from Tugba) at 10am the following morning at a Burger King in Taksim Square (a popular meeting spot, really, apparently), which would require me to travel about an hour, since Taksim Square is on the European side of Istanbul and I was staying in Moda, a neighborhood on the Asian side. I do not have a Turkish SIM card for my phone, so I can only communicate with others in-country over Whatsapp or connect to resources on the internet when I have wifi, which is common at cafes but not so much elsewhere, or at least not easily accessed. I was only familiar with taking the boats across the Bosphorous River to either side, and getting to this BK would require me using the Metro subway, tram, bus, or some combination of the three. The night before, I looked up the bus that I would need and figured I was all good.

The next morning, after walking to the main Metro (bus, tram, subway all located here) station by the pier by about 8am, I found the bus stop, and tried to ask a man also waiting there if this bus would get me near Taksim Square. He consulted with another man, kind of laughed in a “Oh jeez, ok, let’s try to communicate this” kind of way, and pointed down, indicating I should take the subway, and tried to express (which I would later learn)  that I would have to change subway lines a couple times, different stops, etc. After realizing, partially, that this would be more complex than I thought, and not wanting to miss my meeting time with Baran (no phone communication, meeting for first time, length of transit in front of me) I thanked the man and hustled down the flights of stairs to the Metro subway. I found a Istanbulkart machine (for purchasing one-time and recurring Metro transit tickets/cards) and tried to follow the Turkish directions for buying a pass for the first time. I grabbed a 5 TL from my pocket and inserted it in the machine. It spit the money back out. I tried again. Same result. I smoothed it on the corner of the machine, like I used to as a child at arcades, frantically, hopefully trading the paper for access to precious coins and the more precious video games that could be played only in exchange for quarters, only in this hellish, adult version of that scenario, the money is repeatedly denied, and my mind begins to race realizing time is flying past, as people rush behind me through the turnstiles to catch their respective trains. In the moment, I realize this is one of Those Moments, really not a big deal at all that feels larger because I’m to meet a new person in a new place via unfamiliar transit without the aid of immediate communication via phone, one of Those Moments that soon enough gets figured one way or another, life goes on, and is typically forgotten in time. This soothes me a little, and I think it’ll be fun to write about later, but the problem still persists…until it doesn’t. By some twist of mechanical fate, my money is soon accepted, and I’m able to buy what appears to be a one-way ticket, which I hope will be enough for wherever I’m going.

I get to the side of the subway I guess/hope will take me the direction I need to go, remembering a bit of what the guy at the bus stop said, a part of a word that sounded like a city or stop name. I approach a guy sitting alone, waiting for the train, to ask if this is the direction I need to go to get to wherevers-ville. He says yes, speaking a bit of English, and after I thank him he puts headphones in, to keep other people like me from interrupting train space peace, I assume. I hop on the train, and get off at the first stop, then walk over to a map on the wall to hopefully figure out where/how I am to go from here to get to Taksim. I notice a teenage-ish girl get off the train at the same stop, walk quickly past me, and turn right into a tunnel about 50 yards away. While I’m looking at the map, with the zero-est of clues, out of the corner of my eye I see her come back out of the tunnel, and gently approach me.

“Are you going to Taksim?” she asks. “Yes.” “Come with me. I can show you.” “(!!!)”

It turns out she is going the same way, getting off two stops after Taksim. She proceeds to lead me to the other train line, onto three more trains (navigating various terminals, directions…aka it would’ve taken me forever, if ever, to have figured this out) using her Istanbulkart to pay for me each time through the turnstiles (saying “it is too much, what they charge” when I tell her how much my one-way train ticket was), and entertaining my questions throughout the 45 minute journey. I learn she’s a fashion design student, studying in Istanbul, hoping to pass her TOEFL class so she can move to New York City to work in fashion, and she used to want to be a professional volleyball player, before injuring her ankle numerous times. She shows me some of her sketches, talks about how bad her English classes have been (this seems to be a common theme, as well as complaints about the Turkish education system), and ultimately points me in the right direction at my stop for Taksim. I wave goodbye, and hurry off to catch Baran at the BK. Her name was/is Cenil, I think, or something similar. She helped me immensely that morning, completely changing my day’s story from the potential “disaster” it could’ve been, for no reason other than just to help, and let me learn a little about her life along the way. Then off we went.

4) Yawn Espionage: Coming soon!


Funny, Tiny Travel Moments

I’ve noticed that a million things happen when traveling that seem significant, or funny, or interesting, in the moment but get quickly swallowed in the wave of newness that comes with experiencing new places and people. I really like these moments, maybe even more than the big, grand, sweeping ones, for their grounding qualities, their humility and offering of delight in the heightened ordinary that comes with travel, so it seems. In order to preserve the significance of these, the tiniest of tiny moments, the very slightly funny (not hilarious, maybe even just barely smile-inducing, if that), I am dedicating this section to their existence, and will continue compiling them as they arrive.


