December 12, 2005
Dear Friends and Family,
Merry Christmas! Burak and I are doing great here in Durham, North Carolina, and we hope that this letter finds your family just the same. These days we all live in different places, and it can be hard to stay in touch. So why don’t we give you a little review of this year to keep you up to date with all of our activities in 2005 in our “Fourth Annual Christmas Letter”? (Really official title, right? That’s actually pretty much all you learn in law or business school – giving official-sounding names to concepts that you already intuitively know!!)
I was a Rotary Ambassadorial Scholar this past academic year (August ’04 - July ’05) studying European and Middle Eastern studies in Barcelona, Spain. The purpose of the scholarship is to build goodwill and better understanding around the world. Basically, I had a full-time job talking to people about the US (economy, politics, culture, etc.) and writing about my observations living in Europe. I got a taste of my ideal job in life, and I loved every minute of it.
I took the LSAT and applied to law schools from Spain. When Burak and returned to the US after 14 months abroad, I still wasn’t sure what I was going to be doing in North Carolina. Just one day before UNC Law’s first-year orientation, I went into the office and asked about my wait list situation. Within about 30 minutes after I caught the Dean, he looked over my file and gave me some of the happiest news in my life: I was in at Carolina Law! I have been in law school for the last three months and am finishing my first semester’s exams this week.
While in Barcelona (BCN) this last year, Burak was an academic counselor at an American school. He not only got to do what he was good at, but he was able to speak English the whole time at work. His co-workers became a pseudo-family for us last year as we lived abroad. Most of his co-workers had taught in the American school system in other countries and moving to new places was just the routine for them.
Burak was accepted to Duke MBA last December (2004), so we knew almost from that day on that we were moving to North Carolina. The school had a great welcome system where he was instantly connected to his future classmates via an email listserv through which he soon invited people to visit us in BCN and was given information on where to live in Durham. With all that great assistance, Burak was able to secure an apartment for us in NC from BCN without ever stepping foot in it.
This year was filled with many unforgettable events:
In the month of January, we stayed with my Belgian host family for a couple of weeks. I was able to show Burak all the places I went to on exchange (‘99-’00) and introduce him to all the key people in my life that year: my host counselor, my other Belgian family, Rotarians, and Belgian friends. We ate a lot of good food and returned back to BCN for school and work. I remember that being a hard month for me because I thought that I was going to hear from the law schools that month, but no, I had to wait a lot longer. But hey, it all works out in the end.
In February, we went to Paris for Valentine’s weekend and stayed with a friend from Austin. It was Burak’s first time in Paris so we did all the essential tourist necessities. We even got together with other friends we knew from DC and Texas who all happened to be living in Paris.
Soon after we returned home, Burak got extremely sick around the same time he learned his father was dying of cancer. We were blessed that Istanbul is just a three-hour flight from BCN so Burak had visited his family just a few months prior to learning his father was extremely ill. Naci (Burak’s father) died after we returned from Paris. Burak’s work was very accommodating and even paid for his trip to Turkey for a week to be with his family. We have surely missed Naci. I was blessed with the two months at my in-laws’ beach house in 2004 where I got to know them closely for the first time. My father-in-law did a lot of great things for his family and for everyone around him.
In March, the weather got better, so our travel schedule got fuller just like those of our guests. That first weekend I went to Rome for the first time and met up with a San Antonio friend, Brent, who had never been to Europe before. He and his other Texas friends were glad to have a seasoned traveler on hand. I met up with a Rotary Scholar, Elizabeth, whom I met in Berlin. She showed us around, and we had a blast. The next weekend, Brent visited us in BCN for a day, Elizabeth saw BCN for her first time, and we also hosted two Belgian (they were Americans living in Belgium!) exchange students. Then for Easter, that is a week-long or more of vacation in most European countries, Burak and I took a train to Toulouse, France to visit a French friend. We visited cute little medieval villages, Bordeaux, and various vineyards. Two other friends from Paris wanted in on the fun so they came to Toulouse, and we all met up since we all knew each other from Texas. We heard Mass in French for Easter in one of Toulouse’s gorgeous cathedrals. We ate a lot of really good French food. I even had time to speak to a Rotary club there with my rusty French.