1) Five in the Back, Two in the Front: this is the tiniest of tiny moments, but was a quick smile (for me at least, luckily riding in the passenger seat). Leaving the workshop we had just finished at the Turkish Youth and Sport Ministry in Izmir, hustling to Pi Gençlik Derneği (Pi Youth Association) for our next meeting, we were faced with an interesting situation: we had seven adults, and a car that would fit four comfortably (pictured above). Being the troopers that they are, the Learning Designs volunteers from Izmir piled in the back, scrunching, smushing, packing, and folding, and kindly offered me, the guest, the coveted passenger seat for our 20-ish minute journey to the next NGO. There were no complaints, mostly smiles and giggles, and a semi-memorable (perhaps for different reasons) car ride had by all, as other cars on the road snapped pictures and yelled (what I imagine to be supportive, positive phrases 🙂 ) at us during the trip.

2) Learning Locks: a host family was kind enough to give me a copy of the key to their place, so I could come and go freely, which was much appreciated. Coming back to their apartment late one night, I arrived at their apartment building’s front door, and prepared to open it as I had passively watched one of them do before, never having gone through the process myself. For context, I have no wifi, so I can’t communicate with them, or anyone else, at this time, maybe somewhere around 2 or 3 in the morning. They have given me two keys, one for the front door and one for their door. I try one key, which slides in perfectly but doesn’t turn at all either way, no matter how hard I pull and push on the door (“I think this is how you do it. Hmm, no maybe it was like this?”). I try the other key, which doesn’t really fit, and I don’t mess with it too much, not wanting to bust the key in the lock, at least not on the first night. I go back to the first key, try to turn it a little harder each way. Nothing. Thoughts begin to creep in my head for the first time of, well, what will I do if I can’t get this to open? I don’t want to bang on the door of the whole apartment, I don’t really want to randomly buzz some apartments on the intercom, I guess I could wander around all night seeing what there is to see, which wouldn’t be the worst thing. The thoughts, they creep and creep. A person walks past, and I wonder if it looks like I’m doing something shady at the apartment. Eventually, I try pulling and turning the knob simultaneously while jiggling the key and turning…and it works after a while. Relief, and the promise of knowing how to do that one simple, important task moving forward. I walk up the stairs to their place. It’s dead silent in the building, so I’m trying to be extra quiet, especially in opening their door, as I know their room is somewhat close by. Again, I quickly realize I haven’t really paid attention when they were unlocking this door, or was I ever there when they did? No matter, it’s unlocking a door, like riding a bike…or something. There’s an overhead light for the landing just outside their door that turns on with motion but turns off pretty quickly, so, as I fumble with the keys in the occasional dark trying to fit the other key into the hole, I have to continually swing my arm in the air to keep the light on. I consider how silly this would look from the outside, which brings a smile, but doesn’t solve the issue. I slide the key in and try to turn it. After jiggling it a bit, I turn the key all the way around and a loud thump of metal lock slamming against metal door frame echoes through the landing (and, I imagine, their entire apartment, waking them). I twist the key back around the lock slams back the other way. I try to turn the door knob but it just spins and spins, no traction, like a trick doorknob or something. I continue swinging my arm in the air to keep the light turned on. It turns off approximately after every 1.5 seconds. I have no idea how to solve the doorknob mystery. Have I broken it? No, it was like this, I am sure. Was it possibly accidentally broken earlier in the day, and they tried to inform me but could not get in touch (given my lacking Turkish SIM and rare wifi)? I try twisting the key the other way and the door lock slams loudly inside the door. I am completely positive, in my mind, that they are now both completely awakened by me, very late, both having work early in the morning, as I, the loud, moronic American come bumbling in late night after walking all over the place. Thankfully, I realize I can just push the door open at this point, not needing to turn the knob at all, but rather needing to keep the key turned so as to disengage the lock temporarily. Once inside, I try to silently close the door, and as I go to lock it, the lock slams loudly into place against the metal door frame, adding insult to injury. While I shudder for the harm I have surely caused their sleep on this night, I also feel relief knowing the mechanics of getting in and out of the apartment from here on out, incredible peace found in a previously unexplored nook of life.

3) The “Fortieth” Floor: after arriving from a long day of travel to one host’s apartment with all of my stuff (backpack, semi-heavy, semi-large rolling suitcase because I’m not smart), the host kindly offers apologies, for their apartment is upstairs and there is no elevator. I am in complete positivity mode, so I think nothing can faze me at this point, still over-the-top jazzed to be in Istanbul, explore, and just be. “It’s no problem at all,” I say, “I need to get my exercise today anyway.” Haha, hilarious every time. The host, still learning English, and kindly speaking it to me, the one that visits Turkey knowing zero Turkish, says, “well okay. My apologies, our apartment is on the fortieth floor.” On the outside, I say nothing other than a cheery, “Ah, no problem at all!” and I try to maintain that mentality, truthfully, but I’d be lying if I said the thoughts didn’t creep in a little bit, like, “Wait, fortieth? As in 4-0? I was only half paying attention, but I could swear this apartment building was no taller than like 7 floors. Jesus. 40!?” Again, nothing but calm and cool on the outside, yet the inside was cracking a bit as we went up the flights. They were just two flights to a floor, and maybe 10 – 15 steps per flight, so it was not bad at all, but the anticipation was semi-excruciating, not wanting to clarify with the host for fear of pointing out a potential mispronunciation by someone just doing me a favor by speaking my native language. As we gained each floor, I thought, “ok, that means either 3/2/1 more, or 38/37/36 more” gauging my stamina, the strength in my legs, my will to survive. Eventually we reached the fourth floor, and I could see there were no more steps to take, this was the top, and salvation was mine.