In April, we hosted a lot of people! My Belgian host brother and his girlfriend stayed for a week, then Burak’s host brother from Hungary stayed for ten days. During some of that time, I saw the Alhambra in Granada and went to La Feria de Abril in Seville where the town dresses up in Flamenco dresses and old-fashion suits and parties until the early morning for a week. In Seville, I stayed with a Rotary Scholar, Christanne, and she introduced me to her Rotary club. My club from BCN actually met up with me for the festival in Sevilla, and I almost missed my plane because I came home just a few hours before my flight! Europe was beginning to feel like a small playground for me!!
One of the things I am most proud of from my year happened in late April. Christanne and I walked the last 120 kilometers of the Camino de Santiago. During that time, I learned a lot about myself, met interesting people, stopped in the same small café Jenna Bush stopped by while she was on the Camino, almost got run over by cows and learned how toilet paper and hot showers are necessary luxuries! If anyone wants to know more, just email me. I plan to do it again in life.
In May, we had more guests and I spoke to the District 2210 Rotary Conference in Segovia. My Belgian friend I met 10 years ago in Texas stayed with us in BCN with his fiancée. My brother started his month-long stay in our apartment. Burak and I were chaperones to his high school’s prom. I not only was honored to speak to 400 or so Rotarians in Spain, but I actually cried in front of them during my speech when I realized I had to leave. I am sure that they won’t forget me! My sister visited me for a week. David, Emily, and I had a great time in BCN and Madrid. I think I saw Lance Armstrong and Sheryl Crow in Madrid walking down the street. And my dear best friend from college, Ann, visited me for a few days while she took a trip around Spain.
June was crazy. I had almost single-handedly organized a conference for Americans for Informed Democracy (AID) the first weekend, and the following week was the Benefit Dinner for the Martinez Foundation that was my Ambassadorial Scholar project. We were running a hostel (our apartment) with a revolving door and some days we didn’t even know who was staying with us. J Within one week, I turned 24; Burak finished his academic year at school; we celebrated our 3-year anniversary; and we went out for the biggest beach party of the year where the whole coast stays up until dawn. That weekend, we took my brother and some friends, including some of Burak’s future classmates we had just met, to Costa Brava for some sun and windsurfing. The month ended with a three-day trip to Mallorca Island where we drove along the coast and swam in the clear waters.
In July, we were in six countries. Burak, David, and I went to Morocco the first weekend after a few hours in Seville, lodging in windy Tarifa, and taking a boat over for a day to Morocco. It was a lot like Turkey. The next weekend, all three of us went to the Basque region of Spain for the running of the bulls in Pamplona and a trip to the beach in San Sebastian. I think the ‘running’ is a little overrated. We made the most out of it: sleeping in the car, avoiding the crazy people and David even slapped a bull’s butt while running. Burak and I moved out of our place, moved our stuff to a friend’s apartment, and started our three-week European trip before returning to the US.
We started off in Amsterdam, Netherlands where we visited with a Rotary Scholar. I saw Mariah Carey on the canal and Slobodan Milosevic at the Hague. It was great being back when the weather was better. We flew to Copenhagen, Denmark to visit a friend for a couple of days. I felt really stupid when I realized that Hans Christian Andersen, a Dane, wrote all those famous stories we know as kids. Disney was inspired to make Disneyland after visiting Tivoli, a large amusement park in downtown Copenhagen. Did you know that a Dane created the ‘Lego?’ We then went to Stockholm, Sweden for a few days and stayed with a friend. The weather was horrible for late July. We went to a theme park, ate some interesting food, I spoke to a Rotary club, and learned about Swedish culture. Soon we were off to Berlin, Germany for a couple of days. We stayed with a friend in East Berlin. I took Burak around the town to all the favorites; we visited Check Point Charlie; Burak has a mouse pad now with the famous “You are leaving the American sector…” quote. We later flew to Bavaria, where we stayed in Munich with another old friend from Texas. I had been there five years before. We saw the famous German castle that Disney copied, Neuschwanstein, unsuccessfully looked for naked people in the local park, and later sat in a beer hall with one-liter (one-quart) mugs singing in German (J) and drinking with the locals. It was like a scene from one of those Chevy Chase travel movies.
August is always a month of changes, usually because school always starts in August. From Munich we took a train to Budapest, Hungary. Besides the Czech Republic five years ago, this was the second place to make me feel completely lost and clueless for not speaking their language. We stayed with Burak’s Hungarian friend who was an exchange student to El Paso with Burak. We learned about the Soviet Union’s impact on the country by visiting the House of Terror, ate great food, had a private tour at a local vineyard, and enjoyed the scenery. We flew back to BCN and collected our things for our return trip to the US after 14 months abroad.
It felt weird to be back: speaking English to everyone, understanding what people were saying and knowing that they could understand what you were saying, having to add the tax to the price advertised, getting decent customer service, being served large portions of food, and the smell and touch of green, cotton dollars. The list goes on. We were picked up in Baltimore, Maryland and hosted by a Texan friend whom I met in Belgium and her fiancé. They helped us find a car that we bought the very next day in the US. We collected our things in DC and drove to our next destination: Durham, North Carolina!
To sum up the rest, we moved in, got settled, Burak went to two weeks of orientation, and I looked for (and found!) jobs before learning that I was accepted to Carolina Law. I started a Mary Kay business days before I learned that I was in law school and have been active with it ever since. Burak and I started graduate school on the very same day. We live seven minutes from his school and twelve minutes from my school. The ability and necessity to drive everywhere and to actually be there quickly was a huge culture shock for us after not owning a car for more than a year and using the metro to get around.
September was filled with adjusting. We were quickly thrown into school after returning to the country. Every weekend I was buying items to complete our place since we had sold or given almost everything away before we left for Spain. We were learning how to balance school, our personal life, and outside interests while settling into our new place, city, state, and country.
In October, Burak turned 28, and we both had our much-needed Fall Breaks. I spent mine in Austin and San Antonio visiting family, going to a Mary Kay summit, speaking to my Rotary club, emptying our Austin storage, and seeing friends. Burak stayed at home and enjoyed a nice break and did a lot of homework!
In November, we realized that exams were right around the corner and loved the idea of a Thanksgiving break! I ran a 5K Turkey Trot on an unfamiliar path that wasn’t marked and was quite hilly. Even though it hurt, it was fun getting back into my running routine that was cut short by all the travel and changes. Later, we hosted my brother, David, for a long weekend for Thanksgiving where we co-hosted a dinner for eighteen people, mostly international students.
Now in December, I have spent the last week holed up in my house studying for law exams with one more left before I fly off for three weeks of break. Luckily, we are both students and have exams around the same time. We understand what the other is going through and can give each other advice and support. We toggle between studying and taking a mental break. Needless to say, the cordless headphones for the TV have been one of our best investments for our modest apartment: when one of us is studying, the other can still watch the TV or DVDs! My little sister, Emily, turns 21 today. I look forward to seeing a lot of my family soon.
Burak and I haven’t had much free time outside school; we sort of look at the early time in our school as the most important time when we learn all the fundamentals, so delay of gratification says “school first.” I can sum up my non-academic projects as speaking to Rotary clubs and conferences about my experiences abroad with Rotary, growing my Mary Kay business by holding parties and facials, helping out the Martinez Foundation in Barcelona, and trying to keep up with friends all over the world via email, my website and blog, ohh and spending time with Burak J
In Burak’s free time, he enjoys watching the TV shows on DVDs, Sopranos and Stargate, and working out at the gym. He actually studies a lot so I don’t see him doing much more than these activities.
That sums up most of our year. As for our families, they are all doing well. My sister, Emily (21), is in college in Dallas. Burak’s sister, Burcu (21), studies economics in Australia. David (22), my brother, studies at Milligan College in Tennessee. My parents are doing well in San Antonio and growing their business. Burak’s mom is doing well; she stays sometimes with Burak’s cousin at the beach house and sometimes with her parents in their city.
For the holidays, Burak and I are blessed with school break schedules:
I have three weeks off and will spend all of them on the road visiting family. From December 16 – 24, I will be in the Kansas City, Missouri area. From December 24 – January 1, I will be in El Paso visiting the Powers. From January 1 – 6, I will be in San Antonio visiting my family and friends in Austin and San Antonio. I return to North Carolina on the 6th and go straight to a Rotary Ambassadorial Scholar conference in Burlington for the weekend. Burak has five weeks off. He will be in El Paso the same time I will and plans to spend the rest of the time relaxing and working on job interview preparation and his strategy consulting case preparation.
We are extremely grateful for all our blessings. As I sit back and reread our letter, I really can’t believe how we were able to do it all. We hope and pray for the best for you and your family. Thanks for your impact in our lives. Keep in touch. Merry Christmas, and Happy New Years!