Nick’s Adventure: Ways to Connect & Trip Schedule

Connect / Interact / Updates

I’ll be updating the blog regularly with pics, vids, and words as my adventure unfolds, so be sure to subscribe/connect with me to get the latest updates as they’re posted. Also, I’ll be hosting some Facebook Live sessions in various cities across Turkey and would love for you to join! Be sure to connect on Facebook for info on when/where those will happen so you can ask questions about my experience so far, offer suggestions on things to check out, and anything else you can think of – it’ll be freewheeling.

Learning Designs’ Facebook

Nick’s Facebook

Nick’s Twitter

Nick’s Instagram

Email: [email protected]

I want to hear from you! If you have any questions, comments, ideas, stories about your experiences in Turkey, or just want to connect, please feel free to connect on any/all of the ways mentioned above and I’ll get back to you ASAP.


Here’s a quick look at the where and when for my learning adventure throughout Turkey (subject to change):

1) Arrival / Istanbul (July 6 – 13)

2) Izmir (July 13 – 17)

3) Denizli (July 17 – 21)

4) Kayseri (July 21 – 26)

5) Diyarbakir (July 26 – 29)

6) Giresun (July 29 – August 1)

7) Istanbul / Departure (August 1 – 2)




Nick’s Adventure: Who, What, Why?


Teşekkürler! In many ways, I am Nick Brzezinski. I grew up just outside of Detroit, MI, graduated from Duke University in 2003 (B.A. Eastern Religions, played American football and threw discus, member of Self Knowledge Symposium), and spent the next 14 years moving around the United States, learning how to shake hands with time, and snacking. I’ve worked as an educator, writer, software salesperson and marketer, horse stall mucker, captain of industry (service), and assistant video editor…among other things.

I am currently a Masters Student at the Vermont-based School for International Training (SIT) in the Intercultural Service, Leadership, and Management program. Curiosity and creation keep me engaged. I enjoy breathing, daily delights, seeking and asking questions to understand people, ways, places, and Stuff across cultures and crannies. I’m interested in experiential learning, learning design, training, facilitation, the cultivation of connection (self-, other-, community-), catalysts for change, music of all kinds, and comedy…among other things. During the school year I host a community (Brattleboro, VT’s 107.7 WVEW) radio program called “This Machine Breathes Connection,” which explores the lives and perspectives of people from around the world.


At SIT, I was lucky to befriend Tugba Cansali (my cohort-mate) the founder of Tugba Cansali Learning Designs, innovator, trainer extraordinaire, gamification expert, dreamer, and doer. She is from Turkey (currently based in Istanbul) and created the concept for me to experience Turkey for the first time on a tailor-made learning adventure, connecting with and researching Learning Designs volunteers who would host me in their home cities while I visit local organizations/NGO’s, conduct educational workshops, and get exposure to a unique cultural immersion experience.

I will be blogging/vlogging on the Learning Designs’ Blog page about my adventures  as they happen, and hosting Facebook Live sessions along the way, so connect with me to get updates (or subscribe to updates at the bottom of this page) on the people, places, sights, sounds, and whispers of my journey.


Well, for a few reasons:

  1. YOLA – YOur Learning Adventure: to take part in the pilot program in a one-of-a-kind, tailor-made learning experience curated by the stellar Learning Designs staff. They created a nearly month-long itinerary based on my interests in NGO’s, content creation, conducting workshops/trainings, and cultural immersion. This pilot will potentially be used to create future YOLA programs for others interested in experiencing tailor-made, cross-cultural learning adventures based on their personal interests and goals. Stay tuned for more info on the development of YOLA!
  2. Interactive, Expansive Exposure: to stretch my mind, eyes, and perspective by being immersed in a new country that I have always wanted to experience, and to offer a window into my experience across various cities in present-day Turkey, a country which seems to have an uneven reputation in the United States for some, based on my *Very Informal Research Results (*Very Informal Research Results = 99% of the people responding, “Wait, isn’t Turkey really dangerous? Be careful. Are you sure it’s smart to go there?” when I explained what I was doing this summer). I will try to be as honest as possible in sharing what I see, feel, think, learn, and wonder to provide an attempt at authentic expression of my time engaging with people, places, and ways while here. I will also host Facebook Live sessions at some of the cities to connect with people online interested in asking questions, offering suggestions of places to check out or things to try, or interacting with me along the way.
  3. Research: to learn about some of the awesome Learning Designs volunteers throughout Turkey and get a glimpse of how they live by being welcomed graciously into their homes, lives, and the places and ways they enjoy spending time, while also doing some brief video interviews to get to know their stories a little better. I will also be conducting brief research (videos, interviews) into the local NGO’s/youth empowerment/refugee organizations I engage with along the way